Behind every successful entrepreneur are critical future fit skills and traits
By Dr Eric Albertini of the Future Fit Academy
The pandemic has been the catalyst of an exponential growth in entrepreneurial success. Although it might seem counterintuitive – as the pandemic has been exceptionally hard on small business in particular leading many to shut down – entrepreneurship rates are up.’
As the pandemic shut down workplaces, markets, supply chains and economies across the world, millions of people were forced to adopt new technology, new ways of work and learning, and rethink their jobs. A huge segment of the population had to lean into independent work and work from home. In many respects these changes brought about by the pandemic saw a shift from paid employment to aspirations of self-employment and entrepreneurial ventures.
Thousands of people were able to turn the tables on the market downturns and find innovative ways to thrive in the post-pandemic economy, steering their own ship. Without doubt, the pandemic and the changes brought about to work have spurred people to think differently about their work, their careers and life in general. It would seem that the transition to a gig economy is in full swing.
In a recent survey by PwC – Hopes and Fears: The views of 32 500 workers – 48% of respondents believe that traditional employment won’t be around in the future and 39% think it is likely that their job will be obsolete within 5 years. In South Africa, 59% agree that traditional employment won’t be around in the future and 67% believe few people will have stable long-term employment in the future. In addition, 49% of respondents globally and 77% of South African respondents are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business.
What makes for an entrepreneurial mindset?
Let’s unpack some of the skills and traits that are common among entrepreneurs who cut it on their own, as well as the intrapreneurs who drive innovation and entrepreneurship within their employed roles.
With entrepreneurship being a major source of economic growth and job creation, this has never been a more pertinent conversation in South Africa where unemployment, and notably youth unemployment, are at staggering highs. At the same time, corporate boardrooms are also seized with how to encourage internal entrepreneurial thinking – or intrapreneurship – as a means to achieve competitive advantage.
Are entrepreneurs born or made?
The nature versus nurture aspect behind entrepreneurship is one of the most hotly debated topics. Many people believe that an “entrepreneur gene” predisposes certain individuals to entrepreneurial endeavours and success. While there is no doubt that successful entrepreneurs are born with certain characteristics and traits, it is their ability to apply these characteristics, traits and skills in the right way and in the right space that makes them successful. No one is born with all the traits necessary to be 100% successful on their own – all successful entrepreneurs have learned, acquired and developed new skills through their life’s endeavours.
In the research “Nature or Nurture: Decoding the Entrepreneur” by Ernst & Young, it shows that while entrepreneurs share some common characteristics and qualities, these are not however inherent, but rather, are attained and honed through learning and experiences. Entrepreneurship is very much a case of nurture and being “made”, and that there is no such thing as a gene that predisposes one to being an entrepreneur. In fact, the research shows that more than half of entrepreneurial leaders are transitioned from employees.
What skills, traits and characteristics matter?
The terms characteristics, traits and skills are often used interchangeably to describe entrepreneurs however they are not the same thing and it is important to distinguish between them.
– Characteristics refer to the distinguishing features or qualities that make up an individual.
– Traits are the distinguishing characteristics or qualities of one’s personal nature and are typically inherent i.e. your natural abilities. We are born with traits and can continue to develop and strengthen these throughout life. Traits tend to last a lifetime, unlike skills, which can be taught, and even forgotten.
– Skills come from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude and doing something well. We learn these skills throughout life and we can master our skills. There is of course, a connection between skills and traits. It could be argued that the extent to which someone can hone and perfect a skill depends on their innate underlying traits.
Harvard Business School’s “10 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs” (7 July 2020) revealed the following characteristics of successful entrepreneurs: Curiosity, Structured experimentation, Adaptability, Decisiveness, Team building, Risk tolerance, Comfortable with failure, Persistence, Innovation and Long-term focus.
In another study to uncover the most common skills of successful entrepreneurs, a Harvard Business School research team identified the skills most common in entrepreneurs and where successful entrepreneurs scored highest, as follows:
– Identification of opportunities – identify and seek out high-potential business opportunities.
– Vision and influence – influence internal and external stakeholders that must work together to execute a business vision and strategy.
– Comfort with uncertainty – moving a business agenda forward in the face of uncertain and ambiguous circumstances.
– Assembling and motivating a business team – selecting the right team members and motivating them to accomplish business goals.
– Efficient decision making – make effective and efficient business decisions, even in the face of insufficient information.
– Building networks – assemble necessary resources and to create the professional and business networks necessary for establishing and growing a business venture.
– Collaboration and team orientation – being a strong team player who is able to subordinate a personal agenda to ensure the success of the business.
– Management of operations – successfully manage the ongoing operations of a business.
– Finance and financial management – management of all financial aspects of a business venture.
– Sales – build an effective sales organisation and sales channel that can successfully acquire, retain and serve customers, while promoting strong customer relationships and engagement.
Of the 15 critical skills necessary to be relevant in the future world of work, the following 10 future skills as most crucial to entrepreneurial success:
– Curiosity: Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are always looking for new ways to do things, creative ways to solve problems and better ways to reach their audience. It is the desire to know more about something or someone and willingness to seek out and embrace the unknown. This mental muscle needs to be exercised regularly to stay strong.
– Tolerance of ambiguity: Entrepreneurs with a high tolerance for ambiguity can handle new and uncertain situations with relative ease and move forward decisively with incomplete or uncertain information. Entrepreneurs seize opportunities, take calculated risks to tackle previously unchartered territories and back themselves when they do not have all the answers.
– Growth mindset: A growth mindset encourages entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles and view setbacks as opportunities; to tolerate failure and start again. With a growth mindset, one embraces challenges and perseveres when faced with adversity. Failure is not the end and success is not final.
– Learning agility: Enables entrepreneurs to “know what to do, when they don’t know what to do”. It allows entrepreneurs to acquire new information or skills as they need these, and to pivot quickly with market changes, unlearning old beliefs and practices that no longer serve them. It is the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to perform effectively in new and different situations.
– Design thinking: Cultivating a design thinking mindset and applying design thinking practices allows entrepreneurs to redefine problems, understand challenges faced by their consumers and come up with innovative solutions. It is an ideology and a process concerned with solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way.
– Sensemaking: Gives entrepreneurs the skills to turn disperse and implicit knowledge to explicit knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurial decision-making and failure prevention. It refers to how the entrepreneur structures the unknown, to be able to act.
– Creating clarity – Visioning and mobilising focuses the entrepreneur. It enables entrepreneurs to find clarity of purpose and to purposefully engage with and mobilise resources behind the vision – it provides focus and passionate direction.
– Resourcefulness and improvisation: Allows entrepreneurs to approach business with a mindset of conservation rather than consumption, and to deploy resources in the most efficient manner. The ability and creativity to cope with difficulties and deal resourcefully with difficult problems.
– Adaptability: Entrepreneurs make smart changes when challenges arise. It is a skill (and a mindset) that allows entrepreneurs to navigate new situations and deal with change in a pro-active and optimistic manner by having ready access to different ways of thinking, enabling one to shift and experiment as things change.
– Change Resiliency: This is the entrepreneur’s ability to successfully navigate through crises, setbacks or challenges. It’s about optimism, self-efficacy and hope. Change resiliency allows entrepreneurs to develop adaptive resilience – the process of continuous transformation and learning from disruptions. It is about being able to adapt well and bounce back quickly in times of stress and constant change.
Understanding where you are on these key skills is the first step to leveraging them for entrepreneurial success. Knowing your strengths allows you to focus and hone them, and similarly, knowing your weaknesses means you know exactly where to improve, not as skills that you lack, but rather ones that you can develop and build.
Fundamentally, this takes us back to the “Nature or Nurture” debate – entrepreneurship is very much a case of nurture and being “made” through learning, which is good news for every ambitious individual wanting to achieve their entrepreneurial ambitions.
– How Covid inspired a generation of entrepreneurs. Bloomberg – Africa Edition.
– PWC Survey – Hopes and Fears 2021: The views of 32,500 workers.
– Characteristics, skills, traits and competencies. June 1, 2014. Lowell Sun.
– Are successful entrepreneurs born or made?
– 10 characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Harvard Business School.
– Skills and behaviors that make entrepreneurs successful. Harvard Business School – Working Knowledge. 6 June, 2016.
– Nature or nurture? Decoding the DNA of the entrepreneur: An Ernst & Young Report