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Born to build: Gallup CEO shares lessons learned

If it were up to Gallup Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Clifton, people would stop asking one another, “What do you do?” Instead, their opening question would be, “What are you building?” born-to-build

Clifton believes that ambitious and self-motivated people who build something that creates economic growth and makes a lasting impact on society change the world. He is sharing his insights into and experiences with leadership with UNC and Duke faculty and students during his time as a Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor.

“Entrepreneurs build something and create economic energy where none previously existed,” says Clifton. “This can take the form of creating a company from scratch or building within an existing organization. Our country can set a good example for the rest of the world on how free enterprise works. The key to that is building, whether that’s a small business, a start-up that booms to a jumbo company, a nonprofit, a new division in a company or in various other ways.”

Clifton’s most recent book is “Born to Build: How to Build a Thriving Startup, a Winning Team, New Customers and Your Best Life Imaginable,” co-written with Sangeeta Badal, principal scientist for Gallup’s Entrepreneurship and Job Creation initiative. The book serves as a manual for entrepreneurs, providing them with tools and techniques to recognize their strengths and motivations, determine what they can build and understand the best way to succeed.

Keys to being a successful builder, says Clifton, are creating self-awareness, recognizing opportunities, activating on ideas and building a team. Specific talents integral to being a successful builder, according to Gallup research, are confidence, delegator, determination, disruptor, independence, knowledge, profitability, relationship, risk and selling.

Gallup created the Builder Profile 10 (BP10), an online assessment that helps users find their unique mix of entrepreneurial talents. There are three types of builders – three “alphas” – all of whom are essential to the success of a venture, says Clifton.

The alpha rainmaker is focused on generating sales and revenue for her venture and excels at sales and marketing. She has unusual drive and persistence — rare grit.

The alpha conductor has management ability. This is the operations person or manager who knows how to get all players on the team — or in the “orchestra” — to work together seamlessly. This person holds the whole organization together.

The third type, the alpha expert, provides differentiating expertise to the core product or service. Whether it is an analytic services startup’s brilliant statistician, a new restaurant’s star chef or a software firm’s best programmer, virtually every successful startup has an alpha expert who highly distinguishes it from the crowd.

Having a team comprised of all three types helps ensure success. “Create a cohesive and complementary team when building an enterprise,” he says. “Don’t try to change yourself – or let somebody change you – into something that you’re not. Weaknesses never turn into strengths but your strengths keep developing throughout your whole life so identify those and build on them.”jimclifton

Gallup is committed to developing tools for the early identification of people born with traits that make them more likely to build businesses. “By identifying these builders early on, we can give them the tools and opportunities to succeed,” he says. Gallup and UNC Kenan-Flagler are collaborating on research to determine why the rate of creating startups in the U.S. has declined in recent years.

“Most millennials aren’t starting businesses,” says Clifton. “Our country needs a Marshall Plan for startups or the economy will be in real trouble.”

He is excited to be working on developing a program with UNC faculty. “Gallup is skilled at working with Fortune 1000 companies but it’s great to work with people like Ted Zoller, director of the Entrepreneurship Center, and Greg Brown, director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and their teams to determine how this can fit into academia.”

“Jim Clifton is a thought leader who has contributed immensely to our understanding of the special brand of leadership exhibited by entrepreneurs,” says Zoller, T.W. Lewis Clinical Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. “We’ve been fortunate to collaborate with him and the Gallup team. He’s influenced our thinking in how we will train the next generation of entrepreneurs at Carolina.”