Type E Personality

What makes entrepreneurs tick?
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the January 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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."

Drum Roll, Please

Learn teamwork without missing a beat.

By Debra Phillips

Time to lower the boom on your employees. For entrepreneurs who fear their workplace isn't nearly as harmonious as it could be, Arthur Hull's percussion-based team-building exercises might be the key to drumming up a little esprit de corps.

Don't worry: You don't need to boast Ringo Starr-caliber chops to participate in the musical village that Hull, founder of Santa Cruz, California-based management consulting firm Village Music Circles, helps companies create. The key is simply for employers and employees to drum their way towards greater appreciation of one another.

"It's not about learning how to play the drums or any other instrument," says Hull, a former music instructor. "Mostly, it's about listening and interacting."

Entrepreneurial companies and big corporations the likes of Apple Computer, Levi Strauss and Sun Microsystems have all partaken of Hull's approximately two-hour program. "We use village music as a metaphor for team-building," explains Hull. "We bring drums, percussion [instruments] and fun into [the workplace]."

What starts with voices, hands and tubular instruments known as "boom whackers" concludes--quite literally--with a bang. At the end of the program, says Hull, "we're at what we call `celebration mode' with all the drums and stuff. It's a very powerful experience."

Powerful enough, in fact, to have taken Hull to places as exotic as Moscow and Bangkok, Thailand, to guide other companies through his musical exercises. We gotta say it: Business is booming.

Happy Days

Entrepreneurs top satisfaction survey.

We've long supposed that small-business owners are more satisfied with their work than their corporate executive counterparts, but a recent study seems to prove it. Both small-business owners and top-level executives at large corporations agreed overwhelmingly that small-business owners reap more business satisfaction, according to a survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal and Murrysville, Pennsylvania-based research firm Cicco and Associates Inc.

"We figured the small-business owners would be pretty happy," says Tom Robinson, market research director for The Wall Street Journal. "But the missing ingredient was how the big-business guys would react. We were surprised by the number who think the grass is greener on the other side."

More than 62 percent of corporate executives surveyed felt small-business owners boasted "the more satisfying business experience"--a number that carries even more weight considering the position of these respondents. "You'd expect the number to be fairly high among people on a midmanagement level," says Robinson. "But [our respondents were] people with top management titles at large companies, so the assumption is that [they] are the ones who are paid well and have a lot of responsibility."

Given that fact, the survey results "may suggest a secret desire on the part of a lot of executives to run their own shop," says Robinson. "I don't know if the head-line can read `Corporate America Is Not Happy,' but [this survey] is certainly an indicator."

Robinson points out that the survey did not ask corporate executives whether they had any firsthand experience in a small business or whether their answers were based purely on perception. Regardless, those who do have firsthand experience with entrepreneurship are even more enthusiastic: Almost 80 percent of the small-business owners surveyed were confident that their satisfaction levels were superior. --J.C.

Contact Sources

Mr. Blackwell, (800) OKIDATA;

Graduate Management Admission Council, http://www.gmat.org email: gmacmail@gmac.com;

Hagberg Consulting Group, 950 Tower Ln., 7th Fl., Foster City, CA 94404, (415) 377-0232;

Village Music Circles, 108 Coalinga Wy., Santa Cruz, CA 95060, (408) 458-1946.

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