Traits of Successful People

Success in the workplace
(Last Updated On: September 2, 2021)

What are the personality traits of successful people? 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 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 that make people more successful.

Traits of Successful People

Researchers Ian MacRae and Adrian Furnham of University College London honed in on six key traits that they believe are consistently tied to career success.

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.

According to the research by MacRae and Furnham, the traits of successful people are:

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the core personality dimensions that make up the big five personality traits. 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.

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.

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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.

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. Success often hinges on the ability to change plans quickly as situations shift. 

Courage

Success also 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.

Curiousity

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.

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.

How These Traits Promote Success

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 suggested 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.
  • A 2019 study found that conscientiousness was the most powerful non-cognitive predictor of job performance.
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So if you are looking for ways to improve your chances of workplace success, consider cultivating some of these critical traits.

What Can You Do to Foster Success

Developing these qualities takes time, but there are things that you can do to help improve your chances of success. In addition to working on strengthening the traits that are tied to success, you can also:

  • Set specific goals: Successful people tend to make clear goals that are attainable. Instead of having a vague goal like “becoming rich,” for example, they will set a goal of opening a business or starting a new job by a certain date.
  • Keep learning: Another important thing that successful people do is staying open to new information and experiences. They are able to examine their own cognitive biases and avoid only looking for things that confirm what they already believe. Instead, they challenge their own ideas and seek out new information that will help them grow and become more successful.
  • Stay motivated: Successful people are more likely to stick with things over the long run. They may be naturally driven to achieve, but they also know how to motivate themselves to keep going even when they face obstacles and challenges.

Sources:

Conard MA. Aptitude is not enough: How personality and behavior predict academic performance. Journal of Research in Personality. 2006;40(3):339-346. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2004.10.003

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Teodorescu A, Furnham A, MacRae I. Trait correlates of success at work. International Journal of Selection and Assessment. 2017;25(1):36-42. doi:10.1111/ijsa.12158

Wilmot MP, Ones DS. A century of research on conscientiousness at work. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2019;116(46):23004-23010. doi:10.1073/pnas.1908430116