Many entrepreneurs speak as if they were born to be entrepreneurs. They often say things like “it is the only thing I could see myself doing” and they are quick to point out that their entrepreneurial spirit is not something that can be turned off.
But what does the research say? Is there a set of personality traits that define the prototypical entrepreneur? And, if so, can these traits be used to predict entrepreneurial intentions before entrepreneurs are aware of these intentions themselves?
New research forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences examined the influence of various personality traits and mental characteristics on entrepreneurial intentions and entrepreneurial success. Specifically, a team of researchers led by Marta Aparicio-Garcia of the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain tested whether entrepreneurs were especially likely to exhibit personality traits such as ambiguity tolerance, emotional intelligence, coping, and problem solving.
“The development of entrepreneurial competence is one of the main objectives for the progress of a society and improves the employability of citizens,” state Aparicio-Garcia and her team. “Despite this interest, research has not yet found an entrepreneurial personality profile that includes both the stable and malleable characteristics of the individual. […] The main goal of our study is to verify which psychological variables are more relevant in entrepreneurs.”
To examine this question, the researchers recruited 83 entrepreneurs to take part in a 45-minute survey. In the survey, participants were asked to fill out a series of psychological scales that measured the following traits: impulsivity, self-confidence, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, neuroticism, ambiguity tolerance, emotional repair, and emotional clarity.
To assess how unique entrepreneurs were on the measures listed above, the researchers recruited 514 university students to participate in the same study. This allowed the researchers to compare the entrepreneurs’ personality test results to the results of non-entrepreneurs.
Interestingly, they found big differences in the personality traits of self-confidence, neuroticism, impulsivity, emotional clarity, and ambiguity tolerance. To be specific, entrepreneurs exhibited more self-confidence, less neuroticism, more impulsivity, greater emotional clarity, and a higher degree of ambiguity tolerance than the non-entrepreneurial student sample.
Next, the researchers tested whether students with high entrepreneurial intentions (for example, those that expressed the desire to start a company in the future) were similar to the entrepreneurial group. They found that they were. The authors write, “Our results show that the group of entrepreneurs and the students with high entrepreneurial intention have the same entrepreneurial psychological profile, which is characterized by high scores on extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, emotional intelligence, self-confidence, and ambiguity tolerance and low scores on agreeableness and neuroticism.”
What remains to be seen is how well these results generalize to different populations of entrepreneurs. The authors hope that future research will utilize larger samples of entrepreneurs — as well as entrepreneurs from different geographies and cultures — to fully understand the set of personality traits that defines the entrepreneurial spirit.