How to Spot Intrapreneurial Talent through the Psychological Characteristics of Entrepreneurs

Creativity and Innovation

This guide by our advisor Teresa Kotlicka will help you discover 5 ways to spot intrapreneurial skills  (characteristics of intrapreneurs) and promote entrepreneurial talent within your organisation.

In a time of constant disruption, talented employees with entrepreneurial attitudes, characteristics of intrapreneurs and mindsets are increasingly important for organisations. “Intrapreneurs” operate with the same talents as entrepreneurs, but from within established organisations instead. 

Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Badal, in their book Born to Build, use the term “builders” as the inclusive shorthand for both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs delivering economic energy and impact. They listed ten innate psychological characteristics of builders (from a mostly, but not entirely, American research sample):

  • Confidence: They accurately know themselves and understand others.
  • Delegator: They recognize that they cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.
  • Determination: They persevere through difficult and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
  • Disruptor: They exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.
  • Independence: They do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.
  • Knowledge: They constantly search for information that is relevant to growing their business.
  • Profitability: They make decisions based on the observed or anticipated effect on profit.
  • Relationship: They possess high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial to their organisation’s survival and growth.
  • Risk: They instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.
  • Selling: They are the best spokesperson for their business.

Knowing what to look for, with the help of frameworks like this, can help you step out of your current operational focus and onto the path to developing a team of “builders” for the future. While the challenges of today are amplified with a very real and ongoing pandemic crisis right now, those seeking competitive advantage must look forward to a post-COVID-19 world.

But what does this combination of talents actually look like in practice? Here are the top five ways of spotting intrapreneurial talent through the psychological characteristics of entrepreneurs:

Intrapreneurial Skill #1: Listen For The Endorsements

If someone searches for information relevant to growing a business (knowledge), accurately understands others (confidence) and acts as an active spokesperson (selling), then they’re also likely to identify and promote potential in others. 

Paying attention to peer recommendations is useful in two ways. While it’s important to note who is praised, it’s equally significant to note those with intrapreneurial leadership qualities and characteristics of an intrapreneur who regularly promote the gifts of others. In my experience, highly-regarded individuals understand and can help you identify the other individuals who add value across all parts of your organisation.

These individuals are also likely to be able to speak about their contributions intelligibly. Simply put, talent sees talent.

  • TIP: Take notice of employees who talk about the successes and abilities of others.

Intrapreneurial Skill #2: Listen For The “Plusses”

If someone exhibits creativity (disruptor), constantly searches for information (knowledge) and does whatever is needed to be done (independence), they’re also likely to build on the contributions of others by regularly “plussing” ideas. 

Stand out intrapreneurial leaders might be visionary, but won’t exclusively focus on their own ideas. When coaching innovation teams, the more promotable individuals share a genuine curiosity to explore off-centre ideas and find ways to make these ideas viable. Someone who lacks an entrepreneurial mindset might set about pursuing an idea, but abandon their attempt a little too swiftly. 

  • TIP: Take notice of the employees who entertain the others’ ideas.

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Intrapreneurial Skill #3: Look For Intentional Practice

If someone perseveres through obstacles (determination), knows how to manage high-risk situations (risk) and advocates for the company (selling), then they’re also likely to take ownership of new projects. This trait is especially noticeable in structures where incremental innovation is someone’s day job and transformational innovation happens in another department. I’ve often noticed how people with entrepreneurial talent and characteristics of an intrapreneur will explore leads to secure new experiences and develop adjacent intrapreneurial skills. They’re intentional about their time spent when going above and beyond.

  • TIP: Take notice of the employees who make room in their day for stretch work. 

Intrapreneurial Skill #4: Look For Co-Creation

If someone accurately understands others (confidence), recognises that they can’t do it alone (delegator) and is able to build relationships (relationships), then they often engage with other people with entrepreneurial talent in their work. 

It’s a given that good line managers know how to leverage the strengths of their team. However, siloed projects are no longer useful as those with refined intrapreneurial skills invite and mobilise team members that fall outside of their strict remit. As they look to identify blindspots and make progress, they make collaboration feel like equal co-creation. 

  • TIP: Take notice of employees who encourage discretionary effort towards their projects from other teams

Intrapreneurial Skill #5: Find The Conversation Starters

If someone exhibits creativity (disruptor), constantly searches for information (knowledge) and regularly considers anticipated effects on profit (profitability), then their curiosity probably drives them to re-imagine how organisations can add value to customers and consumers of tomorrow.

Some of the most inspired individuals I’ve worked with didn’t fear to test long-held assumptions. Those with distinct entrepreneurial talent turned generally accepted principles into a conversation, seeking evidence to validate old schools of thought or introduce new data-backed propositions. Resistance to such revisions was often more of an indication of the company’s or a manager’s lack of readiness to accept change, further motivating them to collect the facts.

  • TIP: Take notice of the employees who challenge cultural folklore openly with data in order to add better value for tomorrow’s customers.

Taking a Collective Approach To Finding Entrepreneurial Talent

Clifton and Badal look at these types of intrapreneurial skills and talent through a very individual lens in their research. However, there is merit in exploring links between the make-up of a team and performance. A collective lens will help us better spot the balance of skills required for entrepreneurial success, further eliminating the expectation that any one intrapreneur has to be the full package.  

characteristics of intrapreneurs

Teresa Kotlicka

Teresa Kotlicka is a specialist in people and talent development with a track record of supporting and nurturing high-performing cultures and teams across a range of organisations, most recently as VP of People and Organisational Development at Sony Music Entertainment. Her team’s award-winning leadership programme, Amplify, developed disruptive innovation capabilities to help global leaders lead with purpose and passion.

Prior to Sony she worked for two entrepreneurial companies in the US, William Grant & Sons and Wallace Roberts & Todd. She studied both Psychology and Philosophy. 

She is Advisor for People, Talent and Culture at Studio Zao