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GREAT LEADERS

4 Traits That Separate Real Entrepreneurs From Wannabes
 

Truly successful entrepreneurs aren't moved by the prospects of fame and fortune. Instead, these four principles guide everything they do.

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I invite entrepreneurs everywhere to read a post written by Ashish Sinha on the Indian tech entrepreneur blog NextBigWhat. He tells the tale of two entrepreneurs. One raised $5 million, moved to a swanky office, hired people with prestigious educational backgrounds, was in a hot space, and had already run out of money with the company on the verge of shutting down.

The other was a frugal person running a 12-year-old profitable company, who got by without raising money, and was in a "boring" space and so getting no buzz. The point was that the frugal person was the real entrepreneur and the other one, a flash in the pan.

But let's take a twist on this, because this is a lesson about far more than frugality. It comes down to why you are an entrepreneur. Not the reasons you give other people, but the ones that actually move you.

Being an entrepreneur is different from being a success. Someone can have a marvelous career, make lots of money, even become noteworthy, and be terrible entrepreneurial material. Burn through $5 million foolishly and leave your employees on the edge of losing their livelihoods and your backers already planning their tax loss treatments? How could anyone who enjoys business do so in good conscience?

I've mentioned something related in the 3 signs of an entrepreneurial wannabe, when people are drawn to what they think the entrepreneurial lifestyle is without any appreciation for all the work that goes behind it.

So let's take a slightly different tack. Here are four characteristics of a real entrepreneur. They may not be the ones that get all the attention, but they are the ones who have a greater chance of succeeding and doing something valuable for themselves, their employees, their investors, and their communities.

You want to build something bigger than yourself.

In a way, even though a business is based on your idea, it's not about you at all. If you have a kid, you will understand. You might have been the progenitor of the entity, but it must exist separately from you.

If you use resources to build yourself up, you do so by withholding them from the company. Instead, learn the deep pleasure in appreciating how something you have worked for and guided over time takes off and comes into its own. In a business, many others will have a hand in success, but ultimately you still know without having to boast that it wouldn't have been possible without you.

You are the chief servant, not the chief.

You've likely met would-be business owners who like having others at their beck and call. There's the world-weary sigh, head heavy with responsibility, and the instructions passed onto the supernumerary who is there to exert your will. Such people will complain about the quality of help.

Nothing is further from how the world actually works. Effective leaders make things possible for others; they don't spend their time insisting that others make things possible for them. It's only when the employees can do their jobs and be inventive that your company can pull through. When employees aren't working out, either you hired the wrong people or, more likely, failed in providing the training, leadership, and support to let them succeed.

Everything goes into the business.

Fancy offices, executive bennies, flashy events--none of these are important if you have the right attitude. You want your business to succeed. Being the chief servant means learning to become a responsible steward. That means your needs come last. At times it can get so bad that you don't get paid so you can ensure that employees and suppliers do.

If that seems unfair, it's not. No one asked you to go into business. When you do so, recognize that you will likely make some (or many) sacrifices if you want the company to prosper.

Success comes only in the long term.

Business isn't a process of stumbling across an idea, getting funding, and then quickly cashing out to live on a private island. Few entrepreneurs will ever hit it that big and rewards come in the long term. Eventually, when you've gone over a number of the bumps and dips that accompany any venture and are established, you'll be able to look at all you've done and enjoy the financial aspect.

Think of business as life. You're in it not for a set of checkpoints to brag about completing, but to fully enjoy the process. So if you want to be an entrepreneur, then really be one. Enjoy it all, even the struggles.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jan 20, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.
@ErikSherman




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