Key Attributes of a Successful Entrepreneur

We all want to be successful. For some of us, that means following our dream, forging our own path, creating a business, working for ourselves, and repeating the financial rewards of our hard work.

We all go about defining our career goals in a different way. But if the prospect of creating and running your own business sounds enticing, fair warning, it’s much easier said than done.

The truth is – being an entrepreneur means working for yourself. And if you’re a good entrepreneur then you are a very demanding boss to work for.

Beyond being a demanding boss, successful entrepreneurs share other characteristics that separate them from others. In this short article, we’ll take a look at the 5 key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur. We’ll define and explore those attributes as well as point out some of the pitfalls that they may come with.

 

1. Ambition

We all want a better life for ourselves. We want – in most cases – more than what we currently have. This, alone, is not the definition of ambition, but it’s a good start.

Some important distinctions between “wanting it” and being ambitious include:

Ambitious people seek the achievement, not the reward.

  • Being motivated by the potential earnings or ROI is not the same as being motivated to accomplish something simply because the need to accomplish is in your blood; it’s in your DNA.
  • Ambitious people are often very well compensated. But they are not driven by the prospect of that compensation. They are driven to succeed simply because they are driven.

Ambitious people hate losing more than they love winning.

  • To some psychologists, prioritizing “not losing” over “winning” is the very definition of competitive. It is difficult to separate ambition from competitiveness. If you are competitive, you are most likely also ambitious.

Ambition is an emotion.

  • Akin to desire, ambition is not reasonable. It does not come to us through a series of well-thought-out cognitive conclusions. Ambition is an emotion – a strong emotion. 
  • While we are often wary of our emotions – they have a tendency of getting us into trouble. The ambitious person is not distrusting of his or her emotions, as it would be difficult for an unemotional person to be ambitious.

 

2. Self-Awareness

In order to create and run your own business, you need to engage in a serious thought process especially when you are creating a new product that does not exist yet. This requires imagination and, to a certain extent, a tinge of delusional thinking. Since most businesses end up failing, you’d need a certain amount of delusional thinking to be an entrepreneur. And a little bit of delusional thinking isn’t bad. It’s a necessity.

However, You need to strike the right balance, which is not always easy. Finding the right balance means being able to stop and take inventory of yourself; knowing how to self-assess: know what you’re worth.

  • Do you ask for and genuinely appreciate feedback?
  • Do you accept criticism well?
  • Are you comfortable delegating tasks that someone else may be better suited to carry out?
  • Are you able to share the credit?

Someone with a healthy level of self-awareness knows:

  • When they have upset someone and is willing to assume the consequences.
  • When they do not have the skills, talent, or experience to do something and are willing to delegate that responsibility to someone better qualified.
  • When to trust their gut and when not to follow the crowd or get caught in the trappings of groupthink.

Self-awareness is not a trait of successful people. However, it is a trait – at least in small doses – of successful entrepreneurs. Many successful people lack self-awareness. This is partly due to the fact that a high level of self-awareness – or an unhealthy amount of self-awareness – can easily lead to self-doubt or self-censorship: constructs that are antithetical to success.

Another reason why so many successful people lack self-awareness is that once they succeed in one aspect of life they don’t test themselves in other areas where they may not be as proficient.

An entrepreneur does not have the luxury of only sticking to what they do best – at least they don’t have that luxury at the start. An entrepreneur needs to constantly go beyond their comfort zone, learn new things, and acquire and test new skills. Self-awareness becomes important when it’s time to delegate, listen to nay-sayers or trust your gut. 

 

3. Intellectual Curiosity

characteristics of a successful entrepreneur

Intellectual curiosity is a predisposition. It starts with being aware of a gap in your knowledge, being uncomfortable with this gap, and then doing something about it – investigating, researching, asking questions, etc.

An intellectually curious person is not content with answers like “That’s just the way it is.” Or, “It works. I don’t know why. But, it works.” An intellectually curious person needs to know why. He or she needs to understand the mechanisms in play that lead to a given outcome.

Intellectual curiosity is the antidote to complacency. It is what drives discovery. And it is the primary catalyst for ingenuity, growth, and improvement.

A successful entrepreneur is not content with things working out. He or she needs to understand why they are working out; what actions led to this result; how can this result be duplicated, and how can the mechanism be refined or improved on.

An intellectually curious person is constantly going outside their comfort zone. They like to be surrounded by people from a variety of different backgrounds who have a different knowledge base and skill set than their own.

Unless you plan on being successful by pure chance, intellectual curiosity is a characteristic you need to possess, and in abundance.

Intellectual curiosity can be cultivated. We are all born with it – to varying degrees. But it is the people who choose to foster and encourage their intellectual curiosity who give themselves the greatest chance of success.

Cultivate your intellectual curiosity by stepping outside your comfort zone. Read a book on a subject you know little about. Take a course on a topic you are not skilled in. If you find acquiring a new skill interesting and understanding its own reward then you are off to an excellent start.

 

4. Patience

It takes years of hard work to be an overnight success – or you can take the longer, slower route. As an entrepreneur, those are your two options.

Patience needs to be accompanied with a good dose of belief in yourself and what you have set out to accomplish. Your confidence should help to sustain your confidence. And your patience should prevent minor or temporary setbacks from diminishing your confidence.

Patience – accompanied by confidence in the process – keeps you from making rash decisions or taking unnecessary risks. Patience enables you to keep your head up when times are tough, and it keeps you moving ahead even in the face of adversity.

As an entrepreneur, you will face adversity. If you lack patience, you may be susceptible to giving in to the temptation of abandoning the strategy you’ve defined, cutting corners, or outright giving up on your dream too soon.

It’s easier to be patient when you also:

  • Have a passion for what you are working on.
  • Trust the process – believe in the strategy you’ve outlined and have confidence in the steps you’re taking to reach your goals.
  • Seek the accomplishment rather than the award.
  • Take pleasure or get satisfaction from the “little” victories.

 

5. Confidence

As an entrepreneur, you are stepping out onto a road that many others have traveled before you – and where many others have failed. You will also get a lot of feedback from people – many of whom are only trying to be helpful – that might not be very positive. In fact, you are likely to hear a lot of negative and pessimistic comments about your project and about your ambition.

It can sometimes be difficult to forge ahead in the face of so much negative energy. It can also be difficult to forge ahead while maintaining a healthy mix of confidence, patience, and self-awareness. But if it were easy, we probably wouldn’t find being an entrepreneur as interesting and rewarding as we do.

Where is the line between confidence and arrogance?

The truth is that there is a vast chasm between the two constructs. 

Arrogance comes from a place of vanity and narcissism, whereas confidence can exist independent of the ego and its pitfalls.

A confident person sets out on a task to secure in the notion that they will:

  • Perform to the best of their ability.
  • Be content with the outcome – either in its success or in the new understanding a setback will provide.
  • Have the emotional maturity to handle the hardships the task may demand they endure.
  • Have the emotional maturity to hold their head up regardless of the outcome or be willing to share the praise should the outcome be positive

Arrogance comes from a place of vanity and narcissism, whereas confidence can exist independent of the ego and its pitfalls.

On the other hand, an arrogant person sets out on a task with the idea that:

  • A positive outcome is guaranteed (regardless of thor level of competence).
  • Should the outcome not be positive, it is not their fault. The fault lies with someone else.
  • They will get the praise and recognition that they so deserve

 

The Bottom Line

Creating a running your own business is not for everyone. It takes a special person to endeavor and succeed at such a feat.

While you may not be born with all the attributes discussed in this article, these attributes can be cultivated. It comes down to the question of whether you’re willing to put in the time and the work.

Key Attributes of a Successful Entrepreneur