Peter R. Worrell, MAPP '09 is the Managing Director/CEO of The Bigelow Company LLC. Bigelow, originally established in 1935, is an independently owned merger and acquisition advisory firm whose clients are exclusively highly successful private entrepreneur owned enterprises. Worrell is passionately committed to the practical application of positive psychology to optimize entrepreneurs' decision making in the domain of risk. Full Bio. Peter's articles are here.
“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 quotations and findings from a yearlong research project we recently completed on the character strengths and grit of seasoned entrepreneurs. We asked, “Do seasoned, successful entrepreneurs exhibit a unique blend of signature character strengths and persistence compared to the general population? If so, does it matter?”
Results of a Preliminary Study
The results of the preliminary study support our hypothesis that entrepreneurs do show a unique blend of character strengths. The top five character strengths for the entrepreneurs in this sample are:
According to Park and Peterson, signature strengths are positive traits that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises. The list above is more than a simple demographic. We mapped these strengths on to the character strengths tradeoff diagram that Dr. Peterson included in A Primer of Positive Psychology, Remember the caption from this diagram, “The farther apart are two strengths, the less likely it is that the same person habitually shows both.” The top 5 character strengths for entrepreneurs are evenly divided between the heart and the mind sides of this diagram. Interestingly, they are skewed towards a focus on others, as opposed to a focus on self.
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. Relative to the general population, entrepreneurs score high on Grit and exceptionally high on “persistence of effort.”
Participants in this studyincluded roughly 200 adults who were seasoned, successful entrepreneurs and expert advisors answering for successful entrepreneur clients. We asked them to complete an online tool measuring their character strengths, as well as other tools to measure their consistency of interest and persistence of interest (Grit). Our focus here was on a very specific cohort: seasoned, successful entrepreneur owner-managers — no wanna-be, or beginning entrepreneurs, nor CEO’s of bureaucratic organizations.
Why supplement the input from 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 check their answers with the cold objectivity of hard-bitten experienced professional advisors. The outcome? Our statistical analysis shows the correlation between the answers of entrepreneurs and their advisors is 0.85.
What’s interesting about this ?
What we found interesting is not only what is there in the results, but also what isn’t there. Surprisingly, some strengths conventionally associated with entrepreneurs by our popular culture or the media, such as Creativity (Risk Taking), were found to be in their Bottom Five Character Strengths. Acknowledging that once in a great while there is a brilliant solo tinkerer like Thomas Edison or Steve 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 mixed with grit are able to attract and retain teams of complementary talent which result in the building of extraordinary Enterprise Value?
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, nor to overlook the potential these new firms and their entrepreneur owners have to bring about positive change. The vast majority of wealth, at least in North America, that is 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 first research of its kind to study how the VIA Inventory of Character Strengths and the Grit Scale apply to successful entrepreneurs.
Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., and Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006). Methodological issues in positive psychology and the assessment of character strengths. In A.D. Ong & M. van Dulmen (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive Psychology (pp.292-305). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
My street courtesy of David Weekly
Character strength tradeoffs courtesy of Peter Worrell; Based on diagram by Dr. Christopher Peterson
Entrepreneur in the crowd courtesy of Peter Worrell