The Founders' First Aid Kit
Gallup and Inc have identified the top 10 traits of high-growth entrepreneurs - if they're not coming on instinct, it's time to upskill for acceleration.
Inc. recently came out with its annual Fastest Growing Companies list. I always love these things because you get to peek into the doings of brilliant entrepreneurs. But this year, they also worked with Gallup to identify the top 10 traits that characterized these 5000 growth-minded founders with a serious commitment to growth strategy.
Information, education, training, and/or coaching crossed with an ability for self-reflection and a willingness to do the damn work. That's how you grow.
First off: don't look at this and freak out that you don't already have every skill. The thing I personally find interesting in digging into this list is the opportunity to consider how these apply to you and your approach to business. You may be a superstar on the knowledge trait, but have less comfort with the selling trait. You may be all about the independence but struggle with delegation. It's okay! The objective here is to consider the traits that lead to accelerated growth and identify your own gaps - so that you can work on them.
And without further ado: let's peek at the core traits in our Founders' First Aid Kit.
- Knowledge: In my observation, the most successful growth-focused entrepreneurs are deeply curious. They're always binge researching to better understand their market, their competitive landscape, their customer problems - and then executing against those learnings with ever-expanding expertise. It's vitally important for founders to identify their organization's core competencies - brand, sales, go-to-market, process, etc. - to deeply understand how these elements works, why they work - and discover ongoing superior thinking in these areas. Knowing your core competencies inside out, for growth-minded founders, is tablestakes. Know yourself well enough to see the gaps here, and get your trained up on the areas where you might not be fully informed.
- Delegation: This isn't just about passing off tasks. Great founders are able to, yes, deliver their own focus to top priority strategic growth work by building a strong team that is able to execute on the elements that are pass-along-able. But they also equip those teams with the appropriate intel and processes to activate their own strategic thinking throughout the organization. Founders sometimes struggle with micromanagement - having not yet appropriately designed how to pass off information to build internal competencies. This not only creates inefficiency in execution - inefficiency is the enemy of pace-orientation - but leads to a disempowered team, which dramatically decelerates growth. If this has been tough for you, it will often help to build systems, tools, and processes to build confidence on both ends - but also working on your own internal issue with trust and perfection could be worth considering.
- Independence: Holy hell, is this important. Yes, obviously, every entrepreneur probably has a bit of a don't-boss-me streak (story of my life). Great founders are incredibly self-reliant and handle the gaps in their organization as they continue to arise. Independence is innate (you know my feelings on independence overall) - but coaching and training act as drivers for acceleration on this intuitive skill.
- Confidence: I mean, kind of duh. But here's the funny thing that I've noticed on this one. Growth-focused entrepreneurs undoubtedly are driven by a conviction that they absolutely can make shit happen. But they're also consistently peppered with with the sneaking suspicion that maybe they don't actually know what the heck is going on, how things are supposed to work, how they're going fit into the landscape - in short, the imposter syndrome force is strong in this profile. Guess what, founder friends: this is totally g-d-normal. Every great entrepreneur second guesses themselves, their strategies, and their approach on the regular - in fact, I'd say (back to knowledge) this is why they're so damn good, being instinctive problem-seekers. The dichotomy of straddling relentless confidence and do-I-know-anything-ness can be mentally brutal - but those who accept that this is not only normal but, in fact, likely to their advantage will reap the rewards.
- Risk: I've always loved trying to understand people's risk profiles. We've got the cowboy-type risk seekers, the calculated risk-takers, and the conservatively risk-averse. In high-growth entrepreneurs, Gallup has identified risk-mitigators as the winners. These aren't people who jump in head first - risks be damned! - but thinkers who carefully consider risky situations and cleverly design strategies to mitigate those risks while still being able to take action on the challenge. Everything about this risk profile screams a sustainable approach to accelerated growth, which obviously I adore.
- Selling: To me, if a founder isn't equipped with strong sales skills, all else is moot. I have crazy strong opinions about empowering people with the ability to sell - selling is what separates a hobby from a business and frees the founder up to consistently create the vision in her head. Sales skill is not something everyone is instinctively born with - but designing a strategic sales playbook, process, and plan, then enabling these things amongst the founder and team are, without question, the most immediate way to impact a business's ability to grow. Selling, at its core, must become a core competency within a growth-oriented business and cannot be outsourced. If this is a gap in your business, I would say get on it stat - commit yourself to the process, amplify your skills with training and coaching, and redesign yourself as a sales-focused organization.
- Relationships: Growth-oriented founders typically a good level of emotional intelligence. They understand people. They listen to people. They process and make connections easily. All of these pieces lead to an ability to design mutually beneficial relationships - whether it's with suppliers, partners, media, like brands, influencers, whatever. Entrepreneurs with a growth mindset understand the importance of relationship-building to accelerating growth.
- Profitability: Are you looking at your numbers on the regular? Whether you're a person who loves the P&L innately or not, you absolutely, absolutely need to direct yourself this way, if you're designing for growth. Forget letting just-anybody take the wheel - you need clear quantitative goals alongside a few key KPIs that you should be looking at every.damn.day. This gives you deep insight into not only where you are today and where you're aiming for - but also enables you to see previously unidentified opportunities and gaps. Building up your financial competence through education, training, and systems is vital, if it's not coming on instinct.
- Determination: Oh heyyyyy, relentless work ethic. I'd venture to say every founder struggles with the sometimes excruciating pain of the misses, the losses - the seemingly neverending obstacles standing in the way of their big picture. But if these struggles are hit head-on with a deep-seated notion that 99% of work is going to be work, you're already ahead of the game. If you have challenges in this area, or find yourself sometimes paralyzed by the sheer volume of obstacles, building disciplined systems into your day-to-day can help.
- Disruption: You're an ideator, by nature. You don't just identify problems, you seek them. You ideate a bajillion potential solutions 'til the right one hits. End of story.