The Skills Most Entrepreneurs Lack

Harvard Business Review

Entrepreneurs are a unique group of people, but they behave in patterns. In fact, as I recently wrote here on HBR, my firm's research shows that most serial entrepreneurs display persuasion, leadership, personal accountability, goal orientation, and interpersonal skills. But in that same study, we also discovered a set of skills they do not possess.

To rehash our methods, we assessed subjects identified as serial entrepreneurs on what personal skills they possessed. Then they were compared to a control group of 17,000. As before, this group was assessed on their mastery of 23 practical, job-related skills. We measured whether skills were well developed, developed, moderately developed, or needed developing.

After analyzing the data, we found four distinct skills lacking in most serial entrepreneurs, three skills statistically significantly and one other also noticeably lacking. The statistical significance is derived by comparing the lowest ranking skills to the entrepreneurs' top skills, as evaluated in the first study.

Key Traits of a Serial Entrepreneur

Empathy is one of the qualities serial entrepreneurs lack most. Entrepreneurs build things and solve problems for people, but according to this study they do this in hopes of a return on investment. Entrepreneurs may have high empathy on an intellectual level, in that they want to produce a product or service that will help someone. This is often, however, also tied to the entrepreneur receiving a return for their time and effort, which people with high empathy do not generally expect.

Entrepreneurial-minded people are not proficient in managing themselves and their time. In many jobs, managing personal day-to-day tasks might take away from accomplishing larger company goals, which are critical to entrepreneurs. Since entrepreneurs typically have many projects underway at one time, they simply do not have time to micromanage each. Often they need assistance managing everyday tasks and should hire or delegate them to someone who has mastered this skill.

This leads to another skill entrepreneurs lack: planning and organizing. Similar to self-management, if entrepreneurs spent time planning and organizing every task or meeting, they would never get anything else done. Once again, hiring someone to keep their calendar, organize meetings and events, keep the office de-cluttered, and help keep them on schedule can put them at an advantage.

Entrepreneurs also do not excel above the control group when it comes to analytical problem solving. They have high utilitarian motivators (potential future gains, monetary returns, new products or ideas), so their focus is often on making a quick decision. They have a sense of urgency in decision-making, and by nature they do not have time to collect and analyze the data. They see numbers as getting in their way, and they should - everyone who has told them an idea wouldn't pan out has used data and logic to illustrate that point. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "I have a dream." He did not say, "I have a plan and strategy." Entrepreneurs have the vision, but need to employ people to create an executable strategy and carry it through.

Entrepreneurial-minded individuals possess a distinct set of skills that lead to great leadership and ideas. Perhaps the skills they have not mastered are equally important. With an understanding of those weaknesses, they can compensate for them by surrounding themselves with people who excel in these areas. As a leader, realizing other's strengths and dovetailing them into your own weaknesses is key to developing a team that will carry out your grand vision and achieve goals.

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