Mercenary or Missionary? Which entrepreneurial style are you?

Written by Kelly Cummins

Businesses come in all shapes and sizes – and so do the management styles of the entrepreneurs who run them…

Democratic leaders encourage their direct reports to play an active role in decision-making. Visionaries shift their focus from the day to day to the horizons and world beyond. Autocratic business owners set rules and dictate that it’s my way or the highway, where as coach-style managers empower their employees to find their own way so their business grows and develops.

Laissez-faire leaders give carte blanche to their staff and ride in the back seat, taking the wheel only when no one else can drive. Pacesetters are high performing and goal-oriented who prioritise profit and results above other impacts. Servant-style managers lead primarily with care for their people.

All of these entrepreneur ‘types’ – and others – can be broadly categorised into two camps –mercenaries and missionaries.

Each type may recognise parts of their personality and behaviour in the other – but at heart they are fundamentally different…

The mercenary

A mercenary is defined as somebody who cares only about making money. Their aim is to capture wealth from the competition in a fight for the biggest portion of the market share.

Because they believe that this ‘prize’ is a finite resource, they see another entrepreneur’s success as a threat to their own.

Mercenary entrepreneurs usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Egocentric, autocratic and aggressive leadership style
  • Believes all the heroes are at the top of the hierarchy
  • Always looking for the next lucrative handshake and asking, “What’s in it for ME?”
  • Focuses on the bottom-line of financial statements
  • Opportunists with short-term outlook
  • Obsessed with their rivals and locked in constant competition
  • Driven by ruthless ambition rather than deep purpose
  • Legacy looks like a yacht and lots of money in the bank

Business owners who are mercenaries are only satisfied by clinching the next big deal. They want it all, and they want it now.

Logan Roy, the powerful oligarch at head of the fictional media empire Waystar Royco, and central character in the popular HBO TV drama Succession, could be described as a mercenary business leader.  It has been rumoured that Roy’s character is based on Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp imprint.

The missionary

In contrast, a missionary sees business prosperity as an infinite spring with more than enough for everyone to drink. The source of that spring is a unique vision, mission and purpose that every entrepreneur has – and every entrepreneur can use to their advantage.

They view success as self-created, so another’s gain is never seen as a loss to them.

Entrepreneurs with a missionary spirit could be described as:

  • Egalitarian, meritocratic and inclusive in their leadership style
  • Keen to get counsel from a democratic cross-section of their workforce
  • Always looking for the next bright idea or mutually beneficial partnership
  • Seeing beyond the bottom line as a metric of their success
  • Altruists with an expansive, long-term outlook
  • Innovators who excel in their own lane rather than racing to keep up with others
  • Motivated by moral and ethical factors
  • Intent on leaving a legacy that positively impacts people and the planet, elevated above profit

Missionaries don’t just look for what they can get out of their organisation, their aim is to somehow contribute to the wider world via their business. They want to give something back – and inspire others to do the same.

The founder of clothing brand Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is one example of a missionary business leader. In 2022, Chouinard announced that all Patagonia’s future profits will be placed in a trust that benefits environmental protection in perpetuity. He said:

“As of now, Earth is our only shareholder. Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’ Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

Identifying entrepreneurial identity with Brevity’s Marketing Mandala

Brevity has taken the mandala– an ancient tool of focus and guidance – and used it to reimagine marketing for today’s world. Our marketing team use these principles to drive meaningful marketing performance that positively impacts the businesses we work with in the short and long term.

The five key principles are:

  • Personality
  • People power
  • Performance
  • Personalisation
  • Purpose

Mercenaries and missionaries will approach these five principles very differently, so let’s walk though them to see which type of entrepreneur you really are…

Personality – be real

How ‘real’ are you when it comes to running your business? To be able to answer the question, you need strong self-awareness. For most, that involves a journey of self-discovery for you – and your organisation.

Mercenaries don’t want to sign up for that ride. They feel they already know all there is to know, about themselves and others. Their mind is made up and it is their opinion that matters most. They’re at the top – so they must be the best, right?

Discovery and progress happen when you ask the deep questions – even when it’s uncomfortable. As positive disruptors, missionaries ask the questions that pave the way to change. They want to understand their personality and the views of their workforce, so they can evolve their leadership style and improve their operations.

DISC personality profiling and customer/employee/supplier surveys provide the full, unbiased truth from the beginning. Mercenaries shy away from that truth, whereas missionaries use it for empowerment and progress. It is the cornerstone of building authentic values and defining the vision, mission and purpose that will drive performance and ensure company longevity.

Those values, and that vision, mission and purpose will be created in consultation with a wide cross-section of people from their business, at all levels. They know that, for company values to unite and motivate, they must be grounded in truth and not invented by senior management based on what they’d like the culture to be.

Yes, both mercenaries and missionaries seek individual kudos but, for the mercenary, it will be very much about putting themselves in the spotlight whereas for the missionary it will be about shining a light on a challenge they can solve, always inclusive of the people around them that will make that happen.

People Power – attract your tribe

Your vibe attracts your tribe – and that includes customers, employees and suppliers. Understanding those audiences is vital to engagement and retention of the people that will make – or break – your success.

Mercenaries might consider their years or experience a substitute for comprehensive stakeholder surveys and competitor research. Missionaries recognise that the market is always changing so consistent evaluation of customer, employee and supplier needs and behaviours is essential.

Persona creation, customer journey mapping, competitor analysis are just some the ways cultivate the knowledge that will allow your business to win and retain leads – and have the top suppliers competing to have your logo in their portfolio.

Recruitment is one area where the differences between mercenaries and missionaries really stand out. Mercenaries will advertise for, interview and onboard candidates as if it was an episode of ‘The Apprentice’, where it’s all about what the jobseeker can do for THEM. There’s a hierarchy defined from that first handshake. The focus will be on skills rather than personality, too. EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) will be a box-ticking exercise.

A missionary understands that recruitment is about finding people that will fit in with their organisational culture – and thrive within it. Their skills are still important, but only part of the picture. The right people will gel with existing team members and share the company values, making them more productive and more likely to stay in the job long enough to make a valuable impact. EDI will be an organic part of the process, rather than a policy document to dust off during recruitment.

Performance – deliver your message with clarity and conviction

“I’ve got a big idea and a need a big campaign to promote it ASAP.”

“There’s not time for strategy. Can’t you just run with it?”

“Pretty sure we’ve got some existing collateral we can dig out. Won’t that do?”

“The only part of the customer journey that really matters is the sale, so let’s focus on that.”

These are just some of the things a mercenary might say. A reluctance to spend time and attention on the earlier stages of the customer journey results in lacklustre performance later on. Even the ritziest mansion can topple with weak foundations, after all.

Gap analysis of assets, a collateral audit including the website and SEO, evaluation of messaging and processes; these might seem like ‘optional’ parts of marketing activity to the mercenary. The missionary feels differently.

Missionaries approach marketing like a marathon, not a sprint. They appreciate that, by laying the essential groundwork and spending time on the cohesion of processes and messaging, the end result is going to give their organisation a much better marketing ROI.

Personalise – build deeper connections with many

Both mercenaries and missionaries approach campaigns with clearly defined objectives. They both want to engage their target audience and build strong relationships that last.  CRM and marketing automation, content such as blogs, videos and podcasts, as well as case studies, testimonials, PR and events; these are all tools they’ll want to use and activities they’ll want to do.

However, the mercenary will be driven by the desire to hit sales targets, get their money’s worth out of sales and marketing teams, and show off to their peers. Their customers’ needs may even be a bit of an afterthought.

Missionaries, on the other hand, put the customer first and personalise their marketing and PR activity to build meaningful connections that resonate with all stakeholders. It’s not about the bottom line or getting their name in lights – it’s about crafting a series of bespoke, high-impact touchpoints and cultivating authentic relationships that benefit buyer, seller, supplier and employee.

They seek to truly understand how they can do the best for their customers and use tools like CRM to help their sales and marketing people, not hinder them.

Purpose – embrace a greater mission 

For entrepreneurs who are mercenaries, the world doesn’t extend far beyond their HQ. They give little consideration to the impact of their actions on others, and on the world at large. If asked about the professional and personal legacy they wish to leave, they would likely quantify it with currency, houses or cars.

They see corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a PR tactic, or charity fundraising a chance for a round of golf. Awards are an ego-boost and a trophy for their desk. Employee rewards and benefits don’t extend much beyond salaries and sick pay, and “fun stuff” is left their PA or HR to sort out, and only when there’s time. Targets met deserve pizza!

Yet, mercenaries often feel a lack of true connection with their teams. Conversations stall when they enter the room. They don’t really experience genuine relationships and miss out on a lot of family time because of work – but they want to be the provider.

Missionaries acknowledge that work/life balance is essential to the overall success of their business. Team lunches are a chance to get to know people better, at all levels. CSR days are as important as any sales-kick off meeting. Award success is shared with each and every person in the company because they all play a part. The trophy does the rounds.

Positivity comes from using their business for good and contributing to causes that help local and global communities as well the planet.

Which style is better for business?

There’s room in the world for all types of personalities. Life would be boring if we were all the same. But when it comes to business – missionaries are far outpacing mercenaries in the quest for success.

That’s because of one thing – sustainability.

The concept of sustainability isn’t just a new ‘woke’ word. There’s a strong business case for ethical capitalism, based on the increasing influence of mindful consumerism. One study found sustainable brands grew at 91% over three-year period, compared to 15% average company growth.

Sustainable marketing links economy, environment, and humankind – more commonly known as the three pillars of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit. It serves as a powerful way for businesses to gain advantage over their competitors (including recruitment as well as sales), enhance their reputation in a more ethically minded market, and save cost by adopting more energy-efficient, lower waste processes.

The focus of the mercenary is ‘right here, right now’ – so it simply won’t future proof their business. Missionaries consider the environmental and social impact of their operations. The outcome is that their business thrives – and so does the world around them, today and tomorrow.

Ready to grow your business as a force for good? Get in touch with Brevity to learn how The Marketing Mandala will empower your sustainable marketing journey. Visit our SME Business Growth Page or call us on 01256 536 000 or email

Meet likeminded professionals at People, Planet, Pint – an informal monthly networking event for anyone who wants to have conversations and share insight about sustainability and how to use their business for good. Brevity hosts People, Planet, Pint in Basingstoke, Hampshire and Worthing, West Sussex.

For information about other People, Planet, Pint events across the UK, click here.