Entrepreneurs are synonymously characterized by a set of traits, which have become associated with an element in the equation to startup success. Cue a list of adjectives such as passionate, driven, intelligent, creative, strategic, and persistent. However, one key element in the equation that distinguishes the most successful entrepreneurs and the average entrepreneur is often overlooked.
It’s one incredibly powerful trait that is so subtle it often goes unnoticed and it’s one that differentiates the average entrepreneur and the world’s more successful founders: humility.
This characteristic remains largely hidden in a world that relies on standing out through glittering resumes and long lists of accolades and achievements. But the world’s most successful people aren’t those boasting about their latest odd-defying feats, but those who don’t even see said feats as, well, feats at all. And they’re not going to be bragging about something they don’t see as monumental, because to them they’re hardly grand, and perhaps even insignificant.
The most brilliant entrepreneurial minds of our time–such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Cuban–all have one key trait in common and that’s humility. Perhaps because all have a far grander vision and a different vantage point, that renders what would be a giant leap to others, nominal to them.
Steve Jobs has been labeled a “humble narcissist” time and time again, and though that initially sounds like an oxymoron, the idea that one who sees themselves as great, also sees themselves as fallible. In understanding our weaknesses, we can gain strength. We can see from Jobs’ early days–long before success and fame–that it’s in his nature to be humble. Even his college resume displayed such a degree of humility that many then would have ascribed to laziness or disinterest.
The same could be said of Mark Cuban, who publicly lists his Achievements as “Still working on these” in his investor profile on AngelList. The billionaire investor undoubtedly has a lengthy list of achievements and great accomplishments, but rather than compiling these, he shares one incredible piece of information and insight into his brilliance: he’s not finished. If Cuban wasn’t a celebrity, those viewing his profile would likely chalk up his response to his achievements as someone who has yet to achieve anything–or at least anything worth noting.
Then there’s Elon Musk and his well-known rule for success: “work like hell.” The theory is simple, if you work 80 to 100 hours per week, even if you work at the same level as the next person working 40 hours per week, mathematically, you will achieve in a few months what it takes others a year to achieve.
On the surface, this is easily understood as hard work leads to success, and this is true. But what it reveals below the surface is that Musk–a 21st-century genius–doesn’t necessarily equate himself as superior to others, illustrating his core humility. Rather, he sees himself as equal, and with that, believes that by investing more time, is the way in which he can get ahead and be successful. Had he believed himself to have superior intelligence, he might go with the “work smarter, not harder” theory, and yet, perhaps because he is a genius, he doesn’t.
True intelligence doesn’t simply boil intelligence down to what we know we know, but it also understands the depth and breadth of what we know we don’t know. With that, we can see problems, which is what helps us find solutions–something entrepreneurs depend on.
It’s within this humility that leads the most successful people to feel as though they’re not necessarily the most successful, the most accomplished, or the most brilliant. All of which fuel the other top traits of entrepreneurs. Not being comfortable enough with where you ignite motivation and perseverance, or not viewing yourself as any different from the next (and with that, competition), propels hard work, intelligence, and creativity.
Psychologically, humans are driven by a lack, and those who are humble remain driven. In return, they tend to be the most passionate, driven, and successful people and entrepreneurs. The notion that entrepreneurs need to stay hungry is a start, but what motivates hunger is humility. The most successful minds of our time are not just hungry, but humble, and most likely so will the next generation of entrepreneurial genius.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.