As I was watching the investor show, Shark Tank, on TV the other night, I was struck by how quickly and how extensively the sharks focused on the background and character of the entrepreneurs, compared to time spent evaluating their products. I realized it was consistent with my own view as a former angel investor, that investors invest in you, more than your solution.
For example, if you as an entrepreneur come across as arrogant or too casual, many people you need to deal with in business, including investors, suppliers, and customers, will run the other way. The attributes you need to demonstrate in every meeting, and live on a daily basis, are ones illustrating your “strength of character.” These can be honed over time, and can’t be easily faked.
Based on my own years of experience in big business, startups, and the investor community, here are the key habits and traits that each of us needs to continually improve to be perceived by peers and others as leaders and innovators in business here and consistently around the world:
- Be aggressive in aspirations but prudent in execution. I want to see entrepreneurs who have a focus on the future, but the strength and perseverance to build realistic and well-laid plans, for follow through daily. This means you set goals, milestones, and metrics, and are able to provide financial projections to support funding requirements.
- Demonstrate social intelligence and concern. Today’s world of business is highly driven by social issues and environmental concerns. Entrepreneurs with a strength in social intelligence are better able to use these to their advantage, in selecting the right solutions, the right market segments, and implementing effective marketing strategies.
- Listens well, and seeks out critical feedback from others. If you are an entrepreneur with this trait, I believe you will seek and positively respond to feedback from three critical groups: peers, customers, and experts. I find that self-focused entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are more likely to resort to denial when faced with negative feedback.
- Always proclaim and deliver a positive attitude. The reality of my business experience is that people who are consistently more negative and pessimistic tend to make their views limit their results. If you demonstrate a positive attitude, I’m more easily convinced that you can make your business commitments, and your solution a success.
- Conversant with a variety of perspectives and concepts. This trait, sometimes called mental complexity, will convince others that you likely understand the relevant issues, are willing to challenge your own ideas, and will be quicker to adapt them to encompass new information, experiences, and meaning. Change is the only constant in business today.
- Takes ownership of personal strengths and weaknesses. Investors look for entrepreneurs with a high level of self-determination, who continually seek more competence in their chosen domain. We all have weaknesses, but we can all learn and improve our effectiveness. Denial and over-confidence are not good traits to exhibit.
- Not afraid to share personal life experiences. Everyone has a story. You can make it inspirational and supportive, or you can hide behind a veil of anonymity. Other people in business judge your character by how major events and influences have shaped your personal development, and will likely impact your response to new situations.
- Recognize natural leaders and seeks help from them. Great entrepreneurs have sought help from natural helpers since childhood, including parents, teachers, and business influencers. I believe this will make you feel more accepted, respected, and affirmed, and allow you to pass that feeling on to key players in your business career.
- Shares views and learns from a personal mentor. Entrepreneur leaders recognize and seek three types of mentoring – career mentoring for the longer term, peer mentoring for tactical guidance, and life mentoring for quality of life balancing. Even successful entrepreneurs, included Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, learn from each other as mentors.
- Visibly demonstrate the highest integrity. Integrity is generally defined as the act of behaving honorably, even when no one is watching. People with high integrity follow moral and ethical principles in all aspects of their business life, including decision making, and working with others. Investors ask about you, not your product, to test your integrity.
Whether you are an entrepreneur, or any other business professional, the strength of your character, as perceived by others, is of major importance to your growth and success. Don’t let the desire to find shortcuts, or egotistical tendencies, keep you from continuously improving and developing your character. Your return for showing good character in business is well worth it.