JOHANNESBURG - With business confidence plunging to its lowest ebb all year, leaders and entrepreneurs with the right mindset and plenty of heart are needed to exponentially change the course of South Africa’s economy. News of the economy sinking to its first technical recession adds to the bad news, but this does not mean things cannot be turned around.

One of the most sustainable ways to usher in growth is through greater levels of entrepreneurial activity.

While there is no quick fix to becoming a successful entrepreneur, none is born with a natural aptitude to create billion-rand businesses overnight. However, there are some key distinguishing traits which separate the best business minds from the rest and the good news is our improvement of understanding of psychology and science is leading to vastly improved levels of awareness and training for young entrepreneurs - with far better outcomes.

Many may be quick to point out that luck and a silver spoon greatly influence business success. However, just consider that MIT has recently done detailed research on how little of the success in entrepreneurial endeavours results from luck or birth-based characteristics as opposed to learned knowledge and skills.

The survey results indicate that the firms in the sample founded by first-time entrepreneurs (compared to experienced founders) have a slightly lower probability of successful exits (IPO or M&A) and have a much higher chance of failed outcomes (bankruptcy or fire sale) when compared to the same subjects’ subsequent entrepreneurial attempts. The results for bankruptcy and forced sales are illuminating and make the point clear - 37.8% of first-time founder start-ups stare down the barrel versus 27.7% for an experienced founder.

These results suggest that entrepreneurial practice and experience improve outcomes. So as we look to develop the next Patrice Motsepe or Aliko Dangote in Africa, this must be our point of departure.

Yes, things are bad now, but the right frame of mind, behaviour set and a passion for change can turn things around very quickly and accelerate change exponentially across organisations and economies.

It all starts with our relationship with ourselves. Sadly, only a minority of people take honest and deeply reflective and introspective journeys. Only when you go through this process of self-analysis and interrogation can you prioritise, focus and engender the mental and emotional resilience and tenacity to succeed.

While personality and charisma can be assets, the veneer dies off at some stage. When you move up ranks then it is far more about character. Character is built by confronting your fears, understanding blind spots, and making and acting on the tough decisions. With this self-awareness firmly in place and driving you forward it is important to sharpen the competencies, capabilities and capacities needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

It is imperative to seek out truly transformational leadership programmes that facilitate revo-lutionary and sustainable change for people individually and collectively. Exponential Leadership is where courage, character and commitment give birth to agility, resilience and authenticity.

Bryan Hattingh is the founder of exponential leadership firm Cycan.

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