Do Entrepreneurs Have Unique Character Strengths?

October 7, 2014

“Thank God I grew up with one advantage—that I had to work for everything I got.” This is only one of the endlessly inspiring quotes and findings from yearlong research we authored titled: Entrepreneur Strengths Study: Results from a Preliminary Study of the Brief Signature Strengths and GRIT-S Scale of Seasoned Entrepreneurs. Signature strengths are positive traits that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises (Park & Peterson, 2006). We asked: “Do seasoned, successful entrepreneurs with skin in the game exhibit a blend of unique signature character strengths and persistence compared to the general population? If so, does it matter?”


The results of this research illustrates the Top Five Character Strengths for Entrepreneurs are: Authenticity, Leadership, Fairness, Gratitude, and Zest. This unique cluster of distinct signature strengths, more than a simple demographic, highlights a balance of strengths of the heart and the mind in individuals who are strongly outwardly focused. GRIT is perseverance and passion for long-term goals; working strenuously toward challenges; and maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress (Duckworth et al, 2007). Relative to the general population, entrepreneurs score high on GRIT and exceptionally high on the GRIT measure of “persistence of effort.”

Our methodology in this brief initial study was to ask roughly 200 adults (seasoned, successful entrepreneurs and expert advisors answering for entrepreneur clients) to complete an online tool measuring the character strengths of entrepreneurs, their consistency of interest, and persistence of interest (GRIT). Like Bigelow’s professional practice, our focus here was on a very specific cohort: seasoned, successful entrepreneur owner-managers (no wanna-be, or nascent entrepreneurs, nor CEO’s of bureaucratic organizations). Why supplement the input from the entrepreneurs themselves with feedback from their expert advisors? It isn’t that we don’t trust entrepreneurs’ self-reports, but we wanted to cross reference their answers with the cold objectivity of hard-bitten experienced professional advisors. The outcome? Our statistical analysis shows the correlation between entrepreneurs and their advisors answers is 0.85—radically high in this science.

What we found interesting is not only what is there in the results, but the obverse—what isn’t there. Surprisingly, some strengths conventionally associated with entrepreneurs by our popular culture or the media, like Risk Taking or Creativity, were found to be in their Bottom Five Character Strengths. Acknowledging that once in a great while there is a brilliant solo tinkerer like an Edison or Jobs, yet the vast majority of seasoned, successful entrepreneurs thrive through building a collaborative team of talent. Could it be that entrepreneurs with this combination of socially intelligent signature strengths and GRIT enables them to attract and retain teams of complementary talent which results in the building of extraordinary Enterprise Value?

So, does it matter? Ultimately readers will answer for themselves, but given the destruction of post-industrial bureaucratic organizations taking place around us, now is not the time to be complacent about the role of new enterprise creation in the United States. It is also not the time to overlook the potential these new firms and their entrepreneur owners have to bring about positive change.

I believe that Entrepreneur Owner-Managers are the most positive pro-Social and pro-Economic force on the planet. The vast majority of wealth in North America, used to fund both the for-profit and ultimately not-for-profit sectors, is created through the work of entrepreneurs. Given the desirable social and economic outcomes that entrepreneurs produce, a better understanding of their signature character strengths is critical for investors, lenders, educators, and fledgling or “would be” entrepreneurs (including students). As far as we know, this is the first research of its kind to study how the VIA Inventory of Character Strengths and the GRIT Scale apply to successful entrepreneurs.

If you would like to read the study in its entirety (including the accompanying statistical analysis and full references) it is available on our website using this link.