Entrepreneurial Success Traits: How Do You Stack Up?

By Glenn Dietzel


Leaders of the fastest growing companies in America have proven they can fight traditional economic downturns and turn genuine problems into remarkable opportunities. After all, these are the marks of a great leader, but how exactly do they do it? What are the key skills they possess to outdistance the rest of the competition?

In this article, we are going to examine the key traits of highly successful business leaders, based on extensive surveys and studies of the fastest growing "Inc. 500" business leaders. (Inc. magazine is the go-to periodical for small and midsize business leaders, and issues. Each year it releases a highly anticipated report of the "500 Fastest Growing Companies"*.)

We are then going to analyze the “top 10 success traits” of these Captains of Industry, and compare these against our own positive - and negative - personality traits. For some, this self-examination will be viewed as a positive challenge to become even better; for others, it could trigger some angst and intimidation. Either way, thanks for investing in yourself to participate in this exercise!

Please consider that to "be the best we can be," we would be smart to first step back to learn what has been proven to work for those who have risen to the very pinnacle of success. Of course, for maximum benefit, we must also "suck it up," push through our comfort zone to also identify those weaknesses that are holding us back.

Step #1: Get the Facts – What are the Top 10 CEO Success Traits

The 10 key traits that powered this elite group to the top of the charts:

  1. Risk Taker – "enthusiastically takes on challenges"

  2. Business Focused – "goal driven, metrics focused"

  3. Determination – *"tremendous work ethic"

  4. Delegator – "draws on others abilities"

  5. Knowledge Seeker - "uses knowledge as a competitive advantage"

  6. Creative Thinker – "thinks past boundaries… explores options"

  7. Confidence - "believes in ability to build businesses"

  8. Promoter – "speaks boldly on behalf of the company"

  9. Independence – "self-reliant… strong sense of responsibility"

  10. Relationship Builder – "develops mutually beneficial relationships"

Step #2: How Do You Compare to the Best?

For maximum impact, you should ideally set aside at least 15-30 minutes for this exercise. When ready, take a clean sheet of paper, and draw three equal columns. Label the first, Strength, the second, Between a Strength and a Weakness, the third, Weakness.

For the most accurate results, please approach this next exercise in two easy steps.

  • Step A. Quickly write down your “gut reaction” by placing each of the ten traits in the appropriate column. After noting this initial reaction for each of the ten traits, push the paper away and take a two-minute break.

  • Step B. In the second round, please review the trait list again, but this time, make a personal commitment to do so with a willingness to change your mind from your entries in the first step. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers! Strive to be as brutally honest with yourself as possible, so that you can accurately capture the essence of who you are. You must also give yourself permission to be surprised.

    • When you are ready to proceed, take a fresh new sheet of paper (to reduce any bias from your previous entry) and make the same three columns once again. (Label the first, Strength, the second, Between a Strength and a Weakness, the third, Weakness.)

    • Now, looking at the 10 traits from earlier in this article, slowly take your time with each trait by first asking yourself, "Is this really who I am and how I operate?" Silently ask this question before you assign each trait to a category.

    • Next, force yourself to "get off the fence" and make a firm decision. To do this, take each of the traits you had listed as "between," and move them to either the strength or a weakness column.

Step #3: Now that you understand your Strengths & Weaknesses, So What?

It’s wonderful to have this new and deeper understanding of who you are and how you operate, but by itself, this will not make you a more effective leader. You see, by itself knowledge means very little - unless and until it is activated! The crucial question now is this… "What exactly are you going to do with this new-found knowledge?"

Here are some specific Action Steps to start building "a better you."

A. First, Build on your Strengths.

Generally speaking, your strengths are your natural gifts. Based on extensive research from the Gallup organization (owners of the StrengthsFinders assessment tools) we now know that for rapid and maximum impact, it’s always best to build on/lead from your strengths. It’s also wise, when tacking any change initiative such as this one, to be highly focused and select just one thing to work on.

With these concepts in mind, please select just one of your "greatest" strengths and brainstorm specific actions you will take to build on, promote, leverage, or extend.

  • Now, consider the ease/cost and the value/impact for each action that you have listed.

    • (To help get clarity on this, you might want to plot your ideas on X and Y Axes.)
  • Now select the one action which ranked the highest. We must turn this into a strong Goal. To which you are making a personal commitment. The best way to do this to formalize this in writing, with the specific result you are seeking along with a reasonable completion date. Please use the following example to craft your Goal statement.

    Example: Strength = Creative Thinker. "I will leverage my unique strengths as a Creative Thinker to develop at least 2 new product ideas for my company, and submit them in a formal proposal to my boss no later than 10 days from today."

  • Don’t forget to celebrate a "job well done" for the completion of your initiative. But don’t get complacent and stop here. You have a wonderful gift – so keep on the same path of perfecting this talent.

B. Next, Fix or at least Mitigate, Your Weaknesses

You will want to pursue the same process as outline above, except that this time you will focus on the one Weakness that is most holding you back. Unlike building on a Strength, you will likely find this to be a less positive experience. You will need to push beyond your existing Comfort Zone, to make any substantive headway. Give careful consideration to including your supervisor in this exercise so that he/she can be a positive advocate for the difficult task you have taken on.


Each year tens of millions of people miss out on the opportunity to proactively improve themselves. What they don’t fully appreciate is that without such efforts, they are unlikely to get ahead or achieve the level of success they long for.

The title of this article, posed a very personal and important question… “Entrepreneurial Success Traits: How Do You Stack Up?” Please know this. It matters very little as to how you scored, or “stacked up,” today. What does matter is that you don’t stay frozen in place!

Why not utilize this information to take charge of your destiny and grow strongertomorrow?

Whether it’s "doubling down" on a strength to effect even greater results, or working hard to address an area of weakness so that it doesn’t hold you back, embracing a philosophy of "continuous personal improvement", is the sure path taken by winners.