The varied leadership traits of highly successful entrepreneurs: who do you connect with?

The traits of entrepreneurs are widely recognised as things like focus, having a critical eye or an optimistic nature.

Entrepreneurs have the determination and tenacity to move ideas from table talk to sellable products or services.

The energy and willpower to see things through where others struggle. To get back on their feet quickly when knocked down.

But the traits of an entrepreneur aren’t necessarily enough to scale a business to a global player. That takes leadership.

Is there an exact leadership formula for sustained growth and success that we should all pursue?

Short answer, no.

Most highly successful entrepreneurs who have joined the list of the most valuable people in the world, overseeing goliaths such as Amazon, Apple and Virgin, do share some common ground.

These are the same drivers that they’ve always had. Strength of character. Vision. A sense of purpose.

But how they lead their ever-growing teams varies widely.

Here’s a look at a few different styles we see in the upper echelons of success:

1.Trust and empowerment

A great example of this form of leadership is Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group.

Branson, known for his nuts PR stunts including round the world balloon expeditions and jumping off Las Vegas buildings, is a true people’s person.

One of his most famous quotes ‘Customers do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, your employees will cake of your customers’ wraps his style up perfectly.

Branson is a genuine serial entrepreneur (not like the serial entrepreneurs who think 2 businesses makes them serial somehow). With over 200 businesses started, a number of which, with little upfront capital, became £1bn firms in their own right.

His leadership formula clearly works. For him and Virgin that is.

He finds great people, motivates them, gives them what they need to succeed (support, resource and capital) and steps back, only getting involved for crucial decisions, for his beloved PR stunts to support the Virgin brand, and when a bit of extra help is required.

As a result, Branson is able to run the Virgin Group from the comfort of Necker Island (BVI), investing ever increasing amounts of time in his philanthropic and charitable work.

2. The ‘iron grip’ enforcer


On the opposite side of the spectrum to Richard Branson, we find someone like Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, and founder/CEO of Amazon.

Here are some of Jeff’s legendary comments to his staff:

  1. ‘Are you lazy or just incompetent?’

  2. ‘This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone please get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document’

  3. ‘The reason we are here is to get stuff done, that is the top priority. That is the DNA of Amazon. If you can’t excel and put everything in to it, this might not be the place for you’.

Motivating stuff, eh?!

The last one was actually a response to a member of staff at an all hands meeting. The team member was merely asking when he felt staff would be able to achieve a better work life balance.

But Bezos has, in 24 years, created only the 2nd $1 trillion business ever. After Apple which had a 10-year head start. So, he must be doing something right.

Some of his traits include being incredibly frugal, highly demanding and anti-established norm.

He once had all of the TV monitors removed from all conference rooms, leaving the mounts on the walls as a sign of his hatred of a lack of frugality.

He churned through Executives at an alarming rate, with exacting standards and expectations too big a stretch for most.

And when it came to communication, he believed (and still does) that less is more. The more communication that is required, the less time people are actually doing their jobs.

But one especially interesting trait of Bezos is his absolute focus on the customer. Everything anyone in Amazon does should start with customer experience.

Try doing a PowerPoint presentation in Amazon – you’ll be laughed out of the room by his legendary ear-splitting laugh. Every concept. Every idea. Every update had to be written as a narrative, as if the author were writing a press release that their customers would read.

3. Micro Manager

Somewhat mistakenly, the obvious example here is Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple.

But though he was known to be a real micro manager in the early years, he actually became one of the most trusting and inspiring leaders of the last century.

But focusing on the first 10 years of Apple, he was a micro manager, commonly referred to as ‘50% genius, 50% asshole’.

He didn’t take lightly to anyone who was unable to deliver his vision, thinking nothing of dressing down people in front of audiences, or firing people in lifts.

And he was incredibly exacting in his pursuit of minor details, like the look of an icon in the OS, or the feel of the mouse click.

His was the central pillar of the entire organisation. Very few decisions were made without crossing his table. He controlled and drove everything.

But some might say that this style was designed, consciously or unconsciously, to stretch people.

He was a rare and clever breed. He saw things that others didn’t. He was known for walking in to a room and fascinating over a light fitting or a table leg.

This opened people’s eyes and helped cultivate a culture of innovation that became endemic in the organisation. A culture that set Apple apart from their main competitor, Microsoft, when the new millennium arrived, and set them on their way to becoming the largest company in history.

Developing your leadership formula

The main take-away from these 3 examples is that there isn’t a right or wrong when it comes to leadership. What’s important is that you don’t try to be something you’re not.

If you align with Branson, don’t try to be a Jobs. If you align with Bezos, don’t try to be a Musk.

But it’s essential to recognise what leadership is all about. Leading a small start-up is relatively easy when compared to a large one, as you’re in the thick of it daily. People see you. People know how you operate. And people can adapt to you.

But when you’re heading up a team of hundreds, even thousands, the consistency of presence and involvement will obviously reduce (unless you’ve mastered the process of human cloning that is).

Becoming aware of your leadership style, and surrounding yourself with the culture, people and practices that ensure people can respond to it and truly help you to achieve your goals, is an essential part of scaling sustainably.

TEAMango are not here to tell you how you should do things. To the contrary, we’re here to help you to transition from a start-up to a scaled business, adopting the leadership style that suits you, and putting the focus in to culture and development in your team so employee value add is sustained and grown, not lost over time.

Interested? Give us a shout at info@teamango.com to find out more!