A recent post on the New Ventures BC website asked the question, “Is it Courage or Something Else that is Critical for Startup Company Leaders?

The author said courage, and later added, “a fierce desire to learn and to change”.

Someone responded with naiveté.  Someone else said patience.  Another response was Integrity, Intensity, Immediacy.

Still another said  “I think it is wrong to single out one character trait as most important for an entrepreneur. I will support an entrepreneur if he is “the package” … Other traits also important … drive, determination, focus, work ethic, ability to sell, natural desire to sell, resourceful, ability to get help, inspirational, confidence, integrity, likeable, successful in life, energetic, energizing.”

Jimmy Pattison says that the most important characteristics an individual needs for success are: honest, hardworking, intelligent, able to communicate, able to work in a team.

My own personal list includes leadership and entrepreneurship and paranoia and audacity.

  • Leadership (standing up and choosing a direction).
  • Entrepreneurship (acting like an owner).
  • Audacity (the willingness to take (big) risks).
  • Paranoia (the coldly calculated essential foil for audacity … the part that allows you to take the risk but also forces you to do everything possible to avoid ending up in the trees at the end of the runway).

And sometimes the ability to be distracted is equally important.  The story that comes to mind is the learning to fly method described by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  In the end, the ability to fly is directly linked to the ability to fall and miss the ground.  And the only way to do that is to have the ability to be distracted in the moment before impact.

The challenge with definitions like these is that they evolve and are understood differently by different people.  And, as you can see from the lists above, we start with just one word, then one phrase, then several phrases, and then a paragraph, and still none of them feel solidly complete and accurate.

In my view, it is not a case of either this quality or that quality or the single most important quality.  It is really a multidimensional both-and structure.  It is everything in “the package” of the entrepreneur AND their team AND the landscape in which they are operating AND AND AND.  You have to listen and talk and walk around and see what you smell and see what you trip over as you explore the landscape around the Startup Company and its Leader(s).  And then you will hopefully have gained some insight into whether or not they have whatever traits are important for that time and place.  Just remember that it may not apply to later and elsewhere.