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My job at Weber State University allows me the good fortune of watching and working with a variety of interesting people: engineers, doctors, software developers, designers, politicians, professors, executives at both startups and Fortune 500 companies, and pretty much everything in between.
Among all of these fascinating and talented people I’ve come to notice that there are a group of qualities that unify the best of them. Successful entrepreneurs and people who are high performers in their careers definitely share some common traits. This is a good list for entrepreneurs (or anyone, really) to consider as they approach work and startup-related decisions.
High performers love what they do. They have a passion for it. Work isn’t really work because they enjoy it so much. You can hear it, feel it and see it in what they do. It cannot be faked. It is actually amazingly obvious—and beautiful! Having passion isn’t the same as being interested in something, or finding it enjoyable or fun, or even being good at it. While someone truly passionate about their work has all of these things, there is another layer above this list that drives them beyond the typical. It’s almost a maniacal focus, an unhealthy obsession. The best ones keep it in check so they can enjoy life outside of work; but nonetheless, the passion is so deep and intense that the work hours and effort can be intense.
The glass is indeed half full. Successful entrepreneurs see opportunity every-where. Sometimes (actually, oftentimes) the optimism may be completely unfounded—but that is kind of the definition of optimism, right? Thinking things will work out even if they won’t. Having said that, they are not entirely unrealistic—this group just seems to be able to see past the boundaries that most cannot.
High performers are willing to sacrifice and put in long hours when and where necessary. Part of this is due to their optimistic viewpoint. Sometimes it is engrained in them because it’s something they’ve learned to do. Either way, this is also something you can’t fake. And work ethic is very difficult to learn—you either have it or you don’t. The hours, time, effort and sacrifice are all very real.
Creativity can express itself in a lot of ways. Often it’s a form of thinking, the types of questions you ask, or the unique solutions you can come up with. I’ve met some truly creative people who don’t look or act like what many think a “creative” type should. Wearing funky socks, certain clothes, eating at certain restaurants and saying certain things does NOT make you creative. The most creative people have a sincerity that is easily detectible; if they indeed wear unique clothes it’s because that is a true reflection of their style, not because they are attempting to hijack a creative persona.
Two Kinds of Smart
Successful entrepreneurs are either book smart or street smart—or in more rare cases, both book and street smart. Notice this is No. 5 on my list. If you have the first four, you can definitely overcome not being the smartest person around. I truly believe that with enough effort, curiosity and time almost anyone can become “smart,” or at least a lot smarter. Those who are successful seem to have an almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They have to have their questions answered. There are a variety of methods and ways to gain this knowledge, but successful people seem to find it. They read a lot. They question others about their viewpoints and experiences. These folks are consistently looking for better answers to their questions.
Showing More Than Telling
Talk is cheap. While selling and sharing are definitely important traits, they get old fast without results. I meet a lot of good talkers. I don’t meet that many great doers. When I do, they sure stand out! The best of the best can easily show you, in some format, what they do. You just get it and you get it quickly. They have a way of making the complex, simple and the simple, beautiful.
The same can most definitely be said about the opposite of each of these traits. If you are boring, pessimistic, lazy, generic and/or intellectually lukewarm, you are going to struggle more. The key is to be honest with yourself and try to improve where and when you can. I know I have some room for improvement in many areas. I hope to improve in my attempt to learn from, and pattern myself after, some of the brilliant people I get to be around every week.
There is no time like the present to start improving and changing for the better. Join me as we try to improve our weaknesses and grow our strengths. I’d love to hear from you as you make these efforts. Tweet me @_AlexLawrence and we can keep in touch.
Alex Lawrence is vice provost and visiting professor in entrepreneurship at Weber State University. He can be reached via twitter.com/_AlexLawrence or at firstname.lastname@example.org.