Some people claim that you’re either born with the traits and abilities associated with being a successful entrepreneur or you’re not. Others claim that virtually anyone can develop the traits and abilities necessary for entrepreneurial success.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, and I’ve known and worked with a lot of them. Here’s what I think: Some traits associated with entrepreneurial success come naturally to some people, but most people can develop most of those traits if they want to. And no one needs to have them all in order to turn a simple idea into a successful business.
In my observation and opinion, these are the top 10 traits of successful entrepreneurs:
- Passionate. The most important trait an entrepreneur can have is passion: for your idea, your customers, your business, and your work. When you’re passionate about something, it is so interesting and meaningful to you that it’s all you want to do, and you want to share it with everyone. Passion drives you to do more and be better, to overcome the tough times, and to achieve your goals.
- Independent. Most successful entrepreneurs relish their independence and love to be in charge. They have a strong desire to be their own boss and a strong aversion to working for someone else. Having this sense of self-determination empowers you to take initiative and responsibility. It also helps you be decisive and resourceful.
- Creative. Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to “think outside the box”; to ask “what if” and then envision it; to see connections, opportunities, and solutions other people miss. Being an entrepreneur is all about being unique—in designing your products, marketing your brand, solving problems, and running your business.
- Optimistic. Successful entrepreneurs believe in their ideas and in themselves. They tend to have a positive outlook, trusting they will find whatever answers, resources, and opportunities they need to succeed. Having confidence in yourself gives your customers, vendors, and employees more confidence in you. Having a positive outlook helps you make good decisions, take constructive action, and seek solutions to challenges.
- Willing to take risks and action. Successful entrepreneurs take calculated risks and purposeful action. They have the ability to recognize and assess opportunities as well as risks. But what really gives them the edge is their gumption to go for it. You can learn how to identify, assess, and reduce your risks. You can learn how to find, generate, and assess opportunities. You can learn how to devise a great action plan. But you have to be willing to take risks and action. Opportunities don’t wait, and sometimes the only way to get where you want to be is to take a leap of faith.
- Open-minded. At a talk on entrepreneurship I attended, the speaker said, “You have to be able to live with the unknown.” That’s so true. Successful entrepreneurs are open-minded, flexible, and able to learn and adapt as they go. You’re never going to have all the answers; in fact, you’re going to have to make educated guesses half the time. So you have to be comfortable with ambiguity, open to opportunities, and willing to learn and adapt as you go.
- Good networker. Although successful entrepreneurs are self-directed, they love to network. They constantly look for ways to connect with people and to leverage those connections. They are not afraid to ask questions or seek help. Having good networking skills will enable you to surround yourself with people who are willing and able to lend their support. It will also help you build strong relationships with customers and vendors.
- Resilient. All successful entrepreneurs have failed and made mistakes, but they have the ability to learn and recover from their mistakes and failures. Because they are oriented toward goals and solutions, they look for ways to avoid and resolve problems, and they don’t give up easily. Starting small and with a simple idea reduces your risks and enables you to respond to problems more quickly and effectively. But you’re going to make mistakes and have setbacks. So you have to be willing and able to get through them and grow from them.
- Persistent. Successful entrepreneurs understand that bringing an idea to market and building a business take a lot of hard work, and they are willing to put in the time and work to achieve their goals. They are tenacious problem solvers who approach obstacles as stepping-stones, rather than as barriers to success, and they never just take no for an answer. If one strategy doesn’t work, they keep trying different ones until they get the results they are after or exhaust every viable tactic. Passion fires you up; persistence enables you to go the distance.
- Driven. All successful entrepreneurs are driven to succeed. I also think many are driven by a purpose that is personal and meaningful to them. It may be the desire to make a lot of money or a positive difference in the world. It may be the need to prove something to yourself or others. It may be the longing to transform yourself or simply to do something you love. When you know what you want and go for it, you are more likely to get it.
Of course, having these 10 traits doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. In fact, some of these characteristics can be problematic. If you’re too independent, for example, you may think your way is the only one and may not take input from others. If you take persistence too far, you may pour time, effort, and money into a lost cause.
I know I don’t have all the right traits, and there are many parts of being an entrepreneur that still scare me, such as the unknowns and the risks. But I think most, if not all, of these qualities can be learned. So if you have some of these traits and the willingness to develop the others, you have what it takes to be a successful inventor-entrepreneur. The question is: is it what you want?