10 Attributes of Self-Made Billionaires

UPDATED: May 18, 2021
PUBLISHED: July 26, 2016
attributesofself madebillionaires

It’s easy to think self-made billionaires just got lucky.

Maybe they were in the right place at the right time. Or maybe they stumbled across a discovery that made them a ton of money overnight.

But I’ve had the incredible fortune of being around and personally consulting to a number of self-made billionaires—even some as they ascended to billionaire-status—and I can tell you all of that is unequivocally false. Not even close.

Every self-made billionaire I’ve ever met or studied has something in common. It has nothing to do with luck or being in the right place at the right time. They all bring a unique set of attributes to each and every opportunity they come across. And when these attributes are developed and not suppressed, they transform into compelling strengths and abilities, but also severe (and sometimes very public) challenges.

You’ve seen them recently in the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey, and historically in Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. But here’s the interesting part… you might have seen these in yourself, too.

So do you have it in you to become one of those seemingly magical people who can see the future and make it come to pass, all while making a pile of money in the process? Find out as I take you through the positives (and negatives) of the 10 attributes found within every self-made billionaire:

Related: 16 Rich Habits

1. High Sensitivity and Awareness

Beyond perceived eccentricities for things like timing, color, food, fragrance or texture, a self-made billionaire’s sensitivities can be heightened to the point of distraction, isolation or even debilitation. On the positive side, I’ve found they each have their own unique sensitivities and heightened awareness that can seem extrasensory: everything from design functionality and perfect pitch, obsessions over air and water quality, knowing—with certainty—when someone else is dealing with a crisis. However, what’s special about the self-made billionaire is how they find ways to leverage their sensitivities and awareness to increase performance.

2. Future Focused

The future-focused attribute often goes by another term: visionary. This label has become a badge of honor for entrepreneurs of every stripe, self-made billionaires included. Earlier in their lifetimes, however, they often got a different label: hopeless dreamer. The real differentiator between the two is how much protection and support they were able to surround themselves with, helping to make their dreams a reality.

3. High Processing Capacity

Self-made billionaires have unusually high processing capacities, being able to consume and retain information faster and in greater quantities than other people. This attribute drives them to seek out and collect large amounts of data, regardless of their physical or cognitive limitations, such as dyslexia. It can even make them seem like machines, automatons or obsessive individuals. They have simply found ways to process and analyze the information they collect in order to cast a clear vision, take action and make constructive decisions over time.

4. Persistent Adaptability

Though self-made billionaires maintain a persistent adaptability to take on new tasks, initiatives, businesses or even careers (think Bill Gates’ new focus on philanthropy or Donald Trump’s transition to politics), they are not chameleons. Most actually had difficulty adapting to certain situations, such as structured school or social environments, earlier in their lives. Yet they developed a persistent adaptability to new tasks and careers, and this attribute enabled them to achieve their vision or desired outcome.

5. Intense Focus on Results or a Single Outcome

We have all heard the stories: Steve Jobs’ dogmatic drive to perfect the Macintosh or Bill Gates’ near workaholic tendencies. There are many examples of self-made billionaires being viewed as super- or sub-human in order to make their mark on the world. Oftentimes, they pulled back and isolated themselves in order to get things done. Although this can make them appear obsessive, compulsive, combative or antisocial, the key is that these hyper-successful individuals directed this attribute toward very clear results or outcomes.

Related: 4 Steps to Mastering the Art of Focus

6. Bias for Improvement

As future-focused individuals, self-made billionaires see the world as it should be, not what it is today. They see what should be modified, improved or evolved. Given the choice between keeping things as they are or changing them for the better, they will almost always choose the latter. But the desire for improvement without an underlying structure can devolve into “improvement paralysis,” where products or ideas are endlessly refined without really moving forward. But the self-made billionaire maintains focus on their intended outcome to set proper priorities on the improvements that actually move them and their business forward.

7. Experimental or Experiential Learning

Yes, self-made billionaires learn through books, but they truly seek the application of their learning, the experiences and experiments; otherwise, they don’t feel momentum. As children, this attribute often made the traditional classroom and educational structures challenging. Experiences and experiments give these individuals confidence to push further, validate what they’ve learned and strengthen belief in their visions of the future.

8. Perceive Unique Connections

When the majority of people are united in one belief, it takes a certain type of person to offer contradictions or alternatives. Self-made billionaires have an enormous capacity to perceive unique connections in the world through their experiences, experiments, focus on the future and high sensitivities. They are able to see situations, problems, solutions and processes from different angles in order to leverage new resources or move in new directions. This can also be alienating and cause massive friction with their leadership teams.

9. Drive for Gained Advantage

This is a very visible attribute. The self-made billionaire constantly asks themselves, How do I get ahead? This consistently drives them to find an advantage or the means to get ahead. Sometimes this attribute can make individuals seem cutthroat, cold or heartless. However, the drive for gained advantage is a competitive attribute that has enabled the self-made billionaire to seek out new and unique solutions to shared challenges, and increase the contribution they can make to their teams.

10. Innate Motivation

Typically, the self-made billionaires I’ve met and worked with have no idea where their “fire” comes from. And although some view this attribute as mere ambition, intrinsic motivation isn’t the desire to climb corporate ladders or collect awards and recognition. This is an engine with no off switch, a constant drive to achieve goals and contribute to the world. Naturally, intrinsic motivation can also make these individuals restless, impatient and combative, especially around people who either lack the same kind of motivation or become obstacles to their momentum.

Looking at every self-made billionaire throughout history, you will find these 10 attributes. But while reading them, you might notice something interesting…. You can see some or all of them in yourself.

These attributes are not limited to the self-made billionaires, but found in an overlooked and misunderstood subpopulation of our society, the Entrepreneurial Personality Type (EPT). What I’ve found in both working with these individuals and researching them, is that the only difference between them and other EPTs is their ability to recognize their unique attributes, and find the protection and support necessary to turn them into incredible strengths.

Related: 5 Learnable Mindsets of Highly Successful People

Alex Charfen is the co-founder and CEO of CHARFEN. He has spent his life seeking to understand how to make business grow, which evolved into the question, “How do you help people grow?” Through his research and years as a top consultant to billionaires, the Fortune 500 and Global 100, this question led Alex to discover the long-misunderstood Entrepreneurial Personality Type (EPT). Best-selling author Robin Sharma recently described Alex as “the most progressive entrepreneurial mind on the planet.” A highly sought-after speaker on entrepreneurial awareness, Alex has spoken around the world for tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and top global businesses to help them identify and live in their strengths.