How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur, By Harnessing the Power of Personality

We’re just starting to get a handle on the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while people of all ages have been impacted psychologically and economically, according to the Brookings Institute, those who will suffer the most from a work perspective are young adults. They predict that “the pandemic will be conditioning the future job prospects of over 1.2 billion individuals aged 15-24 years of age.”

The ”Gen Y’ers” – those born between 1981-1996 – have probably suffered the greatest disruption to their careers. And uncertainty about job security and availability have motivated many of them to consider taking less conventional career paths such as becoming an entrepreneur.

Exactly what is an entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur is generally defined as a person who starts their own business based on an idea or a product they’ve created where they assume most of the risks and reap most of the rewards.

There are about 31 million entrepreneurs in the U.S., which make up about 16% of the adult workforce. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone: it takes courage, determination, hard work, luck…(and many other qualities that I’ll discuss later on) and is a risky proposition. But it's not uncommon for those who succeed to claim to have no regrets, and in fact, to report that they can’t imagine themselves working for anyone ever again.

In this blog, I’ll:

  • Discuss which types are more and less likely to become entrepreneurs and why 
  • Try to provide a good understanding of what’s required to succeed as an entrepreneur, and 
  • Help you identify your potential entrepreneurial strengths and blind spots, so you can make the most informed decision if this is a path you’d like to explore

What personality traits do entrepreneurs need to succeed?

The characteristics that are most often associated with success as an entrepreneur include (in no particular order):

  1. Curiosity         
  2. A strong work ethic         
  3. Creativity & innovation    
  4. Adaptability                           
  5. Decisiveness                         
  6. Good communication skills        
  7. A tolerance for risk                           
  8. Comfort with the possibility of failure  
  9. Persistence           
  10. A long-term focus       
  11. Resourcefulness

Looking through the lens of personality type it’s clear that some of these characteristics are most often associated with certain type preferences. For example, creativity, innovation and long-term focus are all qualities that most Intuitives possess.  A strong work ethic, decisiveness, and persistence are more descriptive of Judging and Sensing-Judging types. Perceivers often have a natural curiosity, adaptability, and a tolerance for risk, whereas Intuitive-Feelers are often skilled communicators and especially good at collaboration – an important skill for an entrepreneur to possess.  

From both my original research and extensive work with entrepreneurs, I think of it this way: the greatest chance for success as an entrepreneur comes when people can access all parts of their personality, recognizing that, of course, they need to capitalize on their strengths and try to mitigate their blind spots whenever possible.

A basic premise of Personality Type is that although everyone has “preferences” for each type dimension (Extraversion or Introversion, Sensing or Intuition, etc.), we all have the ability to access our less preferred sides.

Why is being an entrepreneur so difficult?

Unlike many other careers, entrepreneurship requires individuals to be competent in all four dimensions of their Personality Type. They need to:

  • Be able to Extravert in order to juggle many balls at once, and to Introvert when they need to remain laser-focused on the task at hand.
  • Use their Intuition to imagine possibilities that may not yet exist, but also engage their Sensing to pay attention to realities and important details.
  • Engage their Thinking to make objective, logical decisions, and their Feeling to understand others and to enlist their support and cooperation – not to mention to know how to provide a good customer experience.
  • Use their Judging side to be organized, persistent and accomplish their tasks, and use their Perceiving side to be curious, flexible and pivot quickly when necessary.

Those of you who’ve read my previous blogs know I’m a fan of Temperament theory as popularized by Dr. David Keirsey. To me, Temperament is a very helpful way of understanding people because the four Temperaments – Traditionalists (SJs), Experiencers (SPs), Conceptualizers (NTs) and Idealists (NFs) – describe the core values, key motivators and preferred communication styles of each of the types. If you think about it – that covers a lot of ground!

Is entrepreneurship right for you?

Here are some of the potential blind spots you might have as an entrepreneur for the four temperaments, followed by 5 strengths associated with each personality type. This can help you figure out what you may need to work on and where you excel as you begin your entrepreneurship journey.

Traditionalists (ESTJs, ISTJs, ESFJs and ISFJs) 

Traditionalists are responsible, hardworking, thorough, conscientious, solid and consistent. They have realistic expectations, are efficient and good at building on concrete experience. But as entrepreneurs, they may lack vision / imagination, be reluctant to take necessary risks, be rigid or inflexible, and slow to pivot when necessary. And, they can sometimes make decisions prematurely. 

Because of their need and desire for structure and certainty, Traditionalists may enjoy most, and have the best chance for success by, owning a franchise operation. There are almost 750,000 franchise owners in the U.S., most of which involve an enormous number of rules and procedures that franchisees must follow to maintain the brand’s reputation and profitability.

ESTJ strengths:

  • Conduct thorough due diligence
  • Make realistic decisions based upon known facts and objective data
  • Directly and honestly present yourself to potential investors, clients and customers
  • Set and meet realistic goals
  • Present yourself as a capable, stable business partner

ISTJ strengths:

  • Research options completely and conduct thorough data collection
  • Carefully prepare your business plan
  • Patiently follow banks’ and other lenders’ procedures
  • Follow through on all details
  • Make thoughtful, practical decisions

ESFJ strengths:

  • Establish rapport easily with stakeholders and customers
  • Develop positive, mutually beneficial relationships with people
  • Create efficient systems to make your product or service work
  • Understand what people want and need
  • Make quick decisions when necessary

ISFJ strengths:

  • Research opportunities thoroughly, collecting all relevant facts
  • Make thoughtful decisions based upon practical considerations
  • Conduct organized, well-planned due diligence
  • Capitalize on your solid, stable, dependable work experience
  • Inspire loyalty by treating people respectfully
Experiencers (ESTPs, ISTPs, ESFPs and ISFPs) 

Experiencers are keen observers, natural risk takers, quick responders to events happening around them, realistic, pragmatic and resourceful. They are also good at seeing simple solutions and tend to be economical with their energy and resources. But they can also be impulsive, unreliable, and transactional (not strategic), and they can lack imagination and organizational skills. 

Because they don’t naturally like to plan ahead, they can lack follow through and convey a sense they are not as serious as others expect them to be. Experiencers are natural risk-takers, so they enjoy the “thrill of the kill” (or winning) and can make successful entrepreneurs if they find ways to compensate for some of the skills they need that don’t come naturally.

ESTP strengths:

  • Conduct an active, energetic search for the right business opportunity
  • Quickly develop rapport and sell yourself
  • Use your powers of observation to realistically assess situations
  • Negotiate effectively and diplomatically
  • Acquire and capitalize on available resources 

ISTP strengths:

  • Gather and remember all relevant data
  • Adapt and take advantage of available resources
  • Keenly observe what is happening around you
  • Evaluate and analyze opportunities objectively
  • Take reasonable risks

ESFP strengths:

  • Establish rapport and sell yourself
  • Use your ability to adapt to turn unexpected problems into opportunities
  • Demonstrate a willingness to compromise & be flexible in negotiations
  • Gather lots of information by being observant and easy to talk with  
  • Conduct an active, energetic search for the right business opportunity 

ISFP strengths:

  • Conduct careful research and collect all relevant data
  • Research opportunities by experiencing situations firsthand
  • Build and use a solid support system
  • Take lots of “field trips” and learn by doing
  • Follow your impulses and natural curiosity
Conceptualizers (ENTJs, INTJs, ENTPs and INTPs) 

Conceptualizers are often described as visionary, strategic, competent people who easily grasp complexities, and who are great creative problem solvers. They are also competitive, quick studies, confident, and thick skinned. But because they’re energized by the new and different, they can become bored easily and neglect more mundane, but necessary, tasks. 

In their dealings with others – an important aspect of being an entrepreneur – their natural confidence may come across more as arrogance or condescension, and they may discount the value of building strong relationships. Conceptualizers – and especially ENTPs – are the most naturally gifted entrepreneurs and comprise a large percentage of successful ones.

ENTJ strengths:

  • Develop and follow an effective strategy
  • Anticipate trends & be able to forecast future needs
  • Solve problems creatively
  • Network extensively
  • Become knowledgeable about your marketplace, products and services  

INTJ strengths:

  • Anticipate trends and forecast future needs
  • Synthesize lots of information
  • Create an original product or service
  • Develop an innovative business model
  • Make logical, well-thought-out decisions

ENTP strengths:

  • Generate enthusiasm for yourself and your ideas
  • See new and exciting possibilities
  • Create your own opportunities
  • Collect a great amount of information from talking to people
  • Understand what motivates others

INTP strengths:

  • See possibilities that don’t exist at the present time
  • Create your own opportunities or adapting existing ones to meet your needs
  • Anticipate the logical consequences of your own and others’ actions
  • Create & implement an innovative business model
  • Keep your options open as you gather all relevant information
Idealists (ENFJs, INFJs, ENFPs and INFPs) 

Idealists are often visionary, creative problem solvers, enthusiastic, passionate and excellent communicators and collaborators. They are the most mission-driven of the four temperaments and need to believe that their product or service will benefit others in order to feel fulfilled – one of their most important criteria of success. However, they can also be unrealistic in terms of time and resources and have little patience for dealing with people who don’t understand or embrace their vision. 

Another big challenge for Idealist entrepreneurs is that they tend to have rather thin skins and don’t take rejection well. And most entrepreneurs experience a LOT of rejection before they succeed. ENFJs or INFJs will probably be better suited to owning a franchise than ENFPs or INFPs…but only if the mission supports their deeply held values.

ENFJ strengths:          

  • Plan and execute a creative and well-organized plan
  • Impress potential investors and partners with your enthusiasm and self-confidence
  • Build relationships and develop and use your large and active network
  • See possibilities and trends that don’t already exist
  • Follow through on all phases of the research and execution

INFJ strengths:

  • Think through and formulate an innovative, organized plan
  • Establish rapport with potential stakeholders, partners and customers
  • Consider options thoughtfully, without rushing to judgment
  • Patiently listen and be open to consider different points of views and perspectives
  • Find creative solutions to obstacles that arise

ENFP strengths:

  • Create your own opportunities by seeing possibilities that may not be obvious
  • Develop and use your active network of contacts
  • Impress potential investors and customers with your enthusiasm and confidence
  • Consider and keep several options open
  • Be resourceful in getting what you need

INFP strengths:

  • Readily see possibilities that don’t presently exist
  • Be perceptive about people and communicate effectively
  • Express yourself well, especially after thinking things through
  • Demonstrate your passion, motivation and commitment
  • Use limited, targeted networking effectively

A few final thoughts

Although all types can be successful entrepreneurs, some types are more naturally suited to it than others. There is also a great variety of products and services one can offer, and lots of different ways to create and operate a successful business. Knowing your strengths and potential blind spots as an entrepreneur can not only help you succeed, but can help you reach your goals quicker.  

Paul Tieger

Paul D. Tieger is the Founder and CEO of SpeedReading People, LLC. He is an internationally recognized expert on – and author of five breakthrough books about – personality type including The Art of SpeedReading People and the one-million copy best-seller Do What You Are.
A jury consultant for twenty-five years, Paul pioneered the use of Personality Type to help trial attorneys understand and communicate with jurors and has worked on dozens of high profile civil and criminal cases including the first physician-assisted suicide trial of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Paul holds a BS degree in Psychology and an MS in Organizational Behavior.

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