A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
The six words, which I believe encompass the key characteristics of a successful, serial entrepreneur, are: Fervent, Wily, Selfless, Optimistically Pessimistic and Self-aware.
At first glance, it may appear that a number of commonly assumed attributes are missing from my list. For instance, Alan Hall cataloged 27 entrepreneurial traits in THIS Forbes article. However, I believe that the personality characteristics identified by Mr. Hall are subsumed by the six words that comprise my list.
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Below each of the six serial entrepreneur attributes (I grouped the related traits identified by Mr. Hall). Review this list and give yourself one point for each of Mr. Hall’s traits that you believe others would attribute to you. If you feel you cannot be appropriately objective, ask someone you trust to rate you.
Fervent – having or displaying a passionate intensity
Successful entrepreneurs are not thwarted by challenges. They always find a way through, around, under or over the obstacles in their path. Failure isn’t on the menu.
- A commitment to purpose with passion
- High energy level
Wily – marked by skill in achieving a desired end especially with cunning or craft
Unlike government bureaucrats, startup pros typically cannot solve problems by throwing money at them. This perpetual resource deficit requires creative and frugal solutions that are often counter intuitive and never obvious.
- Creative/innovative spirit
- Ability to accept rejection and turn failures into learning opportunities
- Strong negotiating skills and ability to develop win/win results
- Ability to create strategic alliances/understanding of leverage
Selfless – having no concern for self, unselfish
Most entrepreneurs have a healthy dose of self-interest. However, serially successful startup leaders place their stakeholders’ well being before their own personal gain. Situations inevitably arise in which key executives could covertly self-deal and enhance their financial outcomes at the expense of their fellow employees and investors. Consistent winners resist this temptation.
- Leadership skills
- Team building/teamwork abilities
- Open minded and willing to listen to others’ views
- Strength of character
Optimistically Pessimistic – assured of the achievability of long-term goals, yet nervous about the attainability of near-term milestones
This schizophrenic mindset ensures that an entrepreneur maintains an unyielding belief in the manifestation of their vision, while never taking for granted the execution of their startup’s most basic tasks.
- Courage/willingness to take risks
- Positive attitude
- Vision/ability to see things as they might be and to anticipate change
- Self-confident, assured
Self-aware – conscious of one’s actions and thoughts
I’m not sure if there is a “most important” entrepreneurial trait, but if there were, it would be this one. Sufficient self-awareness is vital when securing resources, such as operating capital, employees, partners and customers. It also facilitates making decisions without regard for one’s ego and learning from one’s mistakes.
- Ability to engender trust/confidence/respect, to develop credibility
- Clarity/consistency of thought
- Knowing what you don’t know
How many of these characteristics define you? Score yourself according to this appallingly accurate scale:
>19 points: Elon Musk wants his DNA back
19 – 15 points: Zuckerberg on line four, something about an offer letter
14 – 10 points: Entrepreneur in training
< 10 points: Ah… keep your government job
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet about long walks on the beach or that killer burrito I just ate.