How A Leader’s Personality Impacts the Ability to Win

built for growth

Built for Growth

Many business books are written on how to innovate, achieve faster growth, or beat the competition. I’ve not read many that focus on the personality of the leader. But the founder’s personality has a dramatic impact on all aspects of the company culture and its potential.

That’s the core focus of Chris Kuenne and John Danner’s new book, BUILT FOR GROWTH: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win.

If entrepreneurs understand their personalities, it will help them choose the right team to enhance their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

I recently spoke with the authors about their fascinating research into personality in this context. John Danner is a senior fellow at the University of California Berkley’s Institute for Business Innovation. A faculty member, a business adviser, and an entrepreneur, he speaks widely on topics from innovation to strategy. Chris Kuenne is a member of Princeton University’s entrepreneurship faculty, a growth capital investor, an entrepreneur, and a speaker.

 

“To win in the twenty-first century, you must empower others.” -Jack Ma

 

3 Reasons Personality is Misunderstood

Personality is one of the least understood elements of entrepreneurial and business success. Why is that still the case after decades of study and research?

We think there might be three converging reasons. First, the business world often tends to overlook introspection and reflection in its bias for action and results, so the issue of who you are can get lost in the impatient focus on what you’ve done. The “do” trumps the “who.” But as any manager or leader knows, personality does matter . . . a lot; so that action-bias has left a void in our understanding.

Second, we love icons. Movies and the media naturally latch onto a compelling storyline, a fascinating individual, and retell that one person’s experience, character and personality. But icons can quickly become stereotypes, and those stereotypes reinforce the notion that you have to be an extraordinarily exceptional person to find success as an entrepreneur. That shorthand can substitute for a deeper understanding of what’s really at play here. In other words, every entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to be successful; our research discovered there are four distinct personalities of successful entrepreneurs. And there are likely millions of individuals the world over who share those same personality patterns.

Third, although most people are intensely curious about who they are and how they’re wired, most personality assessments are ill-suited to the task of cracking the code of successful business building. Many address very broad issues, e.g., am I an extrovert or introvert, a Type A or Type B, etc. Or they’re designed to answer other questions in personal domains, like who might be a good match for me, what music might I like, etc.

Some broad-gauge tools can help people decide whether they might be cut out for entrepreneurship generally, e.g., are they comfortable with taking risks or working for themselves? But those resources don’t address the fundamental question: what are the key personality characteristics of the women and men who actually succeed in building lasting businesses of impressive scale? What makes those individuals tick, and am I like any of them?

And context is key here; people want to know about personalities in action in particular settings. That’s why we concentrated on examining personalities in the context of successful business ventures and used a patented Personality-ClusteringTM methodology that has proven its effectiveness in decoding specific customer behavior in hundreds of markets around the world.

But our research is just a first step in understanding the central mystery of the who of successful entrepreneurship. We invite others to build upon our findings as we refine our own work. After all, entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth and opportunity globally. We welcome others’ insights into this complicated and essential domain of human endeavor.

 

“Teams need captains, and vice versa-if you want to get things done.” -Mark Coopersmith

 

4 Types of Builder Personalities

Briefly walk through the four types of Builder personalities.

The Driver: Relentless, Commercially Focused, and Highly Confident – Drivers can’t help themselves. They have to become builders of business or social ventures of their own as a means of self-validation. Entrepreneurship is almost hardwired into their very identity. They are supremely confident individuals, fixated on their products, relentless in pursuing commercial success based on their uncanny anticipation of what markets and customers are looking for. Drivers – like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – often don’t last long as employees in other people’s organizations. They eschew rules and bureaucracy, seeing them as tools to focus the average person, yet often confine the truly gifted, independent-thinking actor. These builders are willing to do whatever it takes to realize the commercial success inherent in what they believe is their unbounded potential, in fact their destiny.

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide

Hard Won Advice from Venture Capitalists

Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.

But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.

That’s sobering.

 

Why do so many startups fail?

What can the successful ones teach us?

Is there a blueprint for startup success?

 

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.

 

“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler

 

Why Start-Ups Fail

Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?

Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.

ultimatestartupguidenew2Running out of money.  Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.

‘Camel Design.’  If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.

A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention:  this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.

Underestimating the competition.  Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should.  Give the competition their due:  The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.

 

“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani

 

Translate Failure into Success

How can past failures translate to a positive experience?

It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition:  If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.

 

“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee

 

Why Diversity is Important

I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups? 

Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.

 

“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini

 

What is post-launch depression? How do you guard against it?