Three people (two men and a woman) surround a table. One of the men holds up a tablet and shows something to his two colleagues.
Once you determine what kind of entrepreneur you are, you can find colleagues with strengths in other areas to create a diverse and multi-talented team. — Getty Images/Tassii

Whether you’re thinking about starting a new venture or you’ve been running your own company for years, one key to success is understanding your own talents and shortcomings and surrounding yourself with people who fill your inevitable gaps as a builder of the business, according to research by Gallup, the polling and consulting firm.

Justin Lall, director of strategic partnerships at Gallup, helps other businesses and organizations identify and develop entrepreneurial talent. He says the company’s research over the years has identified three key, overarching roles assumed by successful entrepreneurs:

  • Rainmaker: A self-confident, aggressive, sales-oriented person who creates excitement and product demand with an eye on making money.
  • Expert: The smartest person in the room, an independent quick thinker who expects excellence through constant learning and innovation.
  • Conductor: The person who gets things done through hard work, with a focus on operations and successful delegation of tasks to others.

“No one has all three of those,” Lall told CO—. “Our research has found that those are three different people. So you’ve got to figure out from the get-go, who the heck are you?”

The key here is, figure out what you naturally do, what you'd like to do, what you do really well.

Justin Lall, director of strategic partnerships at Gallup

Any of the three will do

When first starting a small business, a risk-taker might think she can in fact fulfill all these roles well, and she might have no choice but to do her best at each. But as a business grows, a successful builder will recognize the need to look for complementary traits and skills in others and create a diverse team, rather than building a business of like-minded individuals. Figuring out which role you’re best suited for involves honest self-evaluation of your skills and weaknesses and, vitally, pondering what you enjoy doing, both professionally and personally.

“The key here is, figure out what you naturally do, what you'd like to do, what you do really well,” Lall said. “And then do that, just spend your time doing that.”

Let’s say you’re talented and most comfortable in the role of rainmaker. Sure, you might have some competency as an expert or a conductor, or both. But as the builder of a small business, the research shows, the last thing you want to do is hire two more high-level rainmakers. If you don’t have the luxury of hiring two top-notch, complementary teammates at the outset, consider the business opportunities that arise as you grow, then fill positions accordingly. The necessary expertise or conducting skills you thought your team needed early on might morph as the company adjusts to the market or takes advantage of unexpected moneymaking paths.

There’s no strong indication that a successful company must be owned or led by either a rainmaker, conductor or expert, so long as all three roles are filled as high-level positions, the Gallup research finds.

“Each one of those individuals is an entrepreneur themselves,” Lall explained. “Each one of those individuals is a business builder. They just approach it in different ways.”

The things you can’t do

Of course, successful entrepreneurs also possess specific talents and personality traits, from confidence to determination and acceptance of risk.

Among the most vital, the Gallup research finds, is the one that makes the difference between entrepreneurship being a blessing or a curse: the talent to delegate. Delegating is the skill of understanding your own talent gaps, acknowledging you don’t have the time to do everything yourself, then hiring the right people to get all that work done.

As a business grows, the original rainmaker, expert and conductor might all shift from mostly hands-on work to more hiring and delegating. It’s crucial, the research shows, to then hire managers who are both capable and excited to do the work of managing, not to knee-jerk promote people just because they’ve been there the longest and are skilled and perhaps even entrepreneurial.

“Top performers in an individual contributor role don't necessarily mean they're going to be top-performing managers,” Lall said. “I might be a fantastic rainmaker,” he continued as an example. “But I would be a terrible manager because I don't enjoy it. I'm not naturally wired to nurture people. I'm not naturally wired to get excited when someone else learns something.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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