There are many personality traits that great entrepreneurs have in common – Bill Gates is tenacious, he never gave up even when faced with setbacks; Arianna Huffington is a creative, out-of-the-box thinker, and David Neeleman is highly responsive to both employees and customers. But there are also personality traits that can kill your business.
Here are 5 personality traits that you should consider and try to avoid when optimizing your behavior. Each of these can significantly impact the success of your business.
An entrepreneur needs to accept and adjust to constant change. No business remains stable for long, so an entrepreneur can’t just set a plan in place and expect it to continue in perpetuity. Successful entrepreneurs are constantly paying attention to what is changing in their business and pivoting their approaches on a dime to implement meaningful change.
I have worked with many people who have made the not-so-nice shift from “entrepreneur” to “small business owner” because they failed to accept the constant change that defines entrepreneurial companies. While a small business owner tends to get stuck in a particular market, with a particular revenue stream and low growth rate, an entrepreneur is continually seeking change opportunities to break out of flatlined growth and find new markets, customers and employees to drive growth.
But this challenge isn’t just limited to small businesses and startups – it can cripple major corporations. Look at Sears, Kmart and JC Penney, all three of which are in dire straits due to the fact that they have not been able to figure out how to adapt their business to modern shoppers’ desires.
Many entrepreneurs start their businesses based on a “big bang” of themselves working through the night for months to get everything started. This is an excellent trait for the initial startup phases, but these super-starter entrepreneurs often can’t transition into the very necessary ability to trust others. A business run by one person provides no long-term value to shareholders or the entrepreneur herself.
One entrepreneur I worked with had a small staff, and she absolutely refused to allow them to work independently. She was always hovering over their shoulders, micro-managing every step and double-checking every email they wanted to send to customers. As a result, her growth was capped at five employees – the number of people she could control in this way. After several months, we began integrating small “independence” steps that her employees could take. It’s been a long, slow road, but she has been able to expand her company to several more employees based on letting go of the reins a little bit.
The least successful entrepreneurs are those who only look out the window, never in the mirror. Entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of their companies, so when something goes wrong, it’s critical that they take a step back and identify what aspects of their personalities are impacting the company. Once the entrepreneur deals with the mirror, he can then look out the window and address others’ behavior.
I worked with one entrepreneur who told me unequivocally that the problem with his business was his employees. They were all no-good, lazy jerks who were trying to put him out of business. Wow! With that sort of attitude, it was no wonder that employees, customers and partners were knocking each other over on their way to the door. As much as I wanted to help the situation, I recognized that I would not be able to implement change with that sort of attitude, so I gave him a choice: take the blame, or move forward without me. He couldn’t accept the blame, so I walked away, and his business disappeared shortly thereafter.
An entrepreneurial company’s culture is guided by the entrepreneur. If the entrepreneur fails to show up and consistently breaks commitments, his company will quickly follow suit. Entrepreneurs need to be reliable in every aspect of their business, including setting milestones with investors, making agreements with partners, meeting customer expectations and following through with employees.
Some entrepreneurs really get this. One woman I worked with was absolutely impeccable with her word. If she said she was going to do something – whether it was submit edits to a report by noon or show up for a meeting at 2, she did it. It was really incredible to watch. I noticed that the main reason this worked for her is that she was careful with her “yesses.” She only said “yes” to something if she was sure she could accomplish it, and she wasn’t afraid to say “no.” This can be the scariest commitment for an entrepreneur to make, but once you have been viewed as unreliable by your staff and customers, you can’t ever earn that trust back.
While businesses in the past might have been able to get away with dishonesty, the Internet has leveled the playing field; word quickly spreads when an entrepreneur fails in the honesty department. As with being unreliable, an entrepreneur needs to be impeccably honest when working with investors, partners, customers and employees. Dishonesty from the entrepreneur taints the organization from the inside out, and nobody escapes detection any more.
There is a bizarre concept in the world that to be successful as an entrepreneur you have to “schmooze” and you have to be a “sales guy.” The underlying assumption is that you have to be a little dishonest; willing to stretch the truth to get what you want. I have seen several entrepreneurs who completely disregard this “rule” and instead live according to a higher standard of personal conduct. The entrepreneurs who reject dishonesty might not be as flashy as the ones throwing lies around, but they tend to be able to move faster because their employees, customers and partners trust them. This means that proposals, initiatives and negotiations go much smoother, greatly increasing their potential for success.
I always advise my clients to focus in on their strengths, not their weaknesses. At the same time, it’s important to be aware of the above personality traits that can severely damage your opportunity for success in business. Therefore, while you focus on building your strengths, keep an eye on these potential weaknesses and try to minimize their impact on your business.
Virginia Ginsburg is founder and chief consultant at Swell Strategies. She is passionate about supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and running successful enterprises. She has worked with more than 100 entrepreneurs over the last 10 years from start-ups to 30-year-old businesses.