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The Entrepreneurial Trend: Personality Traits

This article was written by in Career and Work. 21 comments.

I’m an accidental entrepreneur.

I never quite fit in with big hierarchical systems, like public education (as a teacher) and corporations. Getting things done, particularly accomplishing various things the way I wanted to accomplish them, has always been a struggle for me in these structures. I knew from the day I started working at a corporation after leaving a small non-profit arts agency that I would never quite find my bliss or even thrive in that type of environment. I remember thinking that my first job, an administrative type of position, didn’t add any value to the world. The position only existed from a pure corporate need, not a societal need. If the corporation weren’t as big as it was, my job function would be unnecessary.

There were other options for me to consider such as owning an independent school of some type or creating an arts foundation, but those goals required two things I did not have at the time: money and experience. So I stuck it out in the corporation for more years than I would have liked, and I put energy into hobbies like writing and blogging.

My hobby became a business over time, and you can see this in its incarnation as Consumerism Commentary. While all I was doing initially was learning how to become the chief financial officer of my own life, I became the CEO of a company that was helping me attain that first goal. Being a CEO has been outside of my comfort zone, and I’ve made a number of mistakes over the last few years. The experience has been one of growth for me, and I believe I’ll eventually get the hang of running a business and accepting the fact that I am an entrepreneur.

In the past, the word “entrepreneur” has always been associated with a negative connotation for me. I viewed people who called themselves entrepreneurs as people who knew exactly what to say to manipulate others into relationships. They’re savvy, smooth, and disingenuous; they see all communication and relationship-building with a purpose in mind — building their own business and growing wealth for themselves.

Now that I’ve become what other people often call an entrepreneur, I’m dealing with this cognitive dissonance. What other choice did I have, though, to work for myself? I was out-of-place in formally-structured work environments, particularly where I wasn’t free to take whatever approach to my work I wanted, when I wanted. I may have misjudged entrepreneurship, but I still see this type of posturing in my daily experiences operating Consumerism Commentary.

To add another layer to the idea of entrepreneurship, with the employment market still very much in favor of employers, the trend in financial advisory media towards working for oneself has increased in volume — in both senses, quantity and amplitude. I do agree that by finding a way to work for yourself removes employers from the picture, giving you much more control over your financial destiny. (A portion of that control just moves from an employer to potential clients or customers, however.) A typical advice-based article attempts to convince all corporate drones to leave their unfulfilling job and start their own businesses.

Meeting RoomTaken to the extreme, a nation of business owners wouldn’t work. This advice, however, might inspire a small portion of readers to crash through their psychological barriers and find a way to add value directly. Not everyone will be a successful entrepreneur.

I think there are certain personality traits that lend themselves to being a great business owner, first from a Myers-Briggs perspective, where the best business owners likely have a profile of “ENTJ.” (After some quick research, I’m right on the money with this assessment; the ENTJ type is often called The Executive type.) For contrast, I am an “INFP.”

  • Extraversion. Dealing with business issues is much easier for someone on the Extraversion side of the first dimension. This would be someone who feels energized after dealing with people. I find certain aspects of dealing with people on a business level very draining, though I am comfortable being among large groups of people. I am slightly on the Introversion side of this dimension, but a Myers-Briggs Step II assessment reveals that this is slightly different from my core personality, which would call for a stronger Introversion score.
  • Judging. While my personality traits register on the Feeling side of this dimension, a Judging tendency helps people lend themselves towards the same working structures I’ve never been comfortable with. The same trait that encourages the hierarchical approach to business, helpful when working in school systems and large corporations, is also beneficial to running a business. I’ve also been uncomfortable judging the sincerity of people I’ve worked with in the past. Many of my mistakes I alluded to above are related to my impressions of people.
  • Self-motivation. Without a boss providing guidance and deadlines, the responsibility for performing rests only with the business owner. I find that motivation is much easier when you own the process. Like students who perform better in college when they pay their own tuition, an entrepreneur’s business is all about that one person. The ability to design a business based around something you’re passionate about or particularly skilled at will infuse motivation into many people who’ve struggled with this in other employment settings.
  • Forward-looking and big picture. Anyone who is content with repetitive tasks or would prefer to perform a job by following a step-by-step guide may not be best suited for a life of entrepreneurialism. Running your own business requires looking beyond the next step. It involves always considering the big picture and the ability to define goals. Not everyone is suited for this level of thinking.
  • Determination. From the outside, determination can look like stupidity. Being determined in the face of critics, refusing to give up regardless of what someone else might think of your abilities or your business’s potential is essential to becoming successful. Not only that, but considering businesses often fail, being serious about working for yourself requires the ability to brush off the failures and use them as an opportunity to learn about the business and about yourself.
  • A careless attitude towards money. Many entrepreneurs have succeeded because they have had the financial means to go after their dreams. If you’re already wealthy, you can stand to take some risks with your business. Someone less established financially would find it much more difficult to justify the risks. For a business like mine, there was not much financial risk at the beginning. I did, however, spend almost all of my waking and some of my sleeping hours to finding a path to success, to the dismay of those who sought to spend more time with me.

    The concentration on my own business most likely affected, though probably in a small way, my ability to focus on and care about my day job. I may have missed out on promotions because I wasn’t going beyond my job scope, I was using my own time to build a business. In the end, it was the right decision for me, but it could have easily gone another way. I would have ended up with a continued low salary and no income on the side. From a truly financial perspective, starting a business can be a careless risk. Good entrepreneurs accept this or ignore this, or are just unaware of this.

  • Obsessive-compulsive. With the biography of Steven Jobs due out soon, a lot of media attention has surrounded his attitude, particularly his obsessiveness. In the book, Jobs is described as not settling for anything less than perfection all the time, and perfection in his opinion could rarely be defined before him. He would know it when he were to see it.

    From a design perspective, this has shown to be immensely perspective. As Malcolm Gladwell said in his coverage of the biography, “The great accomplishment of Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies—his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness—in the service of perfection.”

  • Generalist. Today’s economy seems to appreciate specialists over generalists, but I see the opposite as being the better approach to a fulfilling life — and generalism is an approach particularly suited for entrepreneurship. Large companies have the need for specialists, people who are very good, excellent, or best in the world at doing one particular thing. This can be a very narrow skill. An entrepreneur who starts a company from the ground up, particularly with limited resources at the beginning, needs to be able to handle many different types of tasks and goals, at the same time, while holding herself to a very high standard.

    As the business grows, there can be adjustments. When struggling and to build their business, the founders of Yahoo brought in a CEO from the outside because running the company at a certain level required skills the founders couldn’t quite meet on their own. During the start-up phase, however, the entrepreneurs needed to find a way to tackle all the hard tasks. In this respect, being a jack of all trades, master of none is the best approach for an entrepreneur, provided that this particular jack is a very skilled jack in all trades.

Leaving traditional employment structures behind is not for everyone, and the advice we often see telling everyone to quit their job and start a business can be largely ignored. If you aren’t predisposed towards at least a few of these personality traits, success will be very difficult. If, however, you don’t have these traits in your system, you can train yourself to be comfortable with the actions you would be taking if these traits were embedded in your personality. Acting against your personal profile can be very stressful, though, and might lead to an unsatisfying conclusion.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur? Is it something anybody can do with a little practice or are there certain personality traits necessary for success? Would you consider starting your own business if you felt it was a better path to greater financial well-being over time?

Published or updated November 11, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I find that teaching is more entrepreneurial than you think. I am CEO of my classroom and have a lot of freedom what I do in that room. In my former roles as CFO, I worked for medium sized companies that were bigger entrepreneurial companies. As an executive I had the authority to get things done. These circumstances added to my better than normal situations. I still left the corporate world to strike out on my own. I think it is destiny for an entrepreneur!

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avatar 2 lynn

I love your classroom title!

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avatar 3 Anonymous

I agree with you. I feel like teaching is definitely entrepreneurial. You have to design your lessons, your day, and pretty much are in charge of the entire classroom. You have the say. I was born to be an entrepreneur — perhaps not in a classroom setting. However, I feel like if we are successful entrepreneurs we’re all teachers in our own right.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

The less you have to lose (whether it’s stability for a family or opportunity cost for a decent-paying job), the harder it is to take the plunge.

As for perceptions of entrepreneurs as being manipulative, I think today the perception is more that entrepreneurs are people that can’t find a job, (especially on the dating scene). :-)

I am often torn between job and business but a lot depends on the state of my personal life.


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avatar 5 Luke Landes

That’s true: self-employment can be a euphemism for unemployment.

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avatar 6 Ceecee

Or, self-employment can mean working your butt off for very little money. Ask anyone who has tried to make a living in arts or crafts.

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avatar 7 shellye

Amen! I did freelance work for a year and a half and it was very difficult. Part of that was because I didn’t have a solid business plan and part of it was horrific timing when I started my business (when the recession started in 08). My parents owned their own business for years and were very successful. But they worked 18-hour days at times and stressed heavily about money issues. They were masters of their own destiny, true, but I’m not sure if the stress is worth it.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Flexo, this all chimes with me. I was self-employed / freelance for over a dozen years, and while it wasn’t perfect it chimed with who I was. Sometimes I took on longer contracts with a particular client, and those were always the ones that frustrated me the most in retrospect. Even being associated with some set of values that wasn’t mine has jarred.

Summer 2010 an opportunity came up that looked too good not to try, so I re-entered the full-time workforce for the first time in a decade. It has not delivered for me. The best two things I’ve got from it are:

1) Realising that a full-time office job with salary and pension and bosses and hours is never going to work for me.

2) Realising it *does* work for lots of people. They’re perfectly happy doing it and think I’m the weirdo! So that’s been an eye-opener, too.

I’ll be rejoining you at the bar of escapee entrepreneurs again before long… ;)

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avatar 9 Anonymous

Main problem I have found with specialization is, once you specialize the competition becomes intense. After grad school it took one temp job, getting fired from a very low paying job and a year to find the job I have now. I enjoyed teaching but you know what they say, “Those who can’t do, teach.”

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Hopefully my process chemist job can get me caught up and can support leasing a garage soon. Then alcohol license here I come. Bad Andy Brew Haus coming to a gas station near you.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I think be an entrepreneur is great. However, I do believe that you have to have certain personality traits to become one. You have to be very driven at what you are going after an not just a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person. What I mean by this is that you have one idea one day and then go in a differnt direction the next day. Having many ideas is awesome but you have to kinow how to follow through and see things to the end. I am currently trying to be a bit of an entrepeneur on ebay by selling used toys. I am hoping that will lead to bigger and better things. Wish me luck!

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avatar 12 Cat0962

I’m a college student, and in my organizational behavior class we’ve been discussing values and entrepreneurship. My major is human resource management, and until I took this class I had never heard of organizational behavior before. It’s been an eye opener for me. I’m getting my degree and hopefully will be able to find a job when I graduate (2013), but secretly I would just die if I could open my own bakery. I love to bake, and owning my own little shop has long been a dream of mine. I would even be happy to start small and bake from home and sell to local restaurants. The only thing holding me back is the fact that I’m in a rural part of Iowa, and the customer base just isn’t there to open my own shop. Oh, and I’m 49 years old, single and have a family to support.

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avatar 13 Donna Freedman

And here I thought “consultant” was the euphemism for unemployment! ;-)
I’m more comfortable calling myself a freelancer than an entrepreneur. Maybe I have the same negative connotations with the word as you do.
And what about “brand”? That’s another one that I don’t like but that everyone uses. “I see Flexo is doing a swell job of promoting his brand here at FinCon11….” There’s something kind of weird about it, probably the connection (in my mind, anyway) with the negative aspects of advertising.
Then again, being a dinosaur is MY brand.

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avatar 14 lynn

‘Then again, being a dinosaur is MY brand.’

I’m with you there, Donna! And – I don’t mind it at all.

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avatar 15 lynn

I’m so glad you included the idea that not everyone can suceed in this endeavor. I think this is a key point.

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avatar 16 Cejay

I do believe the you have to have a certain personality trait to be your own boss. Unfortunately, I do not have those traits. I am an introvert and actually find talking to people to be very nerve wracking. When going to those parties where you know no one I can leave with a migraine. I have been brought to tears by this type of situation several times. I am a perfectionist and also obsessive compulsive. I have a problem with the fact that it is never good enough to present. I usually just run out of time. I also rarely take chances on things. I have thought of branching out on my own at times but never made the plunge and doubt if I wil.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I’ve been running my own Project Management business for the past seven years, and I’m an ENTP. I – obviously – do not think “judging” is in any way critical. The holistic, pattern-seeking, love-to-start-things traits that we “Ps” have are just as valuable if not more so than “J” traits. An overly rigid or hierarchical disposition can work against you – just as being too far on the “P” side and not willing to narrow one’s focus can also work against you.

The rest? Hmmm…You have to be obsessive-compulsive for sure. I work every day, and there’s always, always more to be done. I strongly disagree about being careless with money. Knowing when to take risks, and how to allocate money to those risks – money that you CAN afford to lose – is very important, and it is in no way careless. I am my own bookkeeper, know where every penny goes, and believe me if I were careless with money I would not have had my business long.

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avatar 18 Luke Landes

I like that you, as a P-type, are not “judging” J-types. :-)

The traits that make the ENTP the “Visionary” (opposed to ENTJ’s “Executive”) can certainly be valuable in a business owner. Have you taken the M-B Step II assessment? More than the traits themselves, a lot of success with business owners — or managers of any type — is their ability to adapt to other personality types and to work with people who fall somewhere else in the four-dimensional mapping.

As you say, the Visionary ENTP loves to start things. Sometimes the skills that allow someone to get a company running from the ground up are different than the skills needed to keep a business operating at its best later on in its life stages.

That’s a great point about taking considered risks. Perhaps “careless” was a careless word choice on my part.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

Yes, in my last job, where I ran a work group we had to do the step 2 assessments and it was VERY eye-opening. The most useful thing for me was to realize that I’s needed time to process information without talking it through. I like to brainstorm and talk things through, and it became apparent to me why that was just annoying to some of my “I” colleagues. Lots of other interesting stuff too.

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avatar 20 PennyPinchingProfessional

There are times when I think I would love to be my own boss and be solely responsible for my future and my job, but I have a hard time motivating myself to stay productive without an external motivation. That being said, I’ve always considered my grades (and their impact on my potential employment) and my professors’ opinions of me to be sufficient external motivation, so maybe the thought of being flat broke and out on the street would be sufficient if I owned my own business.

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avatar 21 Anonymous

I don’t think money is the primary motivator in getting and keeping busy – at least it isn’t for me. It’s wanting to do a good job for my clients and the excitement of the projects themselves. I think if you have a hard time being self-motivated or are motivated solely by money, this may not be the path for you. Money isn’t enough to get you fired up and devoting crazy hours to doing what you do.

I kind of have the opposite problem. I find it hard to set work aside, and find that work bleeds over into my home life too much. More so because I work from home most of the time.

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