9 Qualities of Self-Made Billionaires, According to an Executive Coach Who Works With Them



Billionaires clearly aren’t a monolithic group. Steve Jobs was very unlike Bill Gates. Elon Musk and Peter Thiel are wildly dissimilar (and apparently don’t have the highest opinion of each other). Warren Buffett loves a quiet game of bridge, while Richard Branson is more the type to kite surf across the English Channel.

But while every member of the three commas club may have their own preferences, personality, and politics, that doesn’t mean that they don’t share some underlying similarities. Many studies have been conducted on whether there’s an “entrepreneurial personality type,” with varying results (you entrepreneurs aren’t a very agreeable bunch, apparently). But according to folks who work with the super rich regularly, many traits come up again and again.  

Manfred Kets de Vries says he’s observed quite a few of them in his work as an executive coach, psychoanalyst, and management professor, and has come up with some common traits, which he shared in a recent Insead blog post

1. Drive

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest predictors of becoming extremely wealthy is really wanting to become extremely wealthy. Kets de Vries explains: “Many self-made billionaires possess a somewhat different Weltanschauung, or world view, compared to run-of-the-mill businesspeople. They’re very focused and have big ideas. They are also quite talented in envisioning possible futures…. Enthralled with a magnificent obsession, they bring an intense focus to whatever they want to accomplish.” 

Be warned, however, that real-world evidence suggests that level of obsession often comes at a steep personal cost, so be careful what you wish for. 

2. Determination

Billionaires, you won’t be terribly surprised to learn, also don’t give up easily. “When faced with crises and setbacks, they take action and move on. They don’t wallow in self-pity and become depressed. They also know that success doesn’t come overnight. They have a long-term time horizon,” claims Kets de Vries. 

3. People skills

Most billionaires “have realized that starting ventures isn’t an activity that can be done alone,” reports Kets de Vries. “Given this interpersonal skill set, they have a knack for persuading others to buy into their dreams. In addition, undeterred by critics and naysayers, they don’t take no for an answer and always find ways to go around the obstacles before them.” 

4. Nonconformity

It’s hard to spot opportunities no one else sees if you think the same as everyone else.

“While other people spend time and energy blending in, the super rich create their own path. Going against prevailing opinions is not a problem. In fact, many of them enjoy swimming against the current. Some even become uncomfortable when they suspect that their way of thinking is too mainstream,” he writes. 

5. Self-confidence

The super rich “strongly believe in their own abilities. They come to view success as being the result of their own efforts. Possessing an internal locus of control, they don’t see their achievements as a question of luck, fate, or circumstances. Supremely self-confident, they’re convinced that they can solve any problem,” says Kets de Vries. 

That sounds both not terribly compassionate of the less fortunate and like a trait that could easily become pathological if taken to extremes.

6. Work ethic

“The super rich are very much achievement oriented. They set challenging goals for themselves and work hard to achieve them. In whatever they do, they go beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, they aren’t easily satisfied. They’re always driven to do better,” Kets de Vries claims. Again, while the benefits of this are obvious, the downsides of being a never satisfied workaholic are also easy to imagine. 

7. Strong intuition

Here’s one trait that might surprise you. “Compared to run-of-the-mill corporate executives, the super rich make many of their decisions based on gut feelings as opposed to resorting to detailed analysis. Somehow, they’re able to bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious parts of their mind,” says Kets de Vries. 

8. Competitive mindset

“Self-made billionaires thrive on competition. In fact, many of them appear to have collected sport achievements, which taught them how to deal with victory. It also taught them how to assert themselves against their competitors. In addition, it increased their tolerance for frustration,” writes Kets de Vries. Others who are in close contact with many successful entrepreneurs have also noted how many of them are into some kind of extreme sports

9. Risk tolerance

Billionaires in the making “also know how to take calculated risks,” Kets de Vries says. “They strongly believe in the saying, ‘No guts, no glory.’ To them, being risk averse is not the way to great achievements. At the same time, they always ask themselves how they can minimize their losses. In other words, they are risk tolerant but not impulsive.” 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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