Entrepreneurs and “The Big Five”

July 5, 2009

Do entrepreneurs differ from others in terms of their basic personality?  A recent analysis of 23 different studies of entrepreneurs attempted to answer this question (Zhao, H. & Seibert, S.E. 2006. The big five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: A meta-analytical review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 259-271).

There are MANY ways to describe personality.  In my last blog, for example, I reviewed a study that looked at optimism and entrepreneurship.  The five factor model or “big five” suggests that when we think about personality, we should think in terms of five broad traits: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

Zhao & Siebert (2006) found that across the 23 studies they examined, entrepreneurs scored higher than other managers on Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience and lower on Neuroticism and Agreeableness.  The personality construct with the strongest relationship to being an entrepreneur was Conscientiousness.  There was no difference between entrepreneurs and managers with respect to Extraversion.  So let’s look at each of these briefly:

  • Conscientiousness (HIGHER):  indicates an individual’s degree of organization, persistence, hard work, and motivation to accomplish goals.  Conscientious individuals are achievement oriented and dependable.  This personality type is the most consistent predictor of job performance across a wide variety of work and occupations.
  • Openness to Experience (HIGHER): someone that is intellectually curious, creative, imaginative, reflective, and untraditional.
  • Agreeableness (LOWER): individuals high on agreeableness are trusting, forgiving, caring, and cooperative, while those low on this trait are manipulative, self-centered, suspicious and ruthless.  It’s a jungle out there, and entrepreneurs have to be tough to survive.
  • Neuroticism (LOWER): individuals high on this trait experience negative emotions like anxiety, hostility, depression, impulsiveness and vulnerability.  Those low on this trait are considered emotionally stable and are characterized as self-confident, calm, even tempered, and relaxed.  Entrepreneurs have to be very self-confident and resilient in the face of stress.

Ok, so if you aspire to be an entrepreneur and you have this personality profile, you might be a little more confident in your long-term ability to survive and thrive on your own.  The factors required to succeed as an entrepreneur (including a lot of LUCK) are complex, so just having the right personality is no guarantee of success.

But what if you aspire to be an entrepreneur and you do NOT have this profile?  Don’t let this alone dissuade you. Even though personality is relatively stable (you are who you are), the behaviors associated with these personality types can be acquired through practice and persistent effort.  Having the proper training, mentoring and coaching may be even more critical for you.

Personality can sometimes help us understand why people do the things they do, but it can never be used as an excuse.  Even though we can’t expect to be someone different, we can expect to learn how to do different things.

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  1. Very exciting piece. I’m working on a project titled Effects of Personality on Entrepreneurship Intentions in Civil Servant. I believe the thought you shared on personality trais and the attached conditions/exceptions would be very helpful.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bret