Much attention has been paid to the analysis of 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 seem distant. Others are introverts. Some lean to the right, others to the left, and some keep politics to themselves. There are fools (shout out to my buggers), and dudes in the trenches. A little golf; others prefer fun sports (sorry, not sorry).
Some business owners stand out. I’ve spent time with those who drive hundreds of thousands of dollars in cars and brag about their boats. Then I found out that their company is just going broke even after the owners split. Others are monks with their money. I talk shop with a gentleman at the gym. Granted, he’s wearing gym clothes, but he doesn’t look like he’s running a $200 million business. But he does. As soon as I learned this, I was curious to see what he was driving; it was a 1990’s beater. maybe early 2000’s (i’m not good with cars).
The diversity of entrepreneurs can lead to the conclusion that there are no common personality traits among successful founders. Instead of trying to figure out who they are or what they like, let’s look at what they do.
Having worked with mergers and acquisitions colleagues, I have had the opportunity to observe those who achieve the greatest financial success. This perspective has allowed me to observe three things that 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 or skimmed its central point.
It’s not just the printed word. Many get information through audio books, webinars, podcasts and industry conferences.
The actual medium is less important to these successful founders. What is consistent is their continuous learning model and desire to harness other people’s innovative ideas and put them to work in their company.
One of the most dangerous things a landlord can do is fall into a mess. Sometimes something is 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 visiting his flagship store in New Haven, Conn.
Others do things a certain way because they copy what larger companies do. John, the owner of a food distributor based in Burlington, Vt., was reluctant to make changes because he was following a national competitor’s template. But even the biggest firms fall victim to the status quo. Plus, they have different funding capacities or advantages (or disadvantages) that make them operate in a way that wouldn’t be efficient for John or You.
Business owners get rich, in part, by managing the organization of the future, not the company of the past.
2. Join “top” groups.
In the absence of a board of directors, successful founders often use a board of peers to hold themselves accountable and gain an outside perspective when stuck. Michael, the owner of one of America’s largest construction companies, 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, Organization of Women Presidents, and Organization of Entrepreneurs. (As a bonus consideration, you may want to direct your second-in-command to the Alliance COO.)
Originally popularized by Napoleon Hill in his class book, Think and Grow Rich, an organizer gathers a small group of peers to act as each other’s sounding 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 it’s an industry-specific issue.
3. Ask questions
The character trait that makes successful entrepreneurs prone to reading business books and joining peer groups is their natural curiosity. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. No matter how successful they are, they want more.
Many founders are also action-oriented, competitive and persistent. This laser-focused car can only take them so far. I don’t have a specific list of questions that owners ask; that is not the point. To build a business that makes them rich, the owner must not only do things, but think about 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 might be surprised if you don’t see stereotypical attributes of successful entrepreneurs, such as being persistent, making a schedule, and measuring everything. This is by no means 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.