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The Little-Known Personality Trait That Predicts Entrepreneurial Success

Broad personality traits are known to be predictive of success in broad areas. If you want to find out what predicts success in a specific area - such as entrepreneurship - you need to go deeper and look at more precise personality factors.

It has been well established in the organizational psychology research that personality traits are predictive of success in a variety of areas. In the popular press, though, most of the writings have focused on the "Big 5" factors of personality: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (this is also measured as Emotional Stability).

Hidden within the research on these 5 broad personality factors are more precise elements that can be immensely helpful for pinpointing what leads to success in specific areas. One of these factors, Proactive Personality, has been found to be a prime predictor of entrepreneurial success. When you flip this around it makes even more sense: the more reactive you are the less success you will find as an entrepreneur.

People with a strong proactive personality have a disposition towards taking intentional action to influence their situation and environment. The mindset focuses on the belief that you create your environment; it is not forced upon you without an opportunity to control it.

In an entrepreneurial sense, this means that if you have a proactive personality you firmly believe that you control the fate of your business. Other factors--economy, competition, etc.--influence it, but you are responsible for its success. This is essential, and by positioning yourself to be proactive you will reap advantages in 6 important areas. Proactive leaders drive the success of their business and:

  1. Are biased towards action: Instead of waiting for events to unfold they take charge to influence their environment and make things happen. It is relatively easy to identify a good opportunity, but much harder to take the initiative to go after the idea. Countless great businesses are founded by the first person to bring the idea to life.
  2. Find and solve problems: Many people encounter problems and turn the other way. It's a different matter for people with a proactive personality who simply view problems as disguised opportunities. They don't just seek out problems; they take the initiative to find a way to address the problem. Instead of viewing barriers as roadblocks, these obstacles become personal challenges to overcome.
  3. Take personal responsibility: Proactive leaders have an internal locus of control and are less likely to let outside factors and influences negatively weigh them down. With their strong belief that outcomes are not outside their control, proactive leaders take responsibility for their actions. This by itself is the sign of a leader that people are willing to support and follow.
  4. Persevere until they reach their goals. Persistence is one of the key differentiators of success. People who persevere take that extra step that could take them away from the doorstep of failure. When you believe you control your success, it becomes significantly easier to persist because you know you can reach the goal line.
  5. Are not afraid of change. Humans are by nature leery of change. This fear of change is one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of doing great things in new areas. Not content with being recipients of change, proactive leaders embrace and drive change.
  6. Look for self-improvement opportunities. Just as with proactively looking to drive business success, they look for ways to drive personal success. This involves taking steps to improve, including seeking feedback. With this self-improvement come business improvements.

The degree to which you are proactive will go a long way to determining how successful you are. This applies whether you are a real estate agent or in sales, if you own an established business or a start up; it doesn't matter if your business is a nonprofit or for profit business, or if you are just beginning to think about opening a new business. In all of these cases your proactive nature will be a key component that enables you to be successful.

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 18, 2014

DAVID VAN ROOY | Columnist

David Van Rooy is senior director of global leadership development at Walmart. Previously at the company, he held roles in international HR and was responsible for the world's largest performance-management and employee-engagement programs, covering approximately 2.2 million employees globally.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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