Is there such a thing as a classic entrepreneurial personality? If you pondered the seemingly divergent personas of Donald Trump and Bill Gates, you'd think not. But a recent study by the Hagberg Consulting Group in Foster City, California, shows that entrepreneurs do in fact tend to share certain characteristics that set them apart from their Fortune 500 counterparts.
"We compared the 400-plus entrepreneurs in our database with executives of top companies," says Richard Hagberg, the company's president, "and found 10 traits in which entrepreneurs showed a statistically significant difference."
Yet, lest a superiority complex sprout up, Hagberg points out that not all these characteristics are healthy for a company's growth. For example, he says, entrepreneurs tend to be task-focused, which makes them "not particularly sympathetic to issues or to people outside of that task. This gets in the way of the long-term loyalty and bonding necessary to sustain relationships. An entrepreneur might go charging up the mountain with guns blazing and, if he's not careful, turn around and find there's nobody behind him."
Interestingly, the study reported discrepancies between the way entrepreneurs characterized themselves and the way others perceived them; for example, a large majority see themselves as introverts, though many of their employees and peers characterize them as extroverts. The emergence of technology may contribute to their isolation; however, Hagberg hints at some deeper reasons.
"A lot of entrepreneurs are borderline extroverts/introverts who can put on a mask and appear to be very outgoing," Hagberg says. "But leadership is a lonely thing, and people who seek leadership tend to be independent, loner types who happen to have good social skills."
Another perceptual gap exists in the area of vision. "Entrepreneurs in particular tend to be visionary people, but they tend to believe they've communicated their vision more than they actually have," says Hagberg. "Entrepreneurs typically eat, sleep and breathe their business--they're thinking about it all the time--so they may think they've communicated their vision clearly to others when they actually haven't."
Entrepreneurs' strong personalities may also create what Hagberg calls "a false consensus because entrepreneurs are hard to challenge. They walk out of a meeting thinking everyone agrees with them, but people are simply afraid to challenge what they've said."
Though asking someone to change his or her personality is about as effective as asking a dog to meow, Hagberg believes the study calls for a behavior adjustment. "Many of the traits that help people succeed in the entrepreneurial stage of a company become problematic in the long run," he says. "The best entrepreneurs are able to modify that cowboy mentality and become somewhat more like the CEOs of bigger companies--a little less seat-of-the-pants, a little more deliberate. You have to make adjustments as the company grows."