7 Characteristics of the Best Entrepreneurial Leaders

People are drawn to natural leaders — those who project an aura of confidence and who can show a track record of achievement beyond what’s typical. The best leaders lead by example, using high-level communication and social skills to share a vision that unites a number of stakeholders into a willing pursuit of a common objective. These leaders have developed the rare ability to bring out the best in those they supervise, as well as in peers, shareholders, and associates.

A glance at a list of bestselling books will reveal tens of thousands of titles on the topic of leadership. The following is a summary of a few of the most often-cited qualities of successful entrepreneurial leaders.

1. Emotional intelligence: This is perhaps an unexpected quality to mention in a list of top skills for entrepreneurs, but a number of experts consider it essential. An entrepreneur’s emotional IQ depends on the ability to understand his or her own emotions and to self-regulate those emotions in the interests of attaining a higher goal. Emotionally intelligent leaders are also attuned to others’ emotions, and are able to demonstrate empathy. They use this understanding to lead others to conclusions that can represent a positive outcome for all stakeholders in a given situation.

2. Authenticity and integrity: These related qualities involve remaining true to one’s own aspirations and entrepreneurial vision, even in the face of opposition. An individual demonstrates integrity and authenticity by rising beyond the day-to-day setbacks and challenges that every leader faces sooner or later. Developing these qualities may be difficult, but one way to do so is to keep one’s own self-directed vision and goals in mind. The 19th century British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, widely considered a charismatic leader in his day, once wrote, “The noblest lives and noblest dies, who makes and keeps his self-made laws.”

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3. Tolerance for risk: An entrepreneurial leader has learned to be comfortable with uncertainty and to incorporate it into his or her daily routine. Understand that without the capacity to risk your financial resources, reputation, and sense of certainty, you may see significant opportunities pass you by. Think strategically and become accustomed to taking calculated risks, especially if they stand a solid chance of bringing long-term returns on investment to you and further development to your company.

4. Decisiveness: The ability to make difficult decisions and stand by them can be one of a business leader’s strongest qualities. As an entrepreneur, you may be called upon to weigh a number of alternatives, and to determine which are the most viable.

A leader who possesses the capacity to take into account multiple possibilities and ways of viewing a situation, then decide on a responsible course of action that benefits the company as a whole, can far outpace the competition. Entrepreneurs who opt to do nothing, rather than commit to a course of action amid today’s constantly changing business climate, usually end up undermining their own efforts.

5. Resilience: In some ways, resilience is related to emotional intelligence and risk tolerance, but it goes further in helping an entrepreneur build immunity to the ups and downs, the successes and slumps, that accompany the launch of any new enterprise. Emotionally resilient people may become frustrated by failure, but they refuse to allow it to defeat them or to interfere with their ability to integrate important lessons from the experience into the way they approach problems in the future. Superior leaders know that they can harness an instance of failure as a powerful tool for achieving success.

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6. A sense of passion and purpose: Successful leaders allow their strong individual convictions and drive toward goals to inspire those around them. This leads employees and partners to produce their best efforts. A good leader has developed the ability to share a powerful vision of success in ways that infect others with the desire to help make it a reality. The force of dedication to a larger purpose can serve as a major source of inspiration both within and beyond a company.

7. A focus on developing the strengths of others: Good leaders give to others by drawing out people’s inherent strengths and serving as mentors in skill development.

Some organizational psychologists have found that those who emphasize their roles as “givers” in a workplace help to foster a general climate of teamwork, camaraderie, and knowledge-sharing. Such individuals become role models for others as their sense of giving beyond their own self-interest enables the group to work successfully toward common goals. These leaders are able to put their egos aside and do not feel threatened by sharing authority, because they realize that they cannot do everything alone, and that giving others authority will benefit the company over the long term.