One of my favorite pictures features a just-delivered baby being proudly held up in the delivery room by the doctor for all in the room to see. The baby has a briefcase handcuffed to his tiny hand. The caption reads: "Are entrepreneurs born or made?"
After years of deliberation on the question, I've decided that entrepreneurs are neither born nor made. They are grown. My very unscientific observation of hundreds of entrepreneurs leads me to believe that they have a passion, a drive, a determination that often leads them to work late into the night and to marry themselves to improbable goals. But that passion is really an outgrowth of something else: a firm belief that they will succeed. Although some wonder if entrepreneurs have more courage than brains, that sense of deep-seated belief is necessarily stronger than every obstacle they will face in their entrepreneurial journey.
Entrepreneurs are born with good seeds (innate ability) that are fertilized by their choices and by the events and people of their lives. In my own life the fertilizer seemed to come initially from little victories, positive role models and generous doses of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. I started to believe I could accomplish something and that I could have a positive impact on the world. This led me to attempt progressively more difficult and in my mind more meaningful entrepreneurial challenges and to firmly believe that I would be successful in accomplishing them.
Stephen R. Covey calls this process of self-discovery "finding your voice." Others have referred to it as the process of attribution, personal visualization, the power of a positive attitude or simply faith. Almost always, there are key individuals who help a budding entrepreneur find his or her voice. Perhaps no single role model is referred to more often than the voice finding power and influence through a father.
Tiger Woods is often called "the chosen one." At the time of his father's passing in 2006 he wrote: "My dad was my best friend and greatest role model ... In retrospect, golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father. He was instrumental in helping me develop the drive to achieve, but his role as well as my mother's was one of support and guidance, not interference." Tiger's dad told a golf magazine reporter that his son will "have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power." Reading those words, it's not hard to imagine how Tiger's dad helped him find his voice.
The same could be said for my father. My dad has without a doubt been my greatest mentor. For many years he was a school principal. He taught me the importance of personal integrity, treating people right and a thousand other lessons. Because the public school system didn't provide for bonus payments at the time, one year he gave his entire staff a brand new dollar bill "bonus" and a personal note saying they were appreciated and respected. I remember how delighted they were with his unexpected and personalized expression of thanks.
From him I learned that every person yearns to be appreciated and that that yearning is even more powerful than money as a personal motivator. This completely changed my approach as an entrepreneur. I often hear his words in my mind: "You can do anything in this world you set your mind to." He helped me find my voice, and my life changed dramatically for the better as a result.If you have someone who has helped you find your voice let them know of your appreciation. If not, do what you can to help someone else find theirs entrepreneurially and otherwise. It might be the most valuable thing you do in your lifetime.
Andy Barfuss is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.