Five Winning Behaviors Of Successful Entrepreneurs
Being an entrepreneur may be second nature to some, but becoming an entrepreneur is possible too.
To do that you need to look inside yourself to understand your behaviors and reflexes. You need to start somewhere in order to build the set of skills that will lead you to success and that “somewhere” is yourself, harness your behaviors and hone them to build positive and effective habits that will help you achieve your goals. Reflection and practice are keys to success. Learn and apply, reflect and practice - a two-way road from self to the objective world out there and vice versa is your ticket to achievement and success.
In 1980’s, the US National Science Foundation contracted Management Systems International (MSI) to carry out a five-year research project “to analyze the behaviors of distinguished entrepreneurs from different countries.”
On that basis, they developed, with the help of renown psychologist David McClelland, an Entrepreneurship Development Program (EDP) to identify how to “expand participants’ potential to create or improve small businesses or other entrepreneurial activities” and “harness the entrepreneurship characteristics that are needed to be successful”.
Some 12 years later, I personally got certified by one of the gurus of EDP, Marina Fanning, co-founder and Executive Vice President of MSI, and I have since then been an adept of the idea that successful entrepreneurial behaviors could and should be grounded in achievement, planning and power sets of skills and behaviors. The fourth element that completes the set should be successful business creation and planning.
In this article, I will present how the teachings of Marina Fanning inspired my work. The article is also based on the EDP workshop about achievement skills of successful entrepreneurs.
“When as a child you walk your first step, when you put your desires into a word form, you have already started a long journey of achievement. Do not squander it by reveling in nothingness,” Lahcen Haddad.
Marina Fanning and EDP experts divide this set into five categories, including looking for opportunities, quality and efficiency, taking risks, persistence and honoring commitments. They are called achievement behaviors because they help the successful entrepreneur achieve results. Some of these could be innate, but they all also could be acquired through reflection, practice and constant and relentless work by the entrepreneur on him/herself.
Look for opportunities and never fail to seize those that arise
“What others see as obstacles, entrepreneurs transform into opportunities,” Lahcen Haddad.
Michael Dell, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Dell Technologies, said, “It’s through curiosity and looking at opportunities in new ways that we've always mapped our path.” Seizing opportunities is a quality of successful entrepreneurs. Dell’s business experience is a model of just that. He founded the company while a student at the University of Texas in Austin, describing it as “initially running the business from a dormitory room…providing customized upgrades for PCs.” When he found out that “the venture proved profitable,” he left college and devoted himself to building his business. Years later, he became one of the richest men in the world.
Therefore, if an “opportunity appears,” as Tom Peters, an American writer on business management practices said, “don’t pull down the shade.” Successful entrepreneurs not only refrain from putting down the shades when an opportunity presents itself, but they have the knack to see it when others see nothing but problems.
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For instance, UNLEASH is a non-profit founded in 2016 that runs different solutions, including Traffic Jams (JT) which delivers healthy, tasty, ready-to-eat breakfast to young professionals on-the go in fast-growing cities of developing countries. Their aim is to transform traffic jams in Beijing, Cairo, Lagos, Mexico City and Johannesburg into opportunities for stuck drivers to eat healthy food and for young people on mopeds to get a job delivering it - and, of course, for their business to grow and prosper. In this case, everybody is a winner. Therefore, what most people would see as a problem, these social entrepreneurs saw as an opportunity to sell, create jobs, and serve the community.
A successful entrepreneur, according to the EDP experts, acts before events push him/her to, expands his/her business to other sectors, and is always on the lookout to get more funding, more customers, more space, different suppliers. Acting on time (or before the crisis hits), branching off to other activities, and always seeking to grow resources are basic behaviors that help entrepreneurs stay alert for when opportunities strike. That is why they always think outside the box by breaking “imaginary limits” (EDP) and always converting hurdles into solutions and junk into resources.
Quality and efficiency
“Quality is not a plus, it is the essence of work itself. Non-quality work is not work at all,” Lahcen Haddad
A Chinese proverb says that “a bad workman always blames the tools.” Blaming the tools is a refusal to focus on quality as an impact of the doer and not that of the instruments used. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was paralyzed from the waist down by polio before running for office, worked alongside Churchill, who used to have learning problems, to defeat Hitler. Helen Keller lost sight and hearing but that did not prevent her from becoming one of the most famous advocates for women's and labor rights in the US.
Quality is about a predisposition to always strive to do better despite the odds or the tools. As Peter F. Drucker said, "Efficiency is doing better than what is already being done. Effectiveness is deciding what to do better."
The successful entrepreneur, according to the EDP experts, always “strives to do better more rapidly and at a lesser cost.” We will go back to time and cost later, but what is important here is the will to constantly do better. Michael Moritz, the billionaire chairman of Sequoia Capital, “prefers the word ‘obsession’ as a way to describe (this) essential quality shared by the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.”
According to EDP, quality standards are not only respected but surpassed - the successful entrepreneur challenges him/herself to always go the extra mile to achieve the best for a patron or a customer. Quality should not be at the expense of time- striking a balance between quality and timeliness is a trait of the successful entrepreneur.
That is why it is important to understand the difference between quality and efficiency, as EDP explains that “quality is about improving the product or service while efficiency is about achieving quality in a timely fashion and at a reasonable cost."
For an entrepreneur, there is always a need to strike a balance between the two- a good quality product that comes later than needed is useless; however, rushing through a product for the sake of meeting a deadline without worrying about quality is not only risky but bad for the brand reputation.
Quality is a way of life- EDP states that it means believing that everything could be improved. In fact, successful entrepreneurs link “lifestyle entrepreneurship” to “the quality of life” so much so that they become intertwined.
In a book, Sara B., Marcketti, Linda S. Niehm, and Ruchita Fuloria defined “lifestyle entrepreneurs as individuals who owned and operated businesses closely aligned with their personal values, interests, and passions.”
Lifestyle entrepreneur does not have anything to do with luxury or posh life but with passion, style, high quality in life and business. Passion drives the successful entrepreneur both in life and at work.
EDP puts an emphasis on the will to always improve, to always think that there exists a better way- “Quality means care and coherence.” It is not a technique or a skill, but “it’s a way of life, a passion - quality is expressed everywhere and at every moment. Worrying about quality is an element that is integrated in one’s life.” It also requires also patience and persistence.
“Absolutely tenacious with a will of steel,” those are the words that Jim Armstrong used to describe Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic maker and shaper, when he died on October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs said that passion comes from loving what you do and striving to always look for doing what you could love. Love and patience go together- in fact, loving induces a sense of care, an eye to beauty, to detail, to perfection, all sine qua non traits of quality.
The great Sufi poet, Jalaludin Rumi, said that “patience is seeing the Creator in the wound.” And for Rumi, “every moment is made glorious by the light of Love.” Love is what guides you to heal the wound. Patience seeks to find love in adverse moments. Patience and love are the essential rudiments for quality work. The successful entrepreneur has a Sufi side to him/her - they patiently care about what they love. They are passionate, but this passion comes from a deep belief in what one does - EDP asks, if you don’t believe in what you do, how can you sell it to others? You can neither be committed nor passionate about your product if you do not believe in it yourself.
As we have said above, quality should not be at the expense of time, nor should it be costly.
The triangle of quality, time and cost (EDP) is a way to approach the relation between producing the best on time and at reasonable price. Keeping a balance between those three elements is essential for success. Nonetheless, you can invest in any of those three aspects to conquer a market or sizeable part of it. Steve Jobs never accepted to lower prices of Apple PCs or Smartphones or to sacrifice on the time it takes to produce them but invested in top quality and became a world leader. Polaroid worked on the time it took to produce pictures some seventy years ago and presented a product that was more costly than traditional photographs but that printed pictures in three seconds rather than two weeks (EDP). Polaroid increased cost but hugely reduced time for roughly the same quality product.
Therefore, it is important to define well your products or services, to identify your clients, and study their expectations and find ways to measure their needs (EDP). Always ask yourself if your product or service is up to the expectations of your clients, and if the processes and operations are necessary for improving your product or service (EDP). Always ask yourself how you can do better, how you can improve the quality of what you sell (EDP). How can I correct what I see as shortcomings? As the American entrepreneur, television personality, media proprietor, and investor, Mark Cuban said, “it’s not about money or connections—it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone...And if it fails, you learn from what happened and do a better job next time.”
“Risk is your step into the unknown, but also a possible dive into unchartered success,” Lahcen Haddad
History has taught us that those who dare nothing have nothing. In fact, history unfolds itself because there are men and women out there who take risks, try new things, think outside the box, who challenge themselves, who navigate in the unknown. As Helen Keller put it, "life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
But risk taking is different from rash behavior or recklessness. As we will see below, successful entrepreneurs think before they risk - daring does not exclude calculation. As General George S. Patton, the US Third Army Commander in France and Germany after the Allied Invasion of Normandy in June 1944, said, “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash."
On his deathbed, the famous Arab General, Khalid Ibn El Waleed, who conquered most of the Middle East in the 7th Century AD, said that there was no part of his body that did not witness a wound or a stab by a sword, an arrow or a knife. His body was a field of war. His success was due to his legendary daring to defy death and enemy force. That is why fortune smiled on him, as Virgil said. But General Khalid knew when to retreat, when to regroup - he was a great strategist, in the same manner as he was a smart and brave tactician. Daring and calculation produce results. Without General Khalid, the Muslim Empire would have been different from what it developed into during the centuries that followed the coming of Islam.
A successful entrepreneur will always challenge him/herself “by choosing a task that is not too easy but possible” (EDP). If it were easy, then everybody would understand it and do it. But it must be possible- the entrepreneur is not a daydreamer fantasizing about an imaginary world, but a realistic visionary stepping out of his/her intellectual comfort zone to unchartered territories with circumspection and calculated moves. They take risks but they are careful people, measuring everything, even ordinary tasks as EDP experts say, before taking decisions.
But the risk has to be calculated. Entrepreneurs factor in the possibility of failure but they try their best to ensure the risk is tolerable. Risk is their gateway to success but could lead to failure as well. That is why they try as much as possible to bend it their way, to mitigate it, to set up plan B in case Plan A does not work. Take risks but be prepared for failure. That is what calculated risk means. Investing in stocks could be a risky business, but you could modulate your portfolio by having 75% shares (more risk but possible higher lead) and 25 % in guaranteed bonds (low yield but low risk) while young, and fifty-fifty at middle age, while flipping when you are beyond sixty to 75 % credit default swaps (CDS) and 25 % shares. You risk more while young and risk less beyond 60.
EDP explains that the successful entrepreneur does not give any attention to “the presence or absence of others” while making decisions about what kinds of risks s/he will take. Of course, they gather information and ask for advice but when taking decisions they do not care whether others are present or not. They always measure progress in relation to what they have done before and not in relation to others and adjusts her targets “according to his/her assessment of their own capacities, without worrying about what the others think or do” (EDP). Therefore, they “take total responsibility for the results of his/her actions and does not attribute them to luck or other circumstances” (EDP).
As Christopher Avery, CEO and Founder of The Responsibility Company, said, “Taking responsibility is a commitment to own your life, to self-leadership, growth, and freedom.” The same way the successful entrepreneur feels independent and empowered to take a calculated risk, they also feel responsible for their actions, no matter if they succeed or fail.
But taking risk is not gambling; money is not the primary interest of the entrepreneur; his/her primary concern is the task at hand; “money is only an indicator of success” (EDP). Money could be a factor and in that case the entrepreneur “chooses the best option that ensures a return on investment, albeit small” (EDP). Assessment of success is key to risk taking: what are my chances of succeeding? Is the risk I am taking rash? Is failure possible? Should I be concerned that failure will be too big? What is the indicator of my success? Is it money? How much of it? These are the main questions that the successful entrepreneur asks constantly.
“It is ok to stumble. What is not ok is not to stand up stronger and wiser,” Lahcen Haddad
Edison failed 10,000 times before making the right electric bulb, but his position is that he has not failed. He said, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Edison’s legendary tenacity means that persistence always ends up by paying- turning failure into an opportunity to learn is a quality of a successful entrepreneur.
Those who run from obstacles lose the opportunity to learn from difficulty. In 2016, my political party refused at the last minute to give me accreditation to run for Parliament. I had to change political affiliation at the eleventh hour. Everybody said it was impossible; a Herculean task. A Sisyphean undertaking. How can you reorganize around a new political identity in two weeks and win? But I had to do it. I worked up to twenty hours a day for fifteen days, sought help from friends and family -I mobilized supporters, I created partnerships against all odds. A group of adversaries created a strong and powerful alliance against me, using money, power and networking to defeat me. But that only made me more convinced that I could win. “If they gang up against me, then they must have seen something in me that made them afraid I might win”, I said to myself. The more obstacles they created, the more convinced I became that I have it within me to win. People also saw me also as a fighter who never gives up. Some voted for me because of the fire I showed in fighting back. To the surprise of friends and foes, I won. Against all odds.
Obstacles make successful entrepreneurs stronger and more determined. They face them headstrong with no hesitation. EDP stated that they “take repeated and varied initiatives to face a challenge or overcome a problem.” Obstacles are opportunities to outshine oneself before outstripping others. Successful entrepreneurs have the patience and the force to persist and get the job done (EDP). They are obstinate in the sense that they try again and again with the aim of getting it right.
How to persist? Repeat the same thing many times - this is called the obstinacy principle. A study of managers in the workplace by Tsedal Neely of Harward Business School and Paul Leonardi of Northwestern University found a simple truth, “Managers who were deliberately redundant moved their projects forward faster and more smoothly.” Repetition means clarity of purpose but also conviction and strength.
But obstinacy does not mean stubbornness. EDP explains that successful entrepreneurs adopt also the problem-resolution principle which consists of making modifications and trying other approaches. Persist in your purpose, repeat actions, be redundant but try other ways, other approaches. Modify your take. Be ready to change course even while your goal is the same. It’s like a journey through forests and mountainous areas: when you face obstacles, you change course and try other ways to get to your destination. PayPal was not designed to be an online money transfer and payment service from the get go.
“Your word is your most cherished capital in business and life- lose it and you lose the essence of your being as a person and as entrepreneur,” Lahcen Haddad.
Commitment is the secret key to tapping into and increasing your potential, both in life and in business. When you venture into the unknown and commit to your business, you're setting yourself on a path to learn and grow as an individual. When you get in the habit of honoring your commitments, you develop a sense of power and control over your life. You become the type of person who does what you say you're going to do, and as a result your self-image starts to transform.
Gary Ryan Blair, President of the GoalsGuy, said that “success is the result of making and keeping commitments to yourself and others…while all failed or unfinished goals, projects, and relationships are the direct result of broken commitments.” For Blair, failure is the result of broken promises and non-honored commitments.
But to be able to honor your word, you need to define and communicate. When you say you're going to do something, don't just assume you'll remember your promise or obligation. Take commitments seriously. Every commitment you make is a moment of truth — an opportunity to create positive impressions about your leadership abilities and character. But don't over-commit (EDP).
Honoring commitment means also making personal sacrifices or deploying extraordinary efforts to achieve a task, meet a deadline, keep a customer satisfied. Once you have made a promise, you will do what it takes to honor it. That may include extra time and extra cost. Some entrepreneurs may even give up on profit just to keep a client happy - it’s like investing in the future. You may lose now but you will earn more by keeping your image immaculate. But you do it also because you take full responsibility of your promises, because your word is part of who are and what you do. Your image is part of your capital, your brand identity.
A successful entrepreneur is always on the lookout for opportunities. They go the extra mile to deliver timely quality product or service in an efficient manner. But they also take calculated risks to increase chances of success. And they do not give up- they have a goal and persist till they reach it. Honoring commitment is part of their capital. They make realistic commitments and do everything to respect them.
Lahcen Haddad has been Minister of Tourism with the Government of Morocco between 2012 and 2016. As Minister, he has overseen the shift of Morocco towards becoming a leading destination in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East and a reference country with regards to sustainable tourism.
Before joining the Government in January 2012, Dr. Haddad worked as an international expert in strategic studies, democracy, governance and development, and as a certified expert in strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, diversity and entrepreneurship. His involvement in programs and studies of national and international importance endowed him with a mastery of geostrategic issues, economic development, public policy, international relations and issues of governance at local and international levels.
Haddad also taught as a university professor for over 20 years with institutions such as Indiana University, Saint Thomas Aquinas College in New York, the School of International Training in Vermont, Mohamed V University in Rabat and Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. At the World Learning School of International Training, he was for ten years the Academic Director for the SIT Morocco Program and area thought leader for the Academic Directors community.
Haddad’s publications in English, Arabic, French and Spanish, both academic and journalese, span the topic areas of geo-strategy, social sciences, development, entrepreneurship, communication and management as well as topics of general interest.