I was reading this post over the weekend in Harvard Business Review on the top five skills that make a good entrepreneur. The article has a lot of the stuff that you’d expect in an article like this from a place like HBR. It’s very data driven, versus one entrepreneur’s semi-bullshit gut feel. It has encouraging sentiments, such as luck isn’t what determines entrepreneurship, it’s this specific mix of skills or you don’t have to be born with skills; you can work on them.
I started out nodding along. The five skills they identified were:
Persuasion: Yep. You pretty much sell every day of your life as an entrepreneur. To investors, to employees, to the press, to customers. I’d put that one on top too. Great entrepreneurs see the world a different way, and you have to be able to convince everyone else you’re right. This kind of charisma can go a long way even when you don’t have a great product. (Cc: Bill Nguyen, Sean Parker)
Up next, leadership: Well, sure. Once you sell everyone on being a part of this thing, you have to be able to dig deep and steer this ship, lead by example, grab the team, and carry them through the hard times. Real leadership arguably picks up where persuasion drops off. (Where were you on that one, Nguyen? Oh, right, on vacation constantly.)
Personal Accountability was third on the list. Not blaming anyone for your mistakes. Kevin Rose — who has lately run around saying my BusinessWeek cover on him, and not, say, his execution, hurt Digg — could take a page out of this one. I believe Francisco Dao has more to say on this topic in his column this week. But if you’re gonna take the credit when it goes well, you have to take the blame when it goes badly. An entrepreneur who points fingers to people outside the organization is always a red flag. The world isn’t supposed to pave an easy way for you. It’s up to you to overcome all that. Yep, this is an important one, not everyone has. It also ties into self confidence and resilience, as well.
Goal orientation. I mean, duh. Why else are you doing this if you aren’t goal oriented?
Which brings us to the fifth on Harvard Business Review’s list: Interpersonal skills. Um, I don’t know if you’ve met many of the best leaders in the Valley, but they’re not exactly acing this category. In fact, some of the best entrepreneurs in the world — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk — are known for the inverse of this. Have you ever met a polite pirate? “Would you mind walking the plank?”
In the study, people with high interpersonal skills were identified with phrases such as, “I am known for my ability to calm people who are emotionally upset” or “My ability to get along with people has been key to my greatest accomplishments.” Okay, that sounds even less like most of the iconic entrepreneurs I know. Most of them are emotional hot-heads, who get along with a certain kind of other pirates, but not necessarily the group. That’s a big reason why they don’t work in big companies. They can’t.
HBR calls interpersonal skills “the glue” that holds the other four skills together. But it wasn’t a surprise to me that even by their math, the importance of interpersonal skills ranked dead last among the five:
HBR says if you have all five they can actually predict with 90 percent accuracy that you’ll be a serial entrepreneur.
Well, get to charm school, techies. Or as usual, just ignore what an East Coast business school says.