Much consideration has been given to analyzing the personality traits of successful entrepreneurs. There are tools used to measure owner attributes. For example, I am a 7-6-5-3 on the Kolbe Index.
Some entrepreneurs appear outgoing. Others are introverts. Some lean right, others left, and some keep politics to themselves. There are nerds (shout out to my peeps), and in-the-trench types. Some golf; others prefer fun sports (sorry, not sorry).
Some business owners are flashy. I’ve spent time with those who drive hundred-thousand-dollar cars and brag about their boats. Then I found that their company is merely breaking even after owner distributions. Others are monk-like with their money. I talk shop with one gentleman at the gym. Granted, he’s in gym clothes, but he doesn’t appear to own a business with $200 million of revenue. But he does. Once I learned that, I was curious to see what he drove; it was some beater from the 1990s. Maybe the early 2000s (I’m not good with cars).
The diversity of entrepreneurs can lead one to the conclusion that there are no common personality traits among successful founders. Rather than trying to understand who they are or what they enjoy, let’s look at what they do.
Having worked with fellow merger and acquisition geeks, I have had an opportunity to observe those who achieve the most financial success. This point of view has allowed me to observe three things the most successful owners do differently:
1. Read business books
The most successful business owners are voracious consumers of business content. When a new business book hits the bestseller list, most wealthy owners have either read it or summarized its central point.
It’s not just the printed word. Many get information through audiobooks, webinars, podcasts, and industry conferences.
The actual medium is less important to these successful founders. What’s consistent is their continuous learning pattern and the desire to leverage other people’s innovative ideas and put them to work in their own company.
One of the most dangerous things an owner can do is fall into a rut. Sometimes something gets done one way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” That’s what Tim, a second-generation owner of a hardware store chain, told me when we were touring his flagship store in New Haven, Conn.
Others do things a certain way because they copy what the largest companies do. John, the owner of a Burlington, Vt.-based food distributor, was reluctant to make changes because he was following the template of a national competitor. But larger firms also fall victim to the status quo. Plus, they have different capacity or funding advantages (or disadvantages) that cause them to operate in a way that wouldn’t be efficient for John or You.
Business owners get wealthy, in part, by managing the organization of the future, not the company of the past.
2. Join ‘mastermind’ groups
In the absence of a board of directors, successful founders often use a peer board to hold themselves accountable and gain an outside perspective when they’re stuck. Michael, the owner of one of the largest construction companies in America, first introduced me to peer advisory groups for CEOs. Michael is a member of a Vistage group in Atlanta. I am part of three such organizations, two national and one local.
Other groups include Renaissance Executive Forums, Women Presidents Organization, and Entrepreneurs Organization. (As a bonus consideration, you might want to direct your second in command to the COO Alliance.)
Initially popularized by Napoleon Hill in his class book, “Think and Grow Rich,” a mastermind gathers a small group of peers to act as one anothers’ board. Often led by a chair, these groups become lifelines for owners as they navigate big decisions in their businesses and personal lives. The beauty of these groups is that they often present answers to business challenges when we’re stuck thinking that it’s an industry-specific issue.
3. Ask questions
The character trait that makes successful entrepreneurs inclined to read business books and join peer groups is their natural curiosity. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. No matter how successful, they want more.
Many founders are also action-oriented, competitive and tenacious. That laser-focused drive can only get them so far. I don’t have a specific list of questions owners ask; that’s not the point. To build a business that makes them wealthy, the owner needs not just do things, but ponder things. Things like “what else” or “how else.” We owners get into the routine of telling people what to do. We can go further if we ask our team for their valuable input.
You may be surprised not to see successful entrepreneurs’ stereotypical attributes, such as being persistent, making a schedule, and measuring everything. By no means is this an exhaustive list. If I write this column next year, I might come up with three different things. Observe what wealthy owners do to stay sharp, and you’ll see a consistent pattern among the most successful entrepreneurs you know.
This article first appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 30, 2022.