Updated on: 22nd June 2023
When it comes to defining exactly what factors make up a successful entrepreneur, data can reveal exactly who this person is, what they look like and even where they live.
In fact, when visualising the UK’s average entrepreneur, we can pinpoint them as being a white male in their forties, living in the South East, educated to at least A-level standard and having experience working in their startup’s sector.
From a national perspective, the obvious obstacles to our career and even business opportunities are the situations we’re born into or have little to no control over, like where we’re born, our social standing or our race.
For example, UK entrepreneurs from ethnic minority backgrounds experience substantially worse business outcomes than white entrepreneurs (missing out on around £10,000 turnover per annum!).
All of the characteristics recorded for this data are physical – and therefore easy to split us into different categories that can be measured against our correlated business success.
However, emerging psychological research enables us to go one step further and look at the relationship between our personality – that abstract thing that makes us who we are as individuals – and our career success and even our entrepreneurial achievements.
The Five-Factor Model of Personality & Career Success
A huge body of research has been carried out on how our personalities can have a huge effect on how quickly we climb in our careers, which all cumulated in the creation of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality:
It’s generally agreed that these are these five core attributes act as the building blocks for our personalities. Each element represents a range between the two extremes (e.g., extraversion represents the spectrum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion).
A notable 2001 study from researchers at Cleveland State University examined the five-factor model of personality in relation to career outcomes. They surveyed 496 employees across a diverse set of occupations and organisations to discover how big of a factor personality was in terms of extrinsic factors (pay & hierarchy) and intrinsic factors (job satisfaction) for career success.
The results showed that extroverted employees had greater job satisfaction, better salaries, were more likely to get a promotion and had the best overall career satisfaction, whereas workers who scored highly for neuroticism and agreeableness were less satisfied with their careers. High openness scores negatively impacted salary levels.
The research also found that although there was a significantly negative relationship between agreeableness and salary for those in people-oriented roles, there was no relationship between these factors for those in non-people-facing roles.
Is There Such Thing as an Entrepreneurial Personality?
So, aspects of our personality do appear to have some effect on our career prospects – but what about those of us looking to take the plunge and start our own business? Do people with certain personality traits make better entrepreneurs than others?
In a literature review by Kerr et al, it was found that several additional traits have been fused into the “Big Five” when it came to research into entrepreneurial work, including:
- Self-efficacy – a person’s belief that they can perform tasks and fulfil roles. High self-efficacy was found to be directly related to work performance, small business growth, academic performance and career choice.
- Innovativeness – how people respond to new things. A harder trait to measure but still generally agreed upon by scholars as being important for entrepreneurs.
- Locus of control (LOC) – someone with an internal LOC believes that their own decisions control their lives (as opposed to luck) and this has been linked to an increased likelihood that the person will engage in entrepreneurial activity.
- Need for achievement – an individual’s desire for significant accomplishment. Also shown as being a factor that affects business performance for entrepreneurs.
- Risk attitudes – risk-averse individuals are more likely to be employees, whereas those who are likely to act on opportunities despite uncertainty or risk are often entrepreneurial.
So, the recipe for success appears to stem from having the best factors from the Big Five for career success – such as high extraversion – and combining them with the above factors which have been added on to the Big Five over years of research.
However, Kerr et al are keen to explain that there are more factors at play than just personality traits when it comes to figuring out what entrepreneurs are made of. They conclude:
“Entrepreneurship does not occur in a vacuum, and personality traits, human capital, and environment weave the context for each attempt to start and operate a new business.”
Another Popular Model for Personality: MBTI
The Myers-Brigg Type Indicator is an introspective self-report questionnaire made up of four categories: introversion vs extroversion, sensing vs intuition, thinking/observant vs feeling, and judging vs perceiving/prospecting. These categories are combined to create 16 possible four-letter results, e.g., INFP, ESFJ. The results indicate different psychological preferences of how people perceive the world and make decisions.
Although widely criticised in the scientific world, the MBTI personality test is a very popular way to help people understand themselves and does link very closely with the Big Five dimensions of personality.
One result that might be of particular interest to our entrepreneurial readers is the ESTP (Extraverted, Observant, Thinking, Prospecting), otherwise known as ‘The Entrepreneur’.
With 2.5 million of us taking the Myers-Brigg test every year, you may well be very aware of what it says about your personality. But, if you haven’t – you can take the test here.
But what if you don’t fall into this personality type? Should it douse our entrepreneurial flames? Is there no chance for us introverts to ever start a successful business? Well, let’s take a look at some real-life entrepreneurs to see how their personality might affect their entrepreneurial style before we completely count ourselves out.
Introverts as Entrepreneurs
What do Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett all have in common? Yes, they’re all founders of incredibly successful businesses and some of the first people who come to mind when we picture famous entrepreneurs. But there’s something else they all share too: they’re all introverts.
Introversion ≠ shy recluse
It’s a common misconception that introversion and shyness (which is all about fear of social judgement) are interchangeable. But that’s simply not the case. When we refer to someone as an introvert, what we actually mean is they’re more likely to find social interactions tiring and are energised by spending time alone.
According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung – who coined the term – introverts prefer interacting with smaller groups of people at a time, and activities such as reading, writing and thinking.
The latter being particularly important when it comes to entrepreneurialism.
Eroding the stigma of introversion
Our modern culture is strongly biased towards extroverted qualities, but attitudes to introverts and understanding what they can achieve in a fast-paced business world are changing. Largely due to the pioneering works of Wall Street lawyer-turned public activist Susan Cain, author of 2012 non-fiction book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”.
In her book, Cain argues that modern western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people, leading to “a colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness.”
Summing up the pros and cons of each temperament, she offers advice for introverts for functioning in an extrovert-dominated culture and urges readers to join ‘the Quiet Revolution’ – a movement which targets broad areas such as children, life and work to train introverted leaders and empower quiet children to unlock their full potential.
If you’d like to learn a little more, check out Cain’s TED talk here:
Researcher Adam Grant is also using Cain’s messaging to erode the stigma of introversion. He recalls how he asked a group of Wharton MBA students in 2011 to ‘raise your hand if you’re an introvert.” Only a handful of students raised their hands. When he asked the same question to a different group of students in 2013, more than a third of students admitted to being introverts – an uptick he attributes directly to Cain’s work.
And Cain’s top tip for introverted entrepreneurs? Stay true to yourself – you can achieve much more by putting yourself in the zone of stimulation that’s right for you than pretending to be someone you’re not.
In other words, although entrepreneurial endeavours such as networking, speaking engagements and leadership in general might seem like weaknesses of the introvert, by adjusting them to better suit your way of working, they can actually become your strengths.
What Other Personality Types Make Great Entrepreneurs?
Now that we’ve effectively busted the old myth that you need to be extroverted to successfully run your own business, what other personality types are common amongst the entrepreneurial elite?
ESTJ: The Executive
Famous ESTJs: Jeff Bezos, Alan Sugar, Ivanka Trump
An Executive personality is a natural-born leader. They have a keen understanding of what’s right and wrong and are valued for their clear advice and guidance. This personality type lead by example and won’t tolerate laziness or cheating, especially in the workplace. As masters of managing teams, Executives make fantastic entrepreneurs!
ENTJ: The Commander
Famous ENTJs: Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates
Highly outgoing and charming, ENTJs are inspirational leaders who have a real way with words – which also means they’re great at avoiding conflict. They’re known for their well thought out and well executed plans which rarely fail. They tend to think of the big picture, rather than the nitty gritty details, meaning they’re often prominent visionaries in the business world.
INTJ: The Architect
Famous INTJs: Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Nikola Tesla
INTJs possess highly analytical and observant minds – but they’re also very open-minded, allowing them to find the balance between the big picture and the smaller details of their business operations. Their powerhouse minds absorb information like a sponge, and they can apply their knowledge creatively to solve problems. The most well-known INTJ entrepreneurs are famous for their revolutionary ideas.
Can Changing Your Personality Boost Career Success?
After assessing all of this information, you might be thinking about whether it’s possible to align your personality with your career aspirations.
According to a study published in the December 2020 issue of Psychology Science, changing your personality can have a positive effect on your job success. As part of the study, the research team followed two groups of people for around 12 years, from them being 17 years of age until they were 29.
Those who showed growth in conscientiousness, emotional stability and extroversion were more likely to experience career satisfaction and success. By following the groups of youths over a sustained period of time, the study was able to show that our personalities are somewhat malleable, meaning it’s never too late to make positive changes to how we approach our working lives and get our careers off the ground.
Personality Profiling for Recruitment
Some companies are using personality and behavioural tests to filter job candidates, according to a 2014 survey of global HR professionals by CEB.
The survey indicated that 62% of respondents used some form of personality test pre-hire, based on just 29% in a 2001 survey from the American Management Association.
So, what’s the reason behind testing people based on personality traits as opposed to raw experience and skills?
Research has shown that combining a general abilities test with an integrity test (which is correlated with personality traits) is actually the best way of predicting future job performance and employee motivation.
Further benefits of vetting candidates with a personality allow hiring managers to:
- Assess a candidate’s fit into the company culture
- Understand how to keep individual employees motivated and engaged
- Provide a fairer and standardised method of candidate comparison
- Reduce the risk of putting the candidate in the wrong role
But not everyone is comfortable with this use of personality tests. For one, it’s not a perfect science, meaning it might not be the most reliable way to assess a candidate’s fit for a job role. On top of that, candidates may well answer a question in the way they believe the hiring manager wants them to answer.
Here at instantprint, we’re definitely all for getting to know someone by their personality, however, we don’t do anything as rigorous as set personality tests for job candidates. Instead, we weave values-based questions into our interview processes to assess how the candidate would respond in a specific situation.
Our logic is: you can always teach someone the skills they need to do their job, but you can’t teach values. These company values include Straight Labels (attention to detail) and Think Big (you’re encouraged to think outside the box), and all go towards building a consistent company culture that runs like clockwork.
Personality, Professional Success and Beyond
There are many things that affect the paths we choose to take in life, whether that’s sociological factors based on our upbringing, or how agreeable or extroverted we naturally are – and, as with most things in life, there is no one right answer. However, there is definitely some correlation between the way we approach our working lives and the success we find in it.
One thing that’s clear is that having a sense of optimism, conscientiousness and emotional stability are all steps in the right direction whether you’re climbing the career ladder or running a business. Your mental health and how you approach your work may carry more weight in your career than your personality, so ensuring your mindset is in the right place could be the key to growing professionally, getting your career off the ground or your success as an entrepreneur.