Five basic competencies needed to succeed

79Advice for Entrepreneurs

What are the five competencies you need to succeed?

By Dr. Alice Waagen, President & Founder

I love to talk about being an entrepreneur, for when I made the leap from the corporate world to founding Workforce Learning in 1997 it was one of the most exhilarating, yet traumatic decisions of my life.

In the dozen years I’ve been out on my own, I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot about myself, the people I work with, and life in general. But perhaps the most fascinating discovery is that the characteristics and qualities that it takes to succeed as a business owner are the same sets of competencies I advocate for managers within organizations. Following is a list of five things you can do to prepare for life as an entrepreneur — while you are still collecting a paycheck.


1. Leadership. When you are on your own, you need to think independently and make decisions quickly without a lot of input from others. Look for opportunities to chair committees or lead projects that require a lot of complex decisions. Keep a log of all decisions you make in a week and assess what went well and what you would do differently. Actively seek opportunities to work independently, especially in situations where you need to motivate and direct others for whom you have no reporting authority.

2. Communication Skills. To succeed on your own, your writing and speaking skills must be top notch. If your current job does not give you opportunities to speak and write, look at joining Toastmasters or other groups that will give you public speaking experience — and productive feedback.

3. Project Management. Hosts of skills fall under this category, including the ability to manage complex projects effectively and allocate scarce resources. Conducting project debriefs or after-action studies should be a regular part of your work. Make a list of your successes so you can review what worked well. And keep the list of things that did not work top of mind so they are not repeated.

4. Financial Savvy. Unless you have a background in finance or accounting, this is the one arena that will challenge you the most when you run your own business. Seek out programs that offer advice for and build up your knowledge of financial basics. If you have budgetary responsibilities in your current job, make friends with someone in finance and have them tutor you on the intricacies of budget management. Or, work out an arrangement so you can hire that person to help you with your accounting when you launch your new firm.

5. Self-knowledge. This is possibly the most important competency, for entrepreneurs are only successful when they have a very clear assessment of their real strengths and blind spots. Take as many interpersonal assessments as you can, such as MBTI and DISC. Use this knowledge to strategically plan how you will achieve your goal, and take time to consider how you will augment your weak areas with outside help.


I’ve always been a big proponent of volunteering, mostly because I believe it is the right thing to do. But when launching your business, your work as a volunteer can benefit your new business by helping you build your professional network, in addition to growing your capabilities.

By taking a planned and goal-driven approach to your personal development, you can bolster your value internally while simultaneously preparing to strike out on your own. This gives you a Plan A and a Plan B and some real options in managing your professional future. Good luck!