The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned, they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top-flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut, founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene      (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294874673_Entrepreneurship_and_its_Genetic_Basis). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Ethan and Emma

Entrepreneur Ethan and Entrepreneur Emma are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products, and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.

One morning, Ethan’s production manager enters his office at which point Ethan launches into an inquisition. Apparently there is an issue on the assembly line and Ethan wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Ethan interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.

Across town, Emma is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Emma sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Emma is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.

How would we characterize the behavior of Ethan? And how about that of Emma? The word that describes Ethan is “aggressive” and the word that describes Emma is “assertive.” There’s no question that Ethan was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Emma was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.

Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.

Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.

For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is in order to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.

Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Audio Episode 50 – The Last Word.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.