When we think of entrepreneurs, we tend to think of people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk—people who have in one way or another changed the world. Each is a disrupter in their own right, reshaping industries, creating incredible products, or upending cultural norms. While you don’t have to change the world to be a successful entrepreneur, there are some common traits that each of these individuals share.
Vision – Vision is more than an idea for something new; it is the ability to see beyond what is there, to identify opportunities that are sometimes two or three times removed from the current reality. It is the ability to “think differently,” to see the consequences of change before the change itself has occurred, and to change direction before your competitors get there.
Articulate – A good entrepreneur understands the power of a narrative. They can articulate their vision succinctly and in language, everyone can understand.
Self-confidence – There is a fine line between ego and confidence, though you can’t have one without the other. People who are all ego are often blinded by their vision. People with self-confidence face their fears and move beyond their doubts forcefully and aggressively. They believe in their vision, but they are secure enough to reshape it as necessary.
Flexibility – Successful entrepreneurs face constant challenges. Financial struggles, resource constraints, failed attempts to bring a new product to market. To realize their vision they need to see around corners to new solutions. To do this effectively requires a kind of elasticity, an ability to stretch and bounce back quickly.
A willingness to fail – While it might seem obvious, willingness to fail is a concept that has only recently gained wider acceptance. To learn from your mistakes is the very basis of successful learning and something we all do very naturally as children. For the entrepreneur, failure is the place where the vision is refined, reshaped and repurposed. It is the true test of self-confidence, flexibility, and resilience needed to move forward when others would give up. It requires tenacity, a willingness to persevere which is the actual expression of faith in one’s vision and their ability to realize it.
Tolerates uncertainty – To weather failure, to face down naysayers, to go back to the drawing board, again and again, requires high-risk tolerance. Uncertainty is going without a paycheck, for long stretches. It is constantly chasing funding and other much-needed resources, while at the same time keeping the team focused and inspired. Managing significant risk requires fearlessness.
Decisive – The entrepreneur is the bottom line. Making decisions as needed. Ideally, these decisions are based on facts, but often, particularly in the early stages, they are based on intuition.
Entrepreneurs lay the foundation for new enterprises but are often less successful once a business is established. They tend to crave walking the tightrope without the net. These so called ‘serial’ entrepreneurs know their capabilities and are willing to give their all to realize their next vision.
Bonus: Did you know that many highly successful entrepreneurs also limit mundane decisions such as what to wear or what to eat each day so they can concentrate on more critical thought processes? Making these decisions in bulk frees up mindshare for important problem-solving. In case you wondered why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day.