Many people believe that good entrepreneurs are born; that it is not a trainable skill. I believe there is an innate component, but I also often agree with the great Peter Drucker, who said “It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline, and like any discipline, it can be learned.”
On the natural-born side, some entrepreneurs seem to have a strong vision and the ability to inspirationally lead others. It is this vision that is the beacon to drive the right people behavior, leading to the success of the business. If you don’t feel a vision in your heart, or if you don’t have the strength to inspire people, entrepreneurship is probably the wrong road for you.
If you feel you have a strong vision, you still could benefit from some of the key learnable skills that can improve the success and impact of every entrepreneur, assembled from an interview with Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and other executives (the interview is no longer available online):
- Ability to set priorities and focus on goals. Many people allow themselves to be driven by the crisis of the moment. Personal discipline is the key word here. Set yourself some priorities and goals, and live by them.
- Able to identify important issues. Some people call this common sense; others call it “street smarts.” In the normal startup environment, there are multiple forces competing for your attention every day, and you need to learn to delegate or ignore many. It relates back to experience and knowledge, more than genes.
- Conviction to be a passionate advocate. When you believe in something enough to turn your passion into action, you have become an advocate. That power and voice is then used to persuade others to make the correct decision. An effective advocate requires conviction, usually acquired during related first-hand experience or training.
- Broad knowledge and experience. Experience allows one to tackle challenges with confidence in a given area. Broad knowledge facilitates the same success in other business areas. Entrepreneurs need this because their challenges are across the spectrum from technical to legal, operational, financial, and organizational.
- Active listening skills. Above all, the ability to listen and understand the real meaning of what people are saying (and not saying) is paramount, because the most important information never arrives in reports or email. Some people pick this up from experience, and others find classroom courses most helpful in setting the focus.
- Sound judgment. I don’t think anyone is born with sound judgment; it has to be learned but can be started at a very early age. Every entrepreneur must have the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw proper conclusions.
- Pleasant skepticism. Skepticism is not doubting, but applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of searching for a supportable conclusion, as opposed to justifying a preconceived conclusion. It is a learned skill.
These all revolve around the larger theme of team building. In short, to succeed, the entrepreneur must see and articulate a vision in order to attract and motivate a team, then be able to identify the key issues, challenge the views held within the team, and make judgments from among the varying perspectives in the team.
Every entrepreneur enters the game with a unique combination of genes and skills. If the things mentioned here feel natural to you, and you are young at heart, have a healthy curiosity and zest for life, the entrepreneurial world may have a place for you, too. Give it a try. If you are having fun, you probably have what it takes.