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The Entrepreneurial Personality

Personality tests show marked contrasts between the typical Inc. 500 CEO and the typical small business manager.
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What makes some small companies grow rapidly, while others never pass a certain size? We wondered whether the differences might not lie in the personalities of the people at the top. So we arranged with the Cincinnati Small Business Development Center to do a study of INC. 500 CEO-founders that would allow us to compare growth-company leaders with heads of small, more stable businesses. The findings: the personality profile of the typical INC. 500 CEO-founder contrasts markedly with that of the typical small-business manager.

The study used a common personality test called the Myers-Briggs to classify the CEOs. The test looks at an individual's personality type from four perspectives: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. After receiving completed tests from 159 INC. 500 CEO-founders, center director Charles Ginn compared the results with a previous study of 150 Texas small-business managers.

Probably the most striking contrast was in the sensing/intuition category, which measures whether a person likes to focus on the here and now (sensing) or on longer-term plans and possiblities (intuition). While an overwhelming 86% of small-business managers tested showed a preference for sensing, 60% of the INC. 500 sample favored intuition. The implication: some INC. 500 companies grow fast at least partly because the founders enjoy thinking about future growth opportunities. Their small-business peers, meanwhile, prefer to immerse themselves in day-to-day operations.

Overall, says Ginn, the test results of the INC. 500 CEOs were very similar to those of another group of hard-driving achievers: college professors. And what group do the small-business managers most nearly resemble? "Accountants," says Ginn. But before trying to decide whether you're an Ivy League or a Big Eight type, keep one thing in mind: the Myers-Briggs test produces 16 distinct profile categories, and each occurred in Ginn's INC. 500 sample. So there is no such thing as having the "right" or the "wrong" personality for growing a company. All kinds of personalities have done it.

-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf

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Last updated: Aug 1, 1988




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