All Articles Leadership Management What one trait do you think predicts a startup leader's success?

What one trait do you think predicts a startup leader’s success?

6 min read


The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and e-mail lessons. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is made up of five parts: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation. According to Daniel Goleman in his article “What Makes A Leader” (Harvard Business Review 1998), emotional intelligence (EI) is what sets people apart. Individuals need a minimum amount of raw technical intelligence (IQ) to be leaders, but the most effective ones have high EI. — Danny Wong, Blank Label

2. The ability to concentrate

I find that the ability to obsessively concentrate on a problem until a breakthrough occurs is a valuable trait for a startup leader to have. Many times, leaders give up too early, even when a breakthrough was around the corner. When intense focus becomes fun, solving complex problems that businesses face becomes less of a burden, which leads to a competitive advantage in the marketplace. — Lawrence Watkins, Great Black Speakers

3. Humility

Know-it-alls make poor business owners. Inevitably, they don’t know something that was important to outsource, and their business implodes. Instead of fostering a team approach, over-confident alphas would rather go down with their name on the door than grow a business that feeds the family more than the ego. — Michael Portman, Birds Barbershop

4. The willingness to risk

No startup is going to succeed without some degree of risk on the part of the founder. Ideally, you’ll have the personality to cope with and even thrive in an uncertain environment. If the stove is too hot for you, you’ll want to get out of the kitchen before the soup is ready. — Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work

5. The ability to remain composed

Erratic behavior might be entertaining, but it’s bad for business. Being composed in unstable times presents you as a strong leader to your team and a safe investment to investors. This reliability builds a reputation that will make other companies want to work with you and skilled individuals want to work for you. Emotions should never win in the workplace.– Liam Martin,

6. The desire to make decisions

The most successful startup leaders recognize they do not have time to get all of the facts for the dozens of decisions they make each day. Instead, they just need to gather enough information to make sound decisions so the company can move forward. Some of those decisions will be wrong, but it is better to learn from those mistakes and try again than to be immobilized by indecisiveness. — Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC

7. Perseverance

If you’re unwilling to work through the hard times, failures, people telling you that you should quit, lean times and stress, then this world isn’t right for you. Success often comes on the heels of failure, but those who are not persistent don’t get there. — Darrah Brustein, Equitable Payments

8. The desire to fight rather than adapt

A few important traits for a startup founder to have are tenacity, passion and grit to keep fighting for what they believe is right. But that must be balanced with the humility and openness to listen to customers or team members on feedback that improves the product or service. What determines success is knowing when to apply which one of the personality traits. — Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia

9. Tenacity

Launching a startup can be an overwhelming experience. Often we’d prefer that most milestones were reached yesterday, that the next step in growth would hurry up and arrive and that our hard work had a more visible impact on what can feel like a constantly growing to-do list. Creativity, planning and time management all work, but tenacity wins in the end. — Nicole Smartt, Star Staffing

10. The ability to execute

Success is never a guarantee in the world of startups, of course, but if I see a leader who has demonstrated a proven ability to execute, then my money is on that startup. There are many factors that can contribute to a startup’s success, but having someone at the helm who is focused and knows what it takes to successfully execute is key. — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

11. Grit

Every startup will have tough, unforeseen issues. Only the leader’s ability to figure out a way through without giving up will predict his or her success or failure. — Brennan White, Watchtower

12. The willingness to be flexible

A good startup leader needs to be flexible and willing to learn how to continually improve the business, but it’s also important to be strong and steadfast in his support for the business and keeping it moving forward. If you’re too strong, you don’t grow, and you limit your ability to solve the problem. If you’re too flexible, you never find the right track and are bogged down by indecision. — Andy Karuza, brandbuddee

13. Honesty

Your employees need to trust and believe in you. Honesty helps build that trust and confidence. Many leaders tell their employees what they think they want to hear. I prefer to be honest. When things are great, they know it. When things aren’t going as well, they are also aware. It creates a great team environment where everyone feels like they are in it together. — Mitch Gordon, Go Overseas

14. The desire to grow

If you’re always growing and bettering yourself, then you attract others who are doing the same. Your desire to work on yourself also makes you a more intuitive listener because you recognize you don’t know everything, and therefore, you’re open to learning. That’s an attractive quality, and it inspires those around you to do the same. That builds a healthy and sustainable culture. — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

15. Dedication to the lifestyle

A data-driven or scientific approach to decision making combined with extreme tenacity is key. Running a startup is not a career; it’s a lifestyle. You have to be all in or all out. — Danny Boice, Speek