These days, everyone with a MacBook and a blog thinks he’s an entrepreneur. Well, here’s a little tough love for the entrepreneurial generation: Calling yourself a CEO doesn’t make you one and a small army of Twitter followers doesn’t make you a leader, either.
As a wise VC who’s name escapes me once said, “There are entrepreneurs and there are Entrepreneurs.”
Not to dash your hopes and dreams, but the truth is the vast majority of you simply aren’t cut out to be entrepreneurs or leaders. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. And the sooner you realize you’re not going to be the second coming of Mark Zuckerberg, the better.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to reach for the stars. As Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” But having grown up in the high-tech industry and worked with hundreds of real CEOs, VCs, and Entrepreneurs for decades, one thing I can tell you is the word has become so overused, it’s almost meaningless.
So while there is no one-size-fits-all model for true entrepreneurs, in my experience, there are some things they seem to have in common. This might surprise you, but what sets them apart isn’t some laundry list of attributes. It’s their actions. What makes them unique is what they do and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t do.
1. They don’t think about work-life balance.
They’re mostly workaholics. What that means is their work comes first. It’s what they live for. They’re not freewheeling, fun-loving people who live for the weekend. They live to do what they love, and that’s work.
2. They don’t try to be what they’re not.
Probably the most damaging business myth to come along in decades is personal branding. You are not a product, and you can’t change who you are. Besides, real entrepreneurs don’t think about themselves. They think about their ideas and how to turn them into great products and services. And they deliver.
3. They don’t do it for the money.
They don’t whine about how hard they work for peanuts. They just do it. And because they’re passionate about what they do and focused like a laser beam, the money eventually comes, big-time.
4. They don’t have day jobs.
Great entrepreneurs don’t just dip their toes in the water. They jump in headfirst without a thought about the rocks below. They don’t do a little of this and a little of that. When they hit on something they think is really cool and exciting, they go all in.
5. They don’t give in to fear.
They don’t pay attention to those voices in their heads – you know, the ones that haunt you with everything that can go wrong. They’re not fearless, mind you. Nobody is. They just don’t let their fear stop them from taking risks. They do listen to some voices, though: the voice of reason and their instincts.
6. They don’t have grand visions.
While some do have grand delusions that they’re destined for greatness – a prophecy that’s often self-fulfilling, interestingly enough – for the most part, they generally don’t have grand visions for their companies. Zuckerberg, for example, wasn’t trying to create a company. He just wanted to rate the looks of fellow classmates.
7. They don’t have virtual mentors.
Most people follow all sorts of writers, bloggers and tweeters these days. That’s fine, but to get somewhere in life, to do great things, you have to have real mentors in the real world. Former Intel chairman Andy Grove mentored Steve Jobs. Jobs, in turn, advised Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Behind every great entrepreneur is at least one great mentor. A real one.
Most importantly, real entrepreneurs don’t call themselves entrepreneurs. They don’t do what everyone else is doing. They don’t follow the status quo, conventional wisdom or popular fads. They carve their own unique path. They’re leaders of their own destiny. That’s what drives them. And that’s why they succeed.
Steve Tobak is management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive of the high-tech industry. As managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, he's been a trusted strategic advisor to executives and business leaders for more than a decade. Contact Tobak.