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Traits of the Entrepreneur

Would you like to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit in your organization? Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking progressively. It can prevent you from settling into a single way of approaching projects and help your business to be dynamic.


It starts with people. Workers should feel they can propose using new materials and tools and develop innovative production ideas. Entrepreneurs are people willing to take risks, are able to pivot if needed and offer plenty of energy and verve. Here are five traits of the entrepreneur:


Self-efficacy is the belief that one can succeed. How do you measure it? Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and at the Mahasarakham Business School in Thailand suggest asking just three questions, which I have adapted here:

    1. Do I believe my abilities will help me start a business (or a new process)?

    2. Do I believe my experience will be invaluable?

    3. Am I confident I can put in the effort needed?


People who answer yes to only one or two of the questions may not be entrepreneurs at heart. But, they may develop self-efficacy in time, so pose the questions of your employees repeatedly, perhaps during their training and developmental sessions.

Need for Achievement

An entrepreneur strives for accomplishment. They want to master skills and attain lofty goals. It’s what they do.


Researchers have been studying workers’ need for achievement since the 1930s. A high need for achievement often predicts entry into entrepreneurship. A 2007 review of 18 separate studies involving 3,272 subjects concluded that, in general, entrepreneurs exhibit an achievement motivation greater than managers, regardless of country or region. So, keep an eye out for self-starters and early-adopters. Hire them and retain them.

Internal Locus of Control

Entrepreneurs have an internal locus of control. They see themselves, rather than outside forces, controlling their work. They don’t believe in chance nor that the environment dominates their output. They believe “they can influence outcomes through their own ability, effort or skills, rather than external forces controlling these outcomes,” say Harvard University researchers.


Look for people who believe they can affect change, people who have a sense that what they touch will be better off as a result. They probably carry around a large ego, but someone with a strong internal LOC can be a good thing for your operation. If anything, from a business standpoint, these folks are enduring optimists.


Innovativeness is the ability to make something happen despite being limited or constrained. It includes both the ability to propose ideas and to act in new ways. No uniform measure exists for innovativeness, though it has been studied since the 1970s. Some studies suggest entrepreneurs are innovative within certain professional domains, more so than in a general way. The point is to look for people who like being proactive. Look for people who like to be enterprising.

Openness to Experience

Researchers hypothesize that in business, “an entrepreneur is likely to be attracted to constantly changing environments and the novelty of new challenges,” say Harvard researchers. “Individuals who thrive on challenges and novel environments are those who present creative solutions, business models and products, and the openness of entrepreneurs may aid these functions,” they say.


Managers function along different lines. You need managers to be sure, since they “deliver high-quality and low-variance results for a given set of directions,” a Harvard report says. But, entrepreneurs offer fresh sets of eyes on operations and markets. They are more open to experience and, in fact, “seek out original solutions,” the report notes.

More to Come

Some question the value of projecting an ideal personality for entrepreneurial performance. However, the latest research I found shows that powerful new data sources will soon make it possible to study entrepreneurs with a higher degree of insight. Since more conclusions on entrepreneurship are likely to come, why not give the topic some thought—now. You’ll be on to something. And you yourself will be acting like an entrepreneur.

Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and marketing consultant. Reach him at @markjohnsoncomm, and at

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