Looking in the Mirror:
What Are the Character Strengths
of Entrepreneur Owner-Managers?

March 7, 2019

4.25 minute read

Philadelphia

“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 conducted titled: Entrepreneur Strengths Study: Results from a Preliminary Study of the Brief Signature Strengths and GRIT-S Scale of Seasoned Entrepreneurs. We asked: do seasoned, successful Entrepreneur Owner-Managers (EOMs) exhibit a blend of unique signature character strengths and persistence compared to the general population?  If so, does it matter?

The results of the preliminary study support our hypothesis and illustrate that the top five character strengths for high-performing EOMs are: Authenticity, Leadership, Fairness, Gratitude, and Zest.  Signature strengths are positive traits that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises (Park & Peterson, 2006).  These top five are a unique cluster of distinct signature strengths, more than a simple demographic, which highlight a unique balance of strengths of the heart and the mind in individuals who are strongly “outwardly focused” (Peterson, 2006).  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, Entrepreneur Owner-Managers score high on Grit and exceptionally high on “persistence of effort.”

Our methodology in this brief preliminary study was to ask roughly 200 adults (seasoned, successful EOMs and expert advisors answering for successful private business owner clients) to complete an online assessment tool, the VIA Inventory of Characters Strengths, 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 CEOs of bureaucratic organizations). Why supplement the entrepreneurs themselves with input 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. High.

What we found interesting is not only what is in the results, but also 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, the vast majority of seasoned, successful entrepreneurs thrive through building a unique 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, nor to overlook the potential these new firms and their entrepreneur owners have to bring about positive change. 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 will be useful for lenders, equity investors, educators, and fledgling or “would be” entrepreneurs (including students).

As far as we know, this is the only research of its kind to study how the VIA Inventory of Character Strengths and the Grit Scale apply to successful Entrepreneur Owner-Managers.

What I am Reading / Listening to

Contributed by Taylor Breed

I am always “reading” several books. I have those that sit by my bedside, a few different books that I listen to when I’m in the car or exercising, some that live in my bag for travel, and the endless number that shift on and off the bookshelf. They tend to serve different purposes, vary greatly across different areas of interest, and sometimes…surprise me with an unforeseen effect.

Variety is valued – I just finished Double Cross by Ben Macintyre, one of my favorite authors who focuses largely on World War II history with a bend towards the Intelligence World (Pete Worrell recently mentioned The Spy and the Traitor on this blog – another great read by Macintyre).

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem

I'm currently listening to Not Nice by Dr. Aziz Gazipura, who differentiates between the concepts of “nice” and “kind,” with strong encouragement to drop “nice” tendencies and empower oneself. A tragic but fascinating book I enjoyed is called Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. An escape was Where Divers Dare by Randall Peffer, a true story that reads like fiction about the search for the last remaining undiscovered World War II German U-Boat in diveable waters off the East Coast of the U.S.

Currently holding my attention is Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem. I’m cherishing slowly working my way through the apolitical story of one of America’s greatest sons. This intimate review of Bush’s life gets at the man himself — his values and feelings — particularly during difficult life moments. The book captures many appealing characteristics as well as many human touches.

However what I’ve appreciated most, I never expected while reading this biography: reflection and grieving.

Taylor Breed and his father

Bush’s love of his family, his desire to serve others, his ambition and drive as well as his tender / sensitive side towards those less fortunate have painted a warm portrait of someone I’ve admired but never knew personally. In particular, the anecdotes and stories of Bush’s attention to helping others knocked loose memories that mean a great deal to me; I unexpectedly found myself thinking about my father who passed away recently and who had many similar

human qualities (albeit far less famous) that I’m proud of and miss. As George H. W. Bush is respected and honored for these traits, I’m humbled knowing these qualities are honored and missed in my father by those who knew him.

I began reading Destiny and Power to learn about one man I respected for his service. I hoped to gain some ideas on leadership, competition, humility and civility. I find I have greatly benefited in ways I had not expected, and credit Jon Meachem for this remarkable, relatable book.

Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Quote

 

All of us are smarter than any of us, so the value to all goes up when we share our experiences."

 

-Carrie Mock, 2018 Bigelow Forum attendee

Allison Hooper, Former co-founder and CEO at the Bigelow Forum 2018

Energy Creation

Sometimes to create energy, we need to take a break from the buzz around us. Hear how Meryl Levin, the Founder of Mill Falls Charter School,  rejuvenates in this 3-minute clip.

Beautiful sunrise over whitewashed building