What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Tick

Comparing traits of successful people is an exercise in futility. But understanding habits is quite useful.

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By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What do Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Elon Musk all have in common? Probably nothing. Or maybe a lot. Honestly, I have no idea. What I do know is that I met one of them and - trust me when I tell you - he is one-of-a-kind. A unicorn. There is no one else like him on planet earth.

The number of factors that goes into making people the way they are is so enormous, you can't imagine. First there's genetics. Then there's upbringing. Throw experience into the mix and you have one permutation out of gazillions - the unique personality of a single human being.

That's why comparing traits and qualities of successful people is, in my view, an exercise in futility. But behavior is another matter entirely. For example, it wouldn't surprise you to know that those who build great companies aren't the wishy-washy type, would it? You would expect them to be decisive.

Related: The Key to Success? Relationships.

And while I can't tell you why, the truth is that I've observed certain similarities in the behavior of nearly every great entrepreneur I've known over the decades. And by great, I mean those who have built their startups into large, growing companies that thrived for many years.

They're not consensus builders. They don't crowdsource. They have their own way of doing things, their own process for working through complex problems and coming up with the right decisions. Yes, they do ask smart people good questions, but in the end, they trust their own gut to make the final call.

They have no patience for the status quo. And they don't suffer fools who try to tell them "this is how it's done," "this is how ____ did it," or "we have to do it this way because ..." They truly believe they can find a better way to toast bread or boil water if they set their minds to it.

Their work is like a religious cult. They have a burning passion for what they do, a love for it that defies logic. Which is why they often forget little things like personal hygiene, eating and sleeping. And they build their companies in their own image. They put the "cult" in company culture.

Related: How Great Entrepreneurs Got Started

They have huge chips on their shoulders. They have something to prove and they may not even be aware of to whom. But on some level, it's important for them to believe they are special. And they usually spend their lives doing everything in their power to make that a reality. There's a superhero quality to their quest, which, not surprisingly, often includes a super villain.

They're sponges for information. This was the first behavioral attribute I began to recognize decades ago and it has stood the test of time. They're all information hogs. They're masters at digesting enormous amounts of data, assimilating it, and using it to innovate in creative new ways.

They live to solve problems. They have no interest in just any old solution; they want the solution, the optimum solution, the right solution. That's probably because so many are micromanaging control freaks. Or maybe it's the other way around.

They get business. This is the one that, in my opinion, stops most entrepreneurs from getting anywhere. They resist the importance of understanding how business works or they try to outsource it. That's a big mistake. All the great ones get business. It's not rocket science, but it is essential.

They're in it to win. As for the definition of "win," it's whatever it is they seek to do: change the world, make a dent in the universe, accomplish the impossible, build the best whatever, or just beat the "bad guys." Stick-with-it-ness is in their blood. They persevere until they win.

The million-dollar question, of course, is this: Are these requirements for becoming a successful entrepreneur? Of course not. And I think it's a big mistake to try to be something you're not. But if they paint a picture that looks remarkably like you, that is something to consider as you go forward.

Related: 4 Critical Skills for a Changing World

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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