By Joe Johnson, PhD
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

blog imageAre Critical Entrepreneurial Leadership Innate?

Are entrepreneurs born or is it possible to learn the skills acquire critical entrepreneurial leadership and start major companies? That is the age old question and the subject of many a dissertation (including mine).

The answer is a complex one, but what is known is that successful entrepreneurs often share fundamental leadership traits that enable them to reach great heights in business and achieve their goals.

An entrepreneur needs to have many characteristics in order to be successful. But, I’ve narrowed it down to the following traits that lead to ultimate business success.

10 critical entrepreneurial leadership traits 

Often labelled in the academic world as ‘self-efficacy’, confidence in the entrepreneurial context, put simply, means to believe in your abilities and yourself as an entrepreneur. If you believe you can do it, others are more likely to as well.

Self-belief is key to success in business, especially in the cut-throat world of startups. If you’re not a naturally confident person, there are some action steps you can take to build your confidence every day, as outlined in this article by Entrepreneur.


Successful entrepreneurs don’t give up when something fails. They look at what went wrong and adjust their approach to ensure a better result next time. In many ways, persistence is intrinsically linked to the confidence and self-belief, in that entrepreneurs know they can achieve their goals and they keep trying until they get there.

A great example of persistence is Bill Gates, who had a vision for Microsoft and worked relentlessly with his team to implement that vision. He did this, despite occasions when ‘first versions’ wouldn’t work out and that persistence yielded extraordinary results.

Innovative and Creative Thinking

Some people are naturally innovative and creative in their thinking and, for others, it is a more learned characteristic. Regardless, it is a key trait of many successful entrepreneurs who continue to look at the world with different eyes.

They identify the problems – the pain-points of consumers, and they formulate creative solutions that have often not been thought of before. But this creativity isn’t only required at the ‘ideas’ stage of business, it’s just as important throughout implementation and in developing competitive marketing strategies.

Measured Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is often thought of as a key characteristic of an entrepreneur, and there is research for and against this view. It’s actually more about measured and calculated risk-taking when it comes to successful leadership.

One such entrepreneur, who has never shied away from risk, is Elon Musk. Recently, Musk has been in the news about Tesla’s bid to acquire SolarCity. Many sceptics, including me, commented on whether the move was a good use of Tesla’s capital, but on 1 August, the deal was announced to create the world’s first vertically integrated sustainable energy company. Musk’s bold approach isn’t going to work for everyone but it’s worked for him so far.

The bottom line is that successful leaders are not afraid to take calculated risks to grow their business.

Team Building Mentality

No doubt a great majority of entrepreneurs begin by flying solo. However, successful leaders know they can’t do everything themselves. Instead, they build, support and effectively manage teams to achieve their business strategies.

Take Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who like several other entrepreneurs, started his business in his garage. Through building effective teams even with his own personal management style struggles, Bezos has scaled his business to levels otherwise not possible as a ‘solopreneur’. What was once a modest online bookstore has since grown to be the largest online retail company in the world.

Self-Motivation with a High Level of Initiative

Self-motivation and initiative are key characteristics of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Effective leaders have a drive and desire to do well. While many people have the ability to identify problems in the world, not everyone is self-motivated enough to find effective solutions like action-oriented entrepreneurs.

Ability to Problem-Solve

The world’s top entrepreneurs are always looking for better ways of doing things. If something goes wrong in their business, they continue to strive to find alternatives and more effective solutions. They understand their target markets and the problems that their customers are experiencing. They build their businesses by continuously improving what they do and they are problem-solvers, adaptable to changes in the business environment.

Personal Growth Mindset

Successful entrepreneurs are proactive learners and they seek out opportunities to further their knowledge. They understand they cannot allow themselves to get stuck in the day-to-day operations of their business without looking at the big picture. They are always striving to better themselves, to learn new skills and knowledge, and to explore opportunities for their personal development. This has been described in Inc. Magazine as the ‘growth mindset’

High Energy and Enthusiasm

Sometimes business is tough, and there are plenty of opportunities to let the negative sides of entrepreneurship get you down. However, successful leaders maintain a high energy and enthusiasm for everything they do. Of course, some days are better (or worse) than others. But having a positive attitude is essential if you want to be an effective leader for your growing business.

Goal Oriented

Successful entrepreneurs are goal-oriented. They think strategically and define realistic goals and objectives. Now, that doesn’t sound earth-shatteringly different to what many others do in business. However, successful leaders have an innate ability to then break these goals down into actionable steps to achieve what they want for their business. Successful leaders don’t just set goals, they live them.

Ultimately, you will develop your own style that works for running your business. You may or may not currently possess all 10 traits that I’ve outlined. Some traits come easier to others (i.e. born), but most can be learned and improved upon (i.e. made).

What really matters is what you do with what you have. Take stock of your strengths and work on your weaknesses. It’s easy to keep working on your strengths but you will see a bigger improvement by working on weaknesses. At the end of the day, you need to be the driver of your own entrepreneurial success.

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