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8 Surprising Traits of the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?

We can all think of the names of some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Richard BransonSteve JobsLarry PageWarren Buffet and many more.

In my interviews and studies of these successful entrepreneurs, I’ve come to notice several key traits that most share in common with each other. What makes them successful? Why do these people succeed in business when so many do not?

Every successful entrepreneur has their own individual quirks and idiosyncrasies, developed over years of experience within their own unique environments. Here are the 8 most surprising traits of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Successful Entrepreneurs Listen More Than They Speak

Steve Jobs
Rick Smolan/Getty Images News

This might surprise some people. A familiar image of some of the more outspoken, successful entrepreneurs of our generation, is that they do what they want, regardless of others’ opinions.

Those who have read anything about Steve Jobs have no doubt heard about how difficult he was to work for, and how hard a time he had let go of control. What people miss, however, is that even Jobs usually had a team of advisors and extremely talented employees helping power all of his decisions behind the scenes. Jobs’ relationship with Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive was one of immense trust when it came to product design.

Richard Branson has also named listening as one of his three most important leadership principles. He says, “Listening enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace, and from the mistake that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive.”

They’re Ready to Embrace Failure

Homer Simpson Quote About Failure
Nancy Basile / About.com

While you will never be a success if you are totally reckless, you do need to take risks along the way and accept that there will be failures, as well as successes. Nearly every successful entrepreneur has some failures in their backlog of life.

Even though Steve Jobs is no longer with us, he certainly left behind a legacy at Apple. However, many people have forgotten that at one point the Apple board, who disagreed with his decisions, ousted him as CEO. It was only after he spent time developing NeXT and Pixar, that he made a triumphant return to Apple.

Steve Jobs did not lose heart when he was dumped from the successful company that he built. It merely gave him the impetus to embrace that failure and move further forward.

They’re Extremely Curious

Curiosity 8 Most Surprising Traits of the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs
 Michael Dodge / Stringer/Getty Images

Inc. columnist, Naveen Jain, founder and CEO of Income, sums up the essence of this trait in his post, The Most Precious Resource on the Planet? Big Dreamers. He states, “You should always remind yourself that the day before something is a breakthrough, it’s just a crazy idea.”

Thomas Edison would never have come up with his inventions, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb if he had not been curious.

Curiosity is a fundamental trait of any successful entrepreneur. Business leaders do not make it through life by being indifferent to the activities occurring around them. They are always looking for the next way to make something better.

They’re Determined to Follow Their Passions

Artist throwing paint at canvas
Vital Pictures/Getty Images

Alas, too many people make their way through life without ever discovering what they’re truly passionate about.

Graham Young, in Passion 101: How to Discover Your Calling in Life says, “passion is something that will stem from your beliefs, be enhanced by your skills and sustained by the value that you are able to provide.”

Not only do successful entrepreneurs determine what their passion is, they make an all-out effort to ensure that they wholeheartedly follow that passion.

Most entrepreneurs spend long hours running their businesses. It is much easier to devote this time if you are doing something you love.

They Admit What They Don’t Know

Ask questions
Big Stock Photo

A common misconception about successful entrepreneurs is that they’re often arrogant and believe they know everything.

You’re likely to find that most genuinely successful, self-made entrepreneurs are not anywhere near arrogant, however. It’s the vocal minority that gets all the attention. Most successful entrepreneurs are the first to admit that they do not know it all.

The more they learn, the more they discover what they don’t know.

To truly succeed, you have to learn from your experiences in life. You need to keep an open mind and be prepared to handle criticism the right way, as evidenced on CreativeLive.

To quote Richard Branson again, “Learning and leadership go together. Too much credit goes to me for what we have achieved at Virgin, but the successes happen from working and learning with some of the world’s most inspiring and inspired people.”

They Know When (and How) to Say No

Businessman working on office desk while businesswoman providing stack of files
Westend61 / Getty Images

Business managers and owners find that they have enormous demands on their time. There is a real danger that you can burn out if you attempt to micromanage your business.

Truly successful entrepreneurs can see a multitude of opportunities for their business to take. More importantly, they can also see that it would not be beneficial (or possible) for them to pursue every opportunity that comes their way. They need to be selective and concentrate their focus on only those ideas with the greatest potential.

Steve Jobs was the master of saying no. When he returned to Apple in 1997, the company had a range of 350 products. Jobs reduced this number to 10 products in a two-year period. He was able to give Apple a real focus, a process they continue to this day.

Feature overload within technology companies is another example of people not knowing when to say no. How many people actually use all of the components on a Swiss Army Knife? Most people use the knife to cut with, but unless they are stuck in a hairy situation, they are unlikely to use specialist tools in other scenarios.

They Know the Importance of Balance

Work-life balance brings relaxation.
Mint Images / Tim Robbins / Getty Images

Truly successful entrepreneurs know that there is much more to life than just running their business. They spend quality time with their family. They take breaks and vacations.

In some cases, this is an example of their learning from their past mistakes. You hear about entrepreneurs working horrendous hours, and many that do, end up experiencing eventual health problems.

Warren Buffett was asked in a meeting with MBA students for some of the reasons for his success. Two of the reasons he cites were picking the right spouse, and staying in Nebraska rather than moving to New York City (with a quieter, less stressful lifestyle).

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has an innovative view on this. “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance,” she said in a Maker’s video interview. She recognizes the difficulties women, in particular, have juggling family responsibilities with a high power job.

They Know How to Build a Good Team

Jon Feingersh/Blend Images/Getty Images

If you intend to be a successful entrepreneur, you will very quickly discover that you cannot do everything by yourself. It is a physical impossibility, and you would certainly burn out.

Also, any human being, no matter how intelligent, educated and experienced they are, is unlikely to have the full skill set needed to run a successful company by themselves. That’s also why I’m a huge advocate of validating your business ideas before diving too deeply into spending your precious resources on them.​

None of the entrepreneurs I’ve studied has become successful solely of their own accord. They’ve all built a team of loyal, creative, and skilled people. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to know how to delegate. You need to be able to allow others to become involved, and make decisions in their areas of responsibility.

Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Warren Buffett and many of world’s most successful entrepreneurs have learned the importance of spending their time doing only what they do best and trusting talented people to help them do the rest. Combine all 8 of these traits, and you’re on a path to create something truly monumental.


Ryan Robinson Entrepreneur and Content Marketer on ryrob

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