If you dream of quitting your job and becoming your own boss, you’re not alone – 48 percent of Americans want to start their own business. But are you cut out for the entrepreneurial path? There’s an ongoing debate about whether entrepreneurs are born or made. Is there such a thing as entrepreneurial DNA?
Certain factors give you a better shot. Risk tolerance is a must but, by-and-large, there’s not just one type of person who can be a successful entrepreneur. In fact, business success has very little to do with whether you’re a people person or an introvert, detail-oriented or big-picture, quick-thinking or contemplative. I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years and seen people at each of these extremes achieve great success in their own ventures.
The key is knowing your strengths. It’s not about what type of person you are, it is about knowing what type of person you are. The one essential characteristic that makes a successful entrepreneur is a capacity for introspection. The entrepreneur who succeeds is the one who truly knows his or her own strengths, and builds a business around them.
Think about Disney, Ford, Apple, Google, Amazon, Virgin–some of the most successful businesses in history. Most people assume that the founders were just born with exceptional talent. It’s true that each of them had a particular area of genius but that’s not why they succeeded. They succeeded because they knew where they excelled and organized their management structure accordingly. Each one of them designed his company in a way that allowed him to spend almost all of his time working on what he loved to do. Success followed.
I asked my friend and business coach Lex Sisney (cofounder of CX.com and author of Organizational Physics) to weigh in on the question of what makes a successful entrepreneur.
“I think a business can reach a modicum of success with any entrepreneur who’s smart, hard-working and determined,” he says. “But only an entrepreneur who fuses his or her unique talents with a driving sense of purpose can achieve a transcendent level of success, and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.”
Every one of us is a genius at something. Every one of us is a potential entrepreneur. The key is to understand where your greatest talent lies, and figure out how to build a business around it.
Know your weaknesses, too. But what if there are certain areas in which you’re maybe not-so-much of a genius? Can you still be an entrepreneur if, say, you never passed calculus in high school?
Even the most successful entrepreneurs I know have their weaknesses. Some people excel at starting projects but are terrible at finishing them. Others shine in customer development but can’t wrap their head around operations. The good news is you don’t need to be a genius at everything to be an entrepreneur.
You do need to be aware of, and open about, your weaknesses. When you know where you’ll need support, you can build your team accordingly. Don’t hire people who are just like you. Instead, bring in people who complement your skills by excelling where you struggle. If you fail to do this, you’ll end up spending a lot of your time working in your weak areas, experiencing a ton of stress in day-to-day operations as a result.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. As your business grows, it’s not long before you get drawn into fighting fires outside of your specialty. If you don’t trust your team, either because you didn’t hire the right types of people to support you or because you haven’t learned how to get out of the way, it causes everyone stress. The business won’t perform up to potential.
Lex told me a story about how he almost ruined his own business (which went on to become the largest affiliate marketing company in the world) by failing to recognize his weaknesses early on:
“A business I started was growing like gangbusters,'' he said. "As a result, we were having a lot of problems getting our internal systems to keep pace with our sales. Rather than sticking to what I was good at–, innovation and market evangelism, I wrongly decided that I needed to become more of an ‘operator.’ I stopped spending as much time out in the market with customers, and I started spending more time working inside the business trying to right the ship.”
As he became more and more frustrated trying to fix operations, he started to lose confidence in his own capabilities. Problems with the system persisted and, even worse, sales started slipping. Finally, he brought in a coach who helped him delegate so that he could get back to working from his strengths.
Related: What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?
“My energy level and confidence quickly came back and so did our sales,'' he said. "Once I stopped meddling, the inside team rose to the challenge and made dramatic system improvements as well. That business went on to become the largest of its kind in the world. And to think I almost wrecked it by trying to work from my weaknesses rather than my strengths!”
Identifying your strengths and weaknesses. We all have biases that make an accurate self-assessment almost impossible. I’m introspective by nature but even I didn’t fully understand my strengths and weaknesses at the start. Luckily, there are lots of great tools out there for introspection junkies like me!
Here are my favorite tools (I’ve used all five) for better understanding your strengths and weaknesses:
1. StrengthsFinder. The StrengthsFinder assessment first showed up in the 2001 best-selling book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Dr. Donald Clifton. The self-assessment (now available online independent of the book) identifies your top five strengths based on your unique combination of talents, knowledge and skills.My top five strengths, per the test, were: activator, woo maximizer, communication and competition.
2. PSIU Management Style Indicator. The PSIU from Lex Sisney of Organizational Physics evaluates three different aspects of your management style: how you are, how you want to be and how others want you to be. Very useful for better understanding not only how you operate but also how other people perceive you in the workplace.
3. DiSC Assessment. The DiSC measures how you respond to your environment and how you influence others. It’s based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Marston, which centers on four personality traits - dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. (Fun fact: Marston also produced the first successful lie detector polygraph and created the comic Wonder Woman.)
4. ARC Leadership Dynamics. ARC starts with a 30-minute phone interview rather than a self-assessment (the makers of this test believe that self-assessments are too biased to be accurate). Following the phone interview, the specialist responds with tailored advice on how to best leverage your strengths in a position of leadership.
5. Predictive Index. The Predictive Index is often used as a hiring tool but it’s also useful as a self-assessment. This test tells you which behaviors you exhibit most strongly in the workplace and gives you a general overview of your management style.
Weakness doesn’t have to be an obstacle to success. Every entrepreneur has many. There are all kinds of people in this world, each with a different set of strengths. So what do you think: Are you an entrepreneur? If you have a deep capacity for introspection, you’re off to a great start.The key is to understand your own personal genius, plan your business around it and bring in people who can cover your blind spots.