Business + Science: ‘I’m an Entrepreneur, Not a Leader … I Think’

New research uncovers value of entrepreneurial leaders

By Lisa Aldisert and Bill J. Bonnstetter, Target Training International

Many entrepreneurs don’t think of themselves as leaders.

This was substantiated during interviews conducted for doctoral research on entrepreneurial leadership characteristics, conducted by Lisa at Columbia University. The participants were all passionate entrepreneurs but squirmed a little at being identified as leaders. “I don’t think of myself as a leader,” was a frequent refrain.

From our perspective as consultants and business owners, this wasn’t a surprise. Top performing entrepreneurs identify first with being entrepreneurs, and maybe then they will consider the leadership aspects of their job. In fact, this most likely represents the experience of the entrepreneurial companies in the Scottsdale Airpark.

The foundation for the research involved using an assessment that covered three different dimensions: behavior, motivators and professional skills. These factors created a snapshot of entrepreneurial leadership not previously documented in a doctoral study.

We were excited to discover that assessment results mimicked an earlier study conducted by Bill on “serial entrepreneurs.” Although being a serial entrepreneur was not a requirement to be nominated for the research, the similarity in results shows the consistency of results among superior performers.

Eighty percent of respondents in the study revealed behaviors of high influencing/high dominance, reflecting people who are enthusiastic, optimistic, ambitious and driving. Sixty-nine percent of participants had motivators of high utilitarian and individualistic. These are people who are driven by efficiency and practicality, seeking a return on investment of their time, talent and resources. Additionally, they are driven by being in charge.

Their top seven professional skills were leadership, goal orientation, employee development/coaching, presenting, persuasion, interpersonal skills and written communication.

When you look at that list of professional skills, you see the footprint of leaders. Having strong communication skills (presenting and written communication) is essential for managing people as well as for business development and client service. The high ranking of employee development/coaching is also telling. This shows these entrepreneurs know they can’t grow their businesses without having solid bench strength.

If you do a quick self-assessment, you’ll probably find that these attributes resonate with what you need to be successful as a small business owner. All roads lead to developing more business and providing great service to your clients, customers or patients. Having the edge with these professional skills gives you a leg up on your competition.

One of the interesting findings from the research was a “love/hate” relationship the entrepreneurial leaders have with their staff. When asked about their greatest leadership accomplishments, a majority talked about their pride in what was accomplished through their employees. But when asked about their biggest challenges, a majority also revealed management frustrations that detracted from what they preferred doing, that is, being entrepreneurs.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does! Although the interviewees didn’t self-report to be great people managers, their results tell a different story. Like you, they wouldn’t be able to run such successful businesses if they were not able to motivate, coach and develop good people.

No matter what your business is, superior performers score highest in the behaviors, motivators and professional skills that are necessary to be successful in their chosen professions. Embrace those success factors to be the best in your industry. n

Bill J. Bonnstetter is chairman of Target Training International. More:,, @ttiresearch, @tti-si; Dr. Lisa Aldisert partners with TTI and is president of Pharos Alliance Inc., a management consulting firm that helps organizations align their people and processes to make greater profit. She can be reached at or 212-332-3242.