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Personality and Success: What Trait Leads You To The Top?

According to the volume of content on the blogs and news sites I frequent, becoming successful and a leader must be the two most sought after goals in humanity.  Every week I see the same content rehashed over and over.  “Seven way to be successful”, “Nine traits of a successful leader”, “Ten of the most successful CEOs share their ten traits on successfully leading yourself to success.”  That’s a bit overdone but you understand my point.

Recently another headline grabbed my eye, one I was sure I had seen before: “Here’s the personality trait that predicts success for employees – and entrepreneurs.”  I skimmed the article because of course us humans want to see, despite our success, or lack thereof, if we have this super trait.  The top trait is good ole “conscientiousness” at least according to this article.  How many bloggers in their effort to produce content have written similar articles about personality and success and how many of those actually think conscientiousness is number one?

According to this article, a proactive personality is the prime predictor of entrepreneurial success.  A proactive personality creates his/her own environment rather than reacting to the environment around them.  I don’t know if this is true but conscientiousness wasn’t mentioned so let’s move on.

A writer for the New Yorker says this, “…the fundamental characteristic of entrepreneurs isn’t risk-seeking, it’s self -confidence.”  Self-confidence makes sense to me but this is different than being conscientious and to an extent not the same as having a proactive personality.  Next!

This piece discusses the traits that made Steve Jobs successful.  With what you have heard about Steve Jobs, do you believe conscientiousness is on the list?  That’s right it wasn’t.

An article out of the UK listed the top personality traits of women and conscientiousness didn’t make the cut.  Women requiring different traits to be successful makes sense to me but then again if conscientiousness really were the top trait I see no reason why both genders shouldn’t require it.

Eventually in my quest I encountered personality traits necessary for success in particular occupations such as physical therapy or in being a telecommuter.  I didn’t notice conscientiousness on these lists but I credit the telecommuter list for at least going edgy and listing “obsessive-compulsiveness” as a required trait for telecommuter success.

Finally I found a study which suggests that the personality of our spouse could help determine our success at work.  The study measured the five major personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness) of the participants and their occupational success as determined by job satisfaction, salary and promotions.  The study found that men or women with conscientious spouses generally were more pleased with their jobs, received more promotions and earned more over a four year period.  In fact conscientiousness was the only trait of the big five that had any impact.  Finally, score one more for conscientiousness!

Wait, there’s more affection coming!  In his book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Power of Hidden Character” Paul Tough has this to say about conscientiousness, “It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness, but at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”

To pile on more kudos for conscientiousness, a 2009 National Institute on Aging study revealed that higher income and job satisfaction were solely attributable to conscientiousness.

It may not be game, set, match yet in favor of conscientiousness, but I believe it has won the first two tiebreaks and it is up 5-0 in the third set.

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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