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Matthew McLaughlin

The Four Character Traits of Entrepreneurs

I have been immeasurably blessed with the good fortune of working with hundreds of entrepreneurs throughout the Southeastern United States over the span of my 15-year career as an attorney. Many of my clients have successfully launched, funded their operations, built strong brands, and exited. On the other hand, I have seen entrepreneurs with potentially market valid products or services fail to gain any real traction.

What characteristics, traits, or factors come into play to create the dividing line between entrepreneurs that can execute and those that fall short? Is the distinguishing factor intellectual ability in the more traditional and academic sense? Probably not. There are countless stories of entrepreneurial success where founders of transformative companies either dropped out of high school or college. Bill Gates is a solid Exhibit A.

Is entrepreneurial success environmental in nature in the sense that more successful entrepreneurs are born into social networks that provide an advantage over others? A vast social network is helpful, but this cannot be the answer either. There are a number of stories of highly successful entrepreneurs that came from abject poverty before finding success. Jay-Z was selling crack in a Brooklyn housing project long before he became one of the most successful music moguls in the United States.

If entrepreneurial success is not necessarily dictated exclusively by intellectual ability or social status, what characteristics or traits do high achieving entrepreneurs possess that others may not?  I believe this boils down to four key characteristics: vision, passion, adaptability, and resilience. 

1. Vision

Innovation cannot happen without vision, the ability to not only recognize opportunity and connect dots, but also the wherewithal to question why a solution does not exist to a problem. Truly successful entrepreneurs have the ability to frame the future before it happens and to cast a vision of an improved condition before others recognize the issue.

2. Passion

Entrepreneurs are unfathomably passionate and mission-focused.  They have an innate ability to lead from the heart and possess an unshakeable sense of purpose.  Entrepreneurship offers a journey with no clear path.  Without passion, most people are not able to weather the storm of rejection and short-term failures.

3. Adaptability

Entrepreneurs must be adaptable.  We live in a highly dynamic world where conditions, economic and otherwise, change very rapidly and generally beyond our control.  Entrepreneurs must be flexible, nimble, and self-aware enough to quickly adapt to these changing externalities.

4. Resilience

The one certainty with entrepreneurship is failure. Many failures, at least on the surface, appear fatal and cause many people to simply walk away from the idea. Resilient entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are able to sidestep failure, pivot, and move in a different direction.  The most successful entrepreneurs have lengthy resumes chock-full of failure; but, due to resilience, these people only had to be right once.

There are certainly other character traits and influences that play a role in entrepreneurial success; these are simply four of the most common characteristics I have witnessed in impactful entrepreneurs.  Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur in the pure sense or an intrapreneur solving problems within a large organization, remember these eternally true words of Steve Jobs: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” 



Matthew McLaughlin

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