5 Essential Personality Traits
for Succeeding as a Business Owner
Are your personality traits conducive to entrepreneurial success?
It's risky to start a business without asking yourself that question. As much as anything, your success in building a small business will depend on your personality and how well it is suited to the task.
So let's look at some arenas in which personality has a direct bearing on success as a business owner.
1. Financial Security vs. Taking Financial Risks
To be an entrepreneur, it's necessary to embrace risk. No matter how thoroughly you plan a startup, the venture is filled with unknowns. And unknowns always entail risk.
But not all risks are of the same order. People who are willing to take risks in one area of life may be risk-averse in others.
During my Navy career I knew many superb warriors who willingly risked life and limb in combat. But one reason that they enjoyed the military is that it gave them and their family a predictable, secure income. Fearless on the battlefield, in their financial life they were risk-averse.
Others are attracted to corporate careers for similar reasons. They are not so much enamored of corporate life, but by the assurance of good salaries and benefits.
For people like this, business startups can be a trying experience. Financial risk is inherent in almost any startup. It's just the nature of the beast. You must ask yourself, therefore, whether you are risk-averse when it comes to financial security.
If you are married, your spouse's risk-aversion must also be considered. Business ownership can put tremendous strains on marriages that had previously been strong and happy. And where a spouse is highly risk-averse when it comes to financial security, these strains can develop early.
2. Decisive vs. Fretful
Because there is so much uncertainty in running a small business, there will never be a shortage of things that you could worry about. Your success will hinge on keeping these worries in check so that they do not preoccupy you or even overwhelm you.
Worry is detrimental to timely decision-making. In any significant decision, worry will hone in on all the things that could go wrong. Worry thus thwarts the opportunistic, quick-response spirit that must thrive in an entrepreneurial setting.
This does not mean that entrepreneurs are oblivious to dangers or indifferent to threats. Quite the contrary. Entrepreneurs succeed by keeping an eye on risks and mitigating them. But they do not let worry gain the upper hand so that their outlook becomes fretful.
Nor do they fret about decisions once they are made. Entrepreneurs know that to maintain momentum, they must make decisions with dispatch and move forward. If the decision proves correct, they have gained speed. If it proves incorrect, they learn from the experience and make appropriate mid-course corrections.
Even though we speak of worry as a personality trait, it's not a trait in the truest sense of the word. Rather, it's a habit that becomes engrained in personality. In some people this habit is so deeply entrenched that they easily find reasons to justify being fretful.
If you find yourself in that camp, you must ask yourself serious questions about how effectively you can break the habit of worry. Otherwise, your chances of success as an encore entrepreneur are sorely limited.
3. Self-Disciplined vs. Easily Distracted
How easily do you keep yourself on task? Some people excel at it. Others struggle with it.
If you have always worked in tightly-managed settings, you may not know the answer to that question. The very structure of your work environment, with its deadlines and milestones, has forced a discipline on you.
A startup gives you none of that discipline-enforcing structure. You must find within yourself the will and determination to stay on task and on course. Any business left to run itself will run itself into the ground. To prevent that from happening, you must first impose discipline on yourself and then impose discipline on the business.
The self-discipline of running a business is particularly challenging for people who thrive at being artistic and creative. Especially if they have started a business to market their artistic and creative products.
Art and creativity are by nature spontaneous and free-flowing. And people attracted to these life-pursuits tend to imbibe that spontaneous, free-flowing spirit. For them, the rigors of running a business can be an arduous task.
If you want to be a business owner, but realize that self-discipline is not your strong suit, you may want to consider a partnership with someone who has that strength. Let the partner be responsible for running the business while you contribute what accords well with your talents.
4. Attentive to Detail vs. Careless with Details
The typical startup has precious few resources. In terms of money, time, and efficiency it must waste nothing. This then demands constant attention to details.
Now, there is a difference in being attentive to details and burying yourself in them. As the inspirational force behind your business, you need to maintain a big picture view.
But you also must know which details cannot be ignored. And you must discipline yourself to stay attuned to them. This is especially true with financial statements. Business owners are making a grave mistake if they simply skim financial statements, looking at little more than the bottom line and the balance in the bank. If you're not skilled at reading financial statements, make it an early priority to develop this ability.
Are you inclined to be attentive to details? Or do you tend to be careless about monitoring them? If you're not sure, here's a quick litmus test to use in evaluating yourself.
When household credit card statements arrive in the mail, how do you treat them? Do you glance at them, write a check, and then file the statements away? Or do you go over them line by line, checking to be sure that each charge is legitimate and comparing what you are spending to your family budget? To the degree that the first response is most characteristic of you, the more you will have to discipline yourself to monitor the details in your business.
Attention to detail is frequently a make-or-break habit for encore entrepreneurs. Windfall profits are rare for young businesses. Their profitability rests on the steady compounding effect of one small success after another. And because profit margins on small successes are so small, being attentive to details is imperative.
5. Resilient vs. Resigned
Few characteristics are a greater predictor of business success than your degree of personal resilience. How do you respond when things go wrong? How do you react to major setbacks and disappointments?
For many people such moments take the wind out of their sails. They become dispirited, demoralized. They react as though they are resigned to what fate has dealt them.
Confronted with the same realities, the entrepreneurial personality bounces back resiliently. To quote an old proverb, entrepreneurs do not weep over spilled milk. They acknowledge their sense of disappointment or even feelings of genuine loss. But they quickly rise above these emotions and focus themselves on moving ahead.
By the time you are old enough to be an encore entrepreneur, you've had your share of deep disappointments. How have you characteristically handled them? Have they set you back for days? Or perhaps weeks? Or have your spirits regrouped resiliently?
When building a successful business, there's no time for moping when things go wrong. Like a rubber ball thrown against the floor, you must find it within yourself to bounce back quickly.
A Final Word
This list by no means exhausts the personality factors in business success. But it's a helpful checklist with which to begin. In future issues we will look at other aspects of personality that play to the advantage of an encore entrepreneur.
Before I close, however, I should address an inevitable question. What if your personality and the entrepreneurial personality do not align at points? Does that mean you are doomed to failure as a business owner?
Not at all. It simply means that some elements of business success may be more challenging to you. But you obviously enjoy a challenge. Otherwise you would not be considering a business startup in the first place. Never forget that millions have succeeded without all of the qualities of an entrepreneurial spirit. You can, too.