The Six Traits of Successful People

(Last Updated On: January 16, 2019)

What factors make some people more successful than others? Hard work and overall intelligence are obviously important pieces of the puzzle, but that’s clearly not all it takes. Psychologists, educators, and business organizations have invested a great deal in to learning to identify who will succeed in certain situations or settings. In fact, many employers have placed a lot of stock in psychological assessments such as the MBTI in order to hone in the key traits of successful people.

Recently, researchers Ian MacRae and Adrian Furnham of University College London honed in on six key traits that they believe are consistently tied to success in the workplace.

Having optimal levels of these traits may help contribute to success in the workplace. It is important to remember that being at either extreme on each trait, either very high or very low, can have drawbacks. And the benefits that come with each trait can also be dependent upon other factors such as the situation, job type, and job role.

The Six Traits of Successful People

The six traits identified by MacRae and Furnham are:

1. Conscientiousness:

Conscientious people tend to think carefully about their actions and the impact they will have. Good amounts of this trait help people plan effectively. Having too much, however, can lead people to be overly rigid and unwilling to accept change. Research has shown that conscientiousness is the one of the most important predictors of academic success.

RELATED:  Self-Efficacy: Definition and Examples

2. Ambiguity acceptance:

People with a high potential for success also tend to have a greater ability to accept ambiguity. Those who are low in this trait prefer clearly defined tasks and value predictability. When it comes to making decisions, those who are low on this trait like to keep things simple and straightforward. People who are high on this trait, however, are willing to consider multiple perspectives and sources of information before they make any conclusions.

Leaders who are willing to accept ambiguity tend to be more successful because they are able to listen to and weigh all of the options. They are better at dealing with complicated problems and tend to make better decisions.

3. Adjustment:

The ability to adjust and adapt to change is a critical part of success, and research has found that people who are poor at this also tend to perform worse.

4. Courage:

Success often involves being able to take risks. People who have the courage to try new things, take on challenges, and deal with conflicts are more likely to achieve their goals. Those who are averse to risks are less likely to tackle the obstacles that might stand between them and success.

5. Curiosity:

Taking an interest in the world around you is an essential part of maintaining motivation and creativity. Research has found that curiosity is linked to workplace success.

RELATED:  Does Where You Live Influence Your Personality Type?

6. Competitiveness:

Embracing a moderate sense of competition is one of the key habits of successful people, but it is important to avoid veering into envy, aggression, or jealousy. Looking at others and striving to do as well or better can give you something to which to aspire. Just be cautious if you find yourself engaging in unhealthy comparisons that are not beneficial to your health or well-being.

While more research is needed, the researchers suggest that these traits can be accurate predictors of both objective and subjective measures of success. One study suggests that ambiguity acceptance and competitiveness were the strongest predictors of pay. Conscientiousness was found to be one of the best predictors of self-rated measures of job satisfaction.

So if you are looking for ways to improve your chances of workplace success, consider cultivating some of these critical traits.


Teodorescu, A., Furnham, A., & MacRae, I. (2017). Trait correlates of success at work. International Journal of Selection and Assessment. doi:10.1111/ijsa.12158