Personality is not a prison. It’s not a shackle or a straightjacket.
Many factors shape the success or failure of a new business, whether it’s a stand-alone startup or a venture inside a larger corporation. But the most important and least understood of these factors is the personality of the entrepreneur-the particular combination of beliefs and preferences that drives his or her motivation, decision making, and leadership style. And your builder personality is the one resource you can directly control in growing a business that wins. Simply put, who you are shapes how you build for growth.
Using a patented analytic methodology, authors Chris Kuenne and John Danner of the book “Built for Growth” discovered four distinct types of highly successful entrepreneurial personalities–the Driver, the Explorer, the Crusader, and the Captain which is what I will be talking about for the next few days.
Each of these personalities is motivated, makes decisions, manages, and leads their businesses differently.
I will be taking you through one of the least understood factors that lead to success at scale: the personality of the company founder. So if you are a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, this is something you might find interesting.
Different kinds of people can succeed at any level, and today we’re going to find out about the personalities that makes it.
Is personality destiny?
From findings; personality is the central tendency by which you build a business, and certain personalities do follow a path of destiny. As an example, one of the personality types that have been identified is the driver. Steve Jobs is an example of this. The driver does indeed see him or herself destined to be an entrepreneur. But actually there are other types that do not see themselves as destined for entrepreneurship and tend to take a more democratic view toward the role of leading and building a company.
One of the analogies that might be helpful here is for anybody that plays tennis; we all have a stroke that we prefer. It may be a forehand, might be a backhand, a serve, a lob, or whatever. And that’s our default. It’s destiny in that sense. It’s destiny in the sense that we all start with a comfort zone. We start with a set of ways of making decisions, of leading people, of managing people, of seeing ourselves as an entrepreneur, whether we’re building an independent startup, or we’re trying to create a new business out of an established corporation.
Entrepreneurship as defined by Howard Stevenson, a very famous professor at the Harvard Business School is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you control. Now, think about that.
What are the resources you don’t control? Money, access to customers, perhaps intellectual property, and the like. But the one resource that is quintessentially within your control, within your ability to put to play into this entrepreneurship agenda is who you are, your personality. And it is ultimately the place where decisions as you build a business are going to come to roost.
It’s your choice about people. It’s your choice about strategy. It’s your choice about whether or not to bring a co-founder on board. It’s your choice to think about which products go to market first, how to price them, how to position them, et cetera. So the more you can understand yourself that one resource that is within your control, the better off you’re going to be able to make decisions that reflect your strengths, but equally importantly, be able to anticipate the weaknesses where you need to basically find other people or develop other skill sets yourself so that you’re in a better position to improve your odds of success and win in the marketplace.
Socrates said, “Know thyself.” And building a business, whether inside a big corporation, or on your own as a startup, is a profoundly personal, and high-exposure exercise. So everything you do, everything you are, the nerve and sinew that make you up, are on display to your customers, to your investors, and to your employees.
Getting to know yourself is not just about introspection as in looking at your own navel and trying to spend times psychoanalyzing yourself. This has a benefit for the people who you work with and for them to better understand you because there is no such word as “solopreneurship.” It is all about how individual builders and founders of businesses collect, assemble, lead, inspire, convert the resources that they need in order to be able to fulfill their potential as a builder of businesses of enduring value.
Driver Personality: A good example of this is Steve Jobs and this is because he had a gift to understand how a market was developing and to be able to identify the solutions, or services, or products that the market would want before the market even realized it. The driver also tends to identify his own sense of self with the product success. Another example of a driver who is a tech entrepreneur is a guy named Steve Brightman, who at age 19 figured out that he could make a small fortune installing washing machines, coin-operated washing machines, and dryers, in apartment buildings in and around New York.
And he put together his first $39 to buy his first machine. He now at age 68 has something like 45,000 – 50,000 machines, generating an enormous amount of income and enormous impact to the way people do their laundry today in New York City. He had that same internal drive of being able to see how the technology, the need, and the product would all come together to actually transform the way people operate.
What is the Weakness of a driver?
Shakespeare wrote that your greatest strength begets your greatest weaknesses. And one of the things is so common with Drivers is that they are exquisite in being able to build solutions that are effective in the marketplace, and are also willing to follow their invention out the proverbial window, in other words, holding on to the love of the product far beyond its commercial usefulness which is referred to as Product Narcissism, and it translates also in terms of weaknesses.
Drivers can be very tough to work with and work close to because they have an almost fanatical commitment and loyalty and sense of confidence about the product or solutions they’re bringing to the marketplace. At some point, product alone doesn’t make for the success.
You need all of the other resources, all of the other skill sets, and in some extent, all of the other diverse styles in order to capture the real potential of a business idea.
The Explorer; whereas drivers are focused first and foremost on product, explorers are focused on the puzzle or the problem, if you will. They tend to be systems thinkers by instinct and by training. They are attracted to complexity. They’re attracted to situations that nobody yet has been able to quite crack. And that fascination with the puzzle solving, with the system’s diagnosis is what animates and anchors an explorer in contrast to a driver.
Mark Zuckerberg, is a good example of an explorer. The characteristic, whether famous or not so famous, among explorers is, yes, they are drawn to the complexity. They love solving the problem.
Weakness of an Explorer
He can begin to lose interest in the problem he has already solved because he is looking for the next one before your company, perhaps, has had an opportunity to really commercialize and fully scale the benefit of the first solution he came up with, number one.
Number two, because an explorer is an analytical person, he tends to look at the rest of his organization, the people, in particular, as kind of analytical inputs, almost treating them not as human beings, not with flesh and blood, but as inputs to the equation. And that for different reasons as earlier discussed about a driver can make it difficult for a diverse range of people to work with and get the best out of and explore as a founder of a business.
The Crusader; this is someone who thinks about the mission, and a business shows up around that mission. But on the downside, the very passion that crusaders have around vision and mission can sometimes lead them to error on the side of hiring, attracting, and keeping people who are similarly motivated and inspired by the mission at the expense of looking carefully, and perhaps a bit more objectively at the actual competency of the people that are surrounding them. Sometimes you need supervision as well as vision in order to create the right kind of team.
A good example of a crusader is Angelo Pizzagalli, who built one of the largest construction companies in the state of Vermont; he had this great description of how he hired people. He said, “we hired people whom we wanted to have breakfast with. Angelo, how did that work as you scaled your business? And he said, well, we still wanted to have breakfast with them, but we should have fired them because they were not growing as fast as our business was growing”.
So with this tendency to be able to fuse a deep personal relationship also comes with a level of conflict avoidance that can get in the way as crusaders begin to scale their businesses.
The captain: One very good example of this personality type is a woman named Margery Kraus, who’s the founder of APCO, which is the second largest privately-owned PR firm in the world. Margery is a good example of this role, this type that I call the captain. Why?
Captains tend to see themselves more as managing through the “we” rather than the “me,” if at all possible. It doesn’t mean that captains aren’t decisive. It doesn’t mean that captains don’t have a clear sense of where they think the organization needs to go or where they need to steer it. But they would much rather have other people’s fingerprints on the strategies and decisions that guide that particular business’ growth than have to impose it by will in the way, for example, that driver might be inclined to do.
Captains are, therefore, compared to the other three, they’re pretty good improvisers. They can respond to changes in the marketplace, in strategy, without falling into the trap of being too tenaciously devoted to one particular product, one particular solution, or one particular strategy. The difficulty, however, with captains, who otherwise tend to be pretty empowering and pretty ennobling leaders to work with, is that you can perhaps over-delegate and lose that firsthand feel for the changes that are happening out on the frontlines of your business.
So it’s, if you think about it, the whole quartet that I’ve talked about; all four have their own paths to building success. Entrepreneurs just happen to bear a different mix of those strengths and weaknesses, depending on which their default personality type is.
So to the big question; If none of these types sound quite like you, does that mean that you may just not be a builder?
If you are an aspiring builder (entrepreneur), there’s really kind of two questions you should ask yourself. What kind of builder do you want to be? And what kind of builder represents your personal archetype? That is the heroes of your experience. And perhaps you can begin to pattern your behavior against the archetype that you seek to be.
Personality is not a prison. It’s not a shackle or a straightjacket. You have the ability, if you are introspective and honest about your default patterns, to understand them, to perhaps figure out how you want to correct for the worst aspects of them, but also acknowledge where they bring out particular strengths that you and only you are capable of.
Everybody has an intense abiding curiosity to answer the question– who am I? Why do I do what I do? And when you start with that curiosity, at some point in order to achieve real insight and real discovery about who you are and how you’re wired, if you will, you need to sort of complement your hubris and self-projection with a sense of humility, a sense of trying to understand what are the downsides of who you’d like to think you are, that you may, in fact, not be quite as good as you think you might be to the extent that you have the choice to do it.
Who am I? Why do I do what I do?
Finding somebody who is your complement, who doesn’t bring to the challenge the exact same mix of strengths and weaknesses, is probably going to give you a better shot at making better decisions with a more fulsome set of perspectives and ideas around which to make choices, whether it’s marketing choices, or personnel choices, or what have you. Finding investors whose own style can complement yours, who can give you the kind of support financially that maps against your own preferences as an investor so that they’re capable of reinforcing the things that you’re good at but not being spellbound by them.