Missing Something? Why Great Entrepreneurs Lack Certain Traits (And How It Affects Success)
You know by now that an entrepreneur should be bold, and that thriving in uncertainty and having strong vision are all important parts of the success you desire. History is full of examples of visionaries who blazed trails and demonstrated these traits. But what do most entrepreneurs lack, and are those deficiencies to their benefit?
By digging into this topic, you will uncover interesting truths that underpin the success and failure you may experience in business. Is technical proficiency really relevant to an entrepreneur? Is a lack of fear associated with success? What does this mean for you and your business?
1. Need for routine
A defining characteristic of entrepreneurs is their ability to operate flexibly. A key draw of employment is its stability- your hours worked are structured clearly and your financial remuneration is straight-forward. Increases in salary are offered periodically and career advancement is generally stable. The opposite of this is true for entrepreneurs. Where others may be unwilling to or incapable of operating in a free environment without rules dictated to them, this exact freedom allows the entrepreneur to map their activities and objectives to their own preferences and priorities.
Studies in the last three years have looked into the subject of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and how it relates to entrepreneurship. ADHD was found to be one instance in which a negative disorder can be a positive for the entrepreneur. These studies show that the symptoms of ADHD convey a unique type of logic in the individual that may be desirable for being an entrepreneur. Whereas impulsive behavior may be a drawback in a more structured environment, the tendency of a person with ADHD to act when the situation seems suitable –and to think less of the consequences– was found to give a singular advantage in an important area: experimentation.
The 2016 publication in question, "Entrepreneurship And Psychological Disorders", concluded that the tendency of entrepreneurs with ADHD to act when they instinctively felt it appropriate to do so led to a greater amount of regular experimentation in their field. While their ultimate success, of course, involves a range of other influences, the fact that this experimentation occurred more regularly tended towards greater positive outcomes than negative.
What this means for you
There is another side to this coin. Research has shown that entrepreneurs tend to have poor self-management skills and struggle to consistently multi-task basic duties on a daily basis. If this sounds like you –if you prefer to act on instinct and find it hard to work in a structured environment– you would benefit from delegating more mundane duties to carefully-chosen staff members or personal assistants (online or otherwise).
Entrepreneurs exchange risk for greater reward, it can be argued. Your willingness to leverage your skills and positioning in your industry against that risk defines you and it is exactly this lack of fear that is commonly agreed to be a defining aspect of entrepreneurship.
For example, back in 2006 a study by Hao Zhao and Scott E. Seibert, "The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Entrepreneurial Status", seemed to bear this out. It found that entrepreneurs displayed low levels of neuroticism -one of the ‘Big Five’ higher-order personality traits in the study of psychology– meaning they have fewer ‘fearful’ traits, such as anxiety, fear, doubt and so on. Interestingly, though, there is an ongoing debate over the specifics in regard to fear– whether it is a help or a hindrance.
What this means for you
A reasonable argument. What can we take from this? Regardless of your exact definition of what fear is, a high percentage of successful entrepreneurs seem to lack a poor response to their understanding of the emotion, and this obviously allows them to take potentially lucrative risks. But if you do experience fear, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to achieving your ambitions: When properly harnessed, fear can be utilized as a driver and a source of determination.
3. Technical proficiency
In 2013, research from TTI Success Insights shared the results of a study, "The Skills Most Entrepreneurs Lack", which found that the most successful business people aren’t necessarily the most technically capable, or those who are strongest in analytical problem-solving.
Another defining characteristic of the entrepreneur is their ability to identify opportunities and utilize a range of soft-skills –such as persuasion, leadership and goal orientation– to invest in and capitalize on that area. While the specialist coder in an IT startup, for instance, possesses far more technical talent than the entrepreneur owner, they are likely to score lower in those essential entrepreneurial qualities that are so vital in identifying a chance and pushing into it in the face of adversity. No amount of technical proficiency will overcome a need for effective leadership and feel for the industry.
What this means for you
Well, as you might expect, the lack of technical knowledge leaves a requirement for such tangible skills in your newly created venture. This is where above-average ability in traits such as leadership comes into effect, allowing you as an entrepreneur to gather the technical talent that is needed for the reality of your business to succeed. After all, according to research from CB Insights, 23% of startups failed because they didn’t have the right team in place. If there are certain skills you lack, it’s even more important you search for the people who do possess these skills to fill that gap.
An interesting emotional aspect of the serial entrepreneur. The above-mentioned research from TTI Success Insights discovered that entrepreneurially-minded people lack this trait –among others– and it actively contributes to their success. How? The detail and extent of their empathy are where the distinction lies. While we all differ as entrepreneurs in our overarching goals and principles, it’s common that we wish to provide a service or product that helps others at some level. This is empathy– the desire to elevate the quality of life for others through our actions and offerings. Entrepreneurs, however, differ in that while this is commonly part of their motivation, the profit received by doing so is the greater goal.
What this means for you
This should not be taken to mean that entrepreneurs –and by extension you– are inherently immoral. What it comes down to is priorities: the simple truth is that an individual with higher empathy may prioritize other things such as benefiting others above a financial return. It is the lower score on this trait –and the resulting prioritization of monetary reward– that draws such individuals towards the role of the entrepreneur. From your point of view, this means it can be financially beneficial to foster a certain single-mindedness when it comes to business, but it needn’t be at the expense of your basic moral principles.
Adversity is the environment in which entrepreneurs thrive. The concrete belief in the success of their vision and its legitimacy is often the largest contributing factor to success. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Business Venturing, titled "From Entrepreneurial Intentions to Actions", concerned the experience of doubt. It found that entrepreneurs who experience this emotion at what was called the ‘action level’ –the point at which decisive action must be taken on any scale– had significantly inhibited success. The opposite, of course, was true: entrepreneurs who can push through doubt when the time to act arises will succeed where others may fail. This raises the interesting notion that determination to succeed can overcome negative aspects of any venture, even to the point where poor decisions succeed due to sheer will. While we as business people should do all in our power to invest our time and capital into suitable activities, the fact that our willingness to push through difficulty once committed is so important it’s worth keeping in mind. Various studies from Roy F. Baumeister and colleagues on what they term ‘self-regulatory strength’ also point towards an idea worth considering. When looking at self-control, it was discovered that this ability could clearly be trained– hence, poor or rash decisions may be avoided, even if we are totally confident that they are the right ones.
What this means for you
As an entrepreneur, the above study is a useful one to take on board. Knowing you have the potential to develop your self-control ‘muscle’ in a way that benefits you, while remaining confident in your business venture, can help you to achieve a valuable balance. Remember that a lack of doubt can give you the confidence to succeed in your startup, but it could also work to your disadvantage if you are trying to push through an idea that has fundamental flaws.
Success through understanding
It’s clear from the above that the emotional, intellectual and technical aspects of entrepreneurship are complicated, and research continues to shed light on the traits –or lack thereof– that commonly bring about success. But these deficiencies are only part of what makes a successful entrepreneur: they are not always to your benefit. There is much to be gained from recognizing that the lack of some attributes can contribute to achieving your goals, but it can also pull you away from them. Instead of defining yourself blindly by deficiencies in certain areas and strengths in others, work towards building a holistic view of your personality to learn where positives can be found in the negative, and hidden dangers identified within strengths.
Related: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Handling The Burden Of Business Success
John Hanafin is the founder of Huriya Private, a specialist advisory firm aimed at bringing financial expertise to high-net-worth individuals and families. A focused professional with entrepreneurial drive and a commercial mindset, Hanafin has over 25 years experience in the trust and corporate services industry, with 15 years based in the Middle East, and an extensive background serving the specialised needs of high-net-worth investors around the world. Approved, licensed and recognised by many international FSCs, Hanafin is a trusted advisor to governments for the structuring and implementation of programmes to boost corporate re-domiciliation and foreign direct investments. Hanafin is a chartered member of the Securities Institute (CISI), a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), a member of the International Tax Planning Association (ITPA), and sits on the boards of various organisations around the world.