There are a lot of factors that contribute to the success--or failure--of a new business. But Chris Kuenne and John Danner, both of whom teach entrepreneurship at Princeton University's Keller Center, are convinced that one of them trumps all the rest.
"The personality of the leader or founder is the driving force in building any new business," they write in their new book, Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win (Harvard Business Review Press, June 2017).
That's good news, say the authors, "[because] unlike the other resources you need to successfully grow a business, personality is the one directly--and quintessentially--in your control." Of course, that begs a big question: Will any old personality do? After all, we've all got one.
Kuenne and Danner decided to find out. They adapted a personality-based clustering methodology used by marketers to parse the personalities of 450 entrepreneurs whose companies had achieved at least $3 million in annual revenue and had been in business for at least three years.
They studied the motivation and self-identity of these business builders, their decision-making and leadership styles, and their management approach. They found four distinct personalities of new business builders, which they label the Driver, Explorer, Crusader, and Captain.
The Driver: Relentless, commercially focused, and highly confident.
Drivers are natural-born entrepreneurs, who find their purpose in identifying needs in the marketplace and filling them. Drivers, say Kuenne and Danner, "have a management approach that is very hands-on and intense," and they expect their teams to share their serious work ethic and values. They are also confident and intuitive decision makers.
Conversely, Drivers are highly demanding control freaks who have a very low tolerance for failure, and they have difficulty delegating responsibility to others.
Steve Jobs was a Driver, and so is Mark Cuban, according to the authors.
The Explorer: Curious, systems-centric, and dispassionate.
Explorers love to seek out difficult problems, systematically analyze them, and then come up with appropriate solutions.
Their confidence, vision, and focus make it easy for them to attract other problem-solving types. But because they believe they can do everything better themselves, Explorers can also be intimidating and even more controlling than Drivers.
Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are Explorers.
The Crusader: Audacious, mission-inspired, and compassionate.
Crusaders want to leave the world a better place than they found it, and they start companies to achieve that goal. The Crusader leadership style is diametrically opposed to the hands-on Explorer. They are empathetic and humble, and they trust their teams.
Crusaders try to build highly creative, autonomous cultures in which people can thrive and do their best work. But their laissez-faire attitude makes them "vulnerable to hiring on vision enthusiasm versus competency," write the authors, and when Crusaders have a problem it can linger because they try to avoid conflict.
Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin are Crusaders, and Ben & Jerry's founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are, too.
The Captain: Pragmatic, team-enabling, and direct.
Honest, empowering, and consensus-driven, Captains are not sidelines cheerleaders; they are "show-me" businesspeople. Captains prefer a "trust-but-verify style of decision making," say Kuenne and Danner, and they rely on a "methodical, fact-based approach."
Underperformers don't last long around Captains. But the Captain's emphasis on building a consensus for action can result in sluggish decision-making, and sometimes these entrepreneurs miss emerging opportunities.
HP's Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were Captains, and so is Alibaba's Jack Ma.
Do you have a builder personality? If so, which one? If you'd like to find out, you can start by taking Kuenne and Danner's Builder Personality Discovery Quiz.