The following topics will be addressed in this post:
Is the need for achievement – a personality attribute – necessary for success in small business? Locus of control? Independence? Leadership?
“We’re going on a bear hunt./ We’re going to catch a big one./ What a beautiful day!/ We’re not scared.” –Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
These lines from a children’s book can apply to entrepreneurs, as well. Many people tend to conceptualize entrepreneurs as untamed beasts roaming the Serengeti plains and preparing to ambush their prey. Even more, some people romanticize the entrepreneur as the ultimate lone hero battling against all odds the implacable foe that is corporate business. Sometimes these ideas approach reality, but sometimes the entrepreneur is the girl with the lemonade stand or the R&D team within a publicly traded multi-national firm.
The definitions for entrepreneur and the associated traits vary from source to source. Indeed, in the article “Defining and Measuring Entrepreneurship” from Foundations and Trends in Entrepreneurship, Iversen, Jorgensen, Malchow-Moller write, “Although entrepreneurship has become a buzzword in the public debate, a coherent definition of entrepreneurship has not yet emerged.” Nonetheless, most definitions include the concept of risk in some form. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines entrepreneur as “one who manages, organizes, and assumes the risk of a business or enterprise.” Nickels, McHugh, and McHugh proffer another definition: “a person who risks time and money to start and manage a business.”
So, entrepreneurs are risk takers, right? They are more emotionally and mentally suited to “live on the edge.” Even though risk tends to populate definitions of the word entrepreneur, risk does not mean the same thing to all people; situations carrying varying degrees of risk; and entrepreneurs can be downright risk averse. Mr. Don Hostrand at this website has a pretty cogent description of entrepreneurial traits: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c5-07.html
As well as some comfort level with risk, perhaps the most necessary traits for entrepreneurs are internal locus of control, passion, and resilience. These will each be taken in turn.
Internal locus of control simply means that a person believes she has as much or more control over her life and actions as any external force might. Even if an entrepreneurial venture has low risk, managing a business is tough work. Many people find solace believing that higher powers guide them, and others fear intrusion from government, competitors, or other external forces. While external forces do influence all lives for better or worse, a strong internal locus of control will permit the entrepreneur to make decisions with the confidence that those decisions will have effect. Not only is this perspective true, but a strong locus of control increases the empowerment of the individual and galvanizes an entrepreneur’s passion and resilience.
A fulfilling business requires passion. According to Steven Schlusser in It’s a Jungle in There, “Passion is the force that drives people to do their best, to make a difference” (1994:18). Without passion entrepreneurs can become disaffected or even criminal. Recently, a friend related a story about an interaction with an automobile mechanic shop. Now, many people believe mechanics inhabit the gray areas of scruples, but by and large most independent mechanics chose their profession and they take pride in their work. The tale is long and involved but, in brief, after a series of visits the vehicle was not repaired properly with different, easily observable parts failing after each visit. The mechanic attempted to bully his client (my friend) and was generally rude. This behavior goes against all principles of customer service, and he did not recognize the principle from Entrepreneurial Small Business that “it is easier and more profitable to sell to existing customers than to prospect and attempt to sell to people who are not your customers” (Katz and Green). Obviously, this entrepreneur had no passion for his work. He had a customer in his shop and could have had a repeat customer for life as well as any referral business from my friend. Not now.
Entrepreneurship also requires resilience. The statistics can be daunting. According to the SBA, half of owner-only firms fail within four years, but, in another study, Bruce Kirchoff used other metrics to indicate only 18% of businesses fail in the first eight years (Katz and Green). Many entrepreneurs fail in their first business, many fail in their first few businesses. Many entrepreneurs have evangelists to promote their businesses or to acquire financing. A key to success is the steely resolve.
Entrepreneurial fulfillment derives from knowing you have something to offer, assuming control of your destiny, maintaining your passion, and resolutely pursuing your goals.
Hostrand, Don. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c5-07.html
Iversen, J., Jorgensen, R., and Malchow-Moller, N. (2008) “Defining and measuring entrepreneurship”. Foundations and trends in entrepreneurship 4 (1).
Katz, J.A. and Green, R.P. (2009) Entrepreneurial small business, Second edition. McGraw-Hill: New York.
Nickels, B., McHugh, J., and McHugh, S. (2008) Understanding business, Eighth edition. McGraw-Hill: New York.
Schlusser, S. (1994) It’s a jungle in there. Union Square Press: New York.