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Entrepreneur Article Three: The Entrepreneurial Personality

Copyright, Nicholas A. Bibby, all rights reserved.

Entrepreneurship has touched my entire life. The sum total of self-employed parents and grandparents, personal ventures, topped by an adult life of counseling and consulting with countless entrepreneurs made a profound impact on me personally and professionally. Because it is the human side of business that I find most interesting, I have used life experiences as a foundation to form fairly strong opinions on entrepreneurship and the personalities that drive it. What follows is a very abbreviated version of an earlier discussion published on entrepreneurial focus, but it makes the point none the less about the personality of the entrepreneur.

If asked to define an entrepreneur, the words most often chosen are motivated, focused, confident, aggressive, dominant, leader, etc. While these adjectives taken collectively may accurately describe some entrepreneurs, they certainly do not describe all entrepreneurs. In fact, short of saying that all entrepreneurs work for themselves, it is as foolish to define them as one personality type as it is to say that all athletes, students or employees are the same. A business owner need not be aggressive or dominant, although they might happen to have those traits.

Answer the following questions and decide for yourself if entrepreneurs are essentially the same. Is a happy, successful franchisee the same type of entrepreneur as the franchisor from whom they bought their business? Is the consultant the same type of entrepreneur as the founder of a high tech, innovative manufacturing firm? Is the grocer the same type of entrepreneur as the multi-unit regional franchise owner? No, they are all different. The concept of entrepreneurial type is a stand-alone discussion and I will offer it another time as a separate article, but I refer to it here because acknowledging the presence of different entrepreneurial types helps us accept sub-sets of entrepreneurs. It is the first step toward defining real differences among them.

For the general population with little or no interest in the subject, the fact that all entrepreneurs cannot be forced into one mold is really not an issue. But, for students of the subject, and especially for people considering, or actually pursuing an entrepreneurial lifestyle, grasping the nature of the ownership personality can be critical to one’s success or failure.

OK, ask the obvious question. “Nick, are going to get to the point and define the entrepreneurial personality, or are you trying to say that it really can’t be defined?” Ah, good for you, you want to cut to the chase. Here’s the answer, at least as I see it, and frankly it is a very simple one.

Of course there is an entrepreneurial personality, the rhetoric was to clear the air and allow us to start with a clean slate.

All entrepreneurs can be properly defined by one special trait, but that trait is not focus, confidence, aggression, dominance, leadership, intelligence, integrity, or loyalty. Any or all of those traits can be found in hourly employees, corporate executives, teachers, or any other population.

The one element that separates entrepreneurs from all others is their extra measure of “independent spirit.”

Further, you will find that the successful entrepreneur displays a natural executive talent in conjunction with their powerful need for independence. Why natural executive talent? Because the need for independence must be accompanied by the ability to plan as well as execute the plan. Without that, the drive for independence could not be harnessed and realized.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples in which independence rules the day.

The owner of your locally owned auto repair shop is most likely an ex-auto dealer or service station employee. However, the need for independence created the desire for ownership, and executive skills allowed the implementation of the ownership plan. The fact that the person is a skilled mechanic is irrelevant except that knowledge is required to operate the business. If this person were not driven by an independent spirit to own a business, they would have stayed at the dealership, and at best, “dreamed” of ownership. Such is the independence of an entrepreneur.

The owner of your local franchised print shop is most likely an ex-corporate manager who was downsized and decided to buy a job rather than tempt the corporate roller coaster again, or a frustrated executive who craved independence. However, this person was probably faced with the same problem that most corporate types face. Generally they do not have marketable trade skills that complement their administrative skills. The mechanic had knowledge of their business, but the corporate employee had to buy the required knowledge from a franchisor. Hail franchising.

The list of examples goes on and on, but no more are needed.

Of course, there are varying degrees of independence and varying degrees of executive talent, but those issues are associated with the different entrepreneurial “types” mentioned above. The key point is that entrepreneurs are different from other people and non-entrepreneurs cannot fully come to terms with that difference because they are not driven by the same need for independence. A different “feeling” exists inside. The banker, government administrator, or teacher who works with the entrepreneur may understand the business they are advising on, but they do not understand the entrepreneur’s heart, and therefore cannot apply their advice directly to or for the business owner. A gap exists that is real, and that gap generally creates a divide between the entrepreneur and the rest of the world that is difficult to bridge. Less than 10% of us are involved in some type of entrepreneurial venture; the other 90% does not live in, or understand that world. I might understand that NASCAR drivers love speed, but I could never understand what that need for speed “feels” like. If I was a good mechanic, which I am not, I might be able to give the driver better tools to work with, but only the driver would have the ability to apply those tools. It is the application or implementation of tools and systems that requires the “hands-on” person. Coaching, teaching and advising are NOT the same as doing, and that point is often missed in the business of serving and helping entrepreneurs.

The entrepreneurial personality is driven by independence and supported by varying degrees of knowledge and executive skills. Further, it is the varying level of each of those traits that determines entrepreneurial type.

Next up will be a discussion of entrepreneurial types and then the elements associated with success and failure.

Nicholas Bibby, MBA and MA Counseling is a franchise consultant specializing in due diligence for those interested in buying a franchise and guidance for successful entrepreneurs when franchising a business.

Part Four