The path to success in your small business may be unclear. What skills are needed to be an entrepreneur? What entrepreneurial characteristics are most important?

Those questions are common for people who want to achieve their career goals. Unfortunately, the answers aren’t as easy to find, at least in any definitive result. You can find plenty of literature that examines entrepreneurial skills and characteristics, but results will vary by source. Even the most accomplished entrepreneurs have different thoughts on the matter, and while what they have to say is valuable, it can be frustrating to narrow down.

A more objective look is needed. This article follows research into key entrepreneurial strengths and a subsequent look at how elite entrepreneurs and a national sample of entrepreneurs compare. By looking at the resulting disparity in scores, we can narrow down to the most significant entrepreneurial skills and characteristics for success.

Examining the Top 10 Entrepreneurial Skills and Characteristics

Over five years, research and consulting firm Gallup studied more than 4,000 business founders to understand what helped them successfully create and grow their companies. They settled on the 10 most significant entrepreneurial skills and characteristics and then created an online assessment tool to measure those skills and characteristics.

Then, Inc. and Gallup teamed up to perform unique research into what separates the best entrepreneurs from other entrepreneurs. They started by having two groups of leaders complete the online assessment.

The first group comprised CEOs in the Inc. 500, a collection of the fastest-growing companies in America. More than 90% of those leaders also founded the company they were the CEOs of, making them elite entrepreneurs. In response to the invitation, 155 filled out the assessment.

The second group comprised a national sample of nearly 2,700 entrepreneurs.

Results of the comparison help demonstrate what entrepreneurial skills and characteristics are most critical. Note that the group of elite entrepreneurs, on average, scored high on six of the 10 strengths, while the national sample scored high on just two. Sixteen percent of those in the elite group were “exceptional,” according to Gallup, compared to 2% of the national sample.

Here are the results of the research, ordered by the percentage of elite entrepreneurs who chose the skill or characteristic as being significant.
Portrait of the Not-So-Average Inc. 500 CEO

1.      Risk Taker

Being able to take risks isn’t a surprising characteristic for entrepreneurs. Merely starting a business can involve a major risk, after all. And there are plenty of stories about famous entrepreneurs who risked it all. For instance, James Dyson created more than 5,000 vacuum cleaner prototypes in a few years, while borrowing money against his home, to create the Dyson company.

Risk-taking in this context is more about an optimistic view toward risk and the rational decision-making to mitigate risk. Elite entrepreneurs don’t shy away from risks; instead, they turn them into calculated risks. As entrepreneurship mentor Leonard Green has repeatedly said, “entrepreneurs are not risk-takers. They are calculated risk-takers.”

Author and CEO of VUDU Marketing Sam McRoberts added that it’s possible to become a risk-taker. He cited research demonstrating how risk aversion is linked to positive or negative past experiences. By taking more (and intelligent) risks, you can reinforce the advantages of taking risks.

  • 85% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 22% of national sample of entrepreneurs chose this as significant

2.      Business Focus

Business focus is all being seeing profits, goals, and metrics.

Expert marketer Neil Patel recommended bringing every question back to revenue. Whether it’s a matter of hiring a new person, focusing on some new marketing endeavor, or anything, bringing it back to money is a way to keep what’s important at the forefront.

“But isn’t this greedy profiteering? No,” Patel said. “Revenue is to a business what blood is to the body. If you want a business, you have to have revenue.”

Inc. noticed that typical company leaders held weekly or monthly executive team meetings to go over revenue and other metrics. Of the elite entrepreneurs, many met daily to examine data points and to adjust as needed. Perhaps that’s part of why there’s a 52% disparity between the two groups’ business focus.

  • 72% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 20% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

3.      Determination

Determination is more than business focus. It’s an unrelenting drive in the face of challenges and obstacles. It’s the type of work ethic that demands success.

Like risk-taking, determination is often perceived as a hallmark strength for entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’ve heard people discuss the role of grit and determination, terms that get to the drive needed to successfully start and grow a business. There’s a certain toughness to handle the obstacles that entrepreneurship involves.

How do you develop and grow determination? Remember your goals and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t lose sight of what’s important. That type of focus can help you overcome barriers and maintain your composure when you’re tempted to give up.

  • 71% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 23% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

4.      Delegator

Delegating takes advantage of other people’s strengths and encourages collaboration. Being a strong delegator can maximize the value of a team, as well as free up your time. Often, it requires being able to let go of control and trust other people; those can be difficult at first, but once learned can free up your time so you can focus on more important matters.

  • 61% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 22% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

5.      Knowledge Seeker

Seeking knowledge helps obtain knowledge that can be used as a competitive advantage. Staying up-to-date on latest industry trends and best practices can help. This entrepreneurial characteristic can be connected to others. For instance, famous entrepreneur Mark Cuban told Inc. that he hates risk. But by being “relentless about learning,” he said, he could minimize risk.

  • 58% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 23% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

6.      Creative Thinker

Creativity makes use of ideas and explores options to create new solutions to existing challenges. It may be one of the more difficult skills or characteristics to develop, but it’s possible.

Entrepreneur John Rampton recommended reading, picking up an art, spending time in nature, and simply surrounding yourself with other types of people. “Most people surround themselves with others who are similar to them,” he wrote in Entrepreneur. “While doing so is comfortable, it is not beneficial when working toward creativity.” Getting out of your comfort zone can provide that spark needed for a creativity boost.

  • 56% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 23% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

7.      Confidence

Confident entrepreneurs take the initiative, can present well, and believe in their abilities. Overcoming negativity is one way to become more confident. You can also explore best business practices and industry trends, as having more knowledge can help you feel more confident about something you may struggle with.

  • 54% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 21% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

8.      Promoter

Promoters can communicate their vision effectively and have no trouble speaking about the company with boldness. Working with an established mission and practicing public speaking can help this skill feel more natural.

  • 53% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 23% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

9.      Independence

Independence refers to how entrepreneurs are self-reliant, responsible, and handle multiple tasks well. If you don’t feel comfortable in a certain area — which may cause you to be less independent than you’d like to be — try to work on the skills you lack. Successful entrepreneurs may need to do a little bit of everything at times, or at least be able to delegate effectively.

  • 50% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 20% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

10.  Relationship Builder

These types of entrepreneurs have a high social awareness and are adept at developing relationships that are mutually beneficial. Taking time to cultivate such relationships can be tricky, especially for a career that’s notoriously time intensive. Try to reach out to others for advice or to offer help. Networking events can be a good way to get out and meet people, too.

  • 46% of elite entrepreneurs chose this as significant
  • 22% of national sample entrepreneurs chose this as significant

Focusing on and cultivating the top entrepreneurial skills and characteristics can help you become more successful in your next business venture. If you’d like to expand your knowledge and abilities, consider pursuing an online business management degree. You’ll develop an important foundation in business while gaining expertise in professional communication, change management, problem solving and more.

Thomas Jefferson University’s fully online business management program allows you to study flexibly and to maintain your current personal and professional commitments. Experience a world-class education at your fingertips.