What do highly successful people have in common?
Do they possess specific attributes and traits that make them different from other people?
Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Emeritus
Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)
Based on my organizational experience, most highly successful leaders exhibit the following personality traits:
A future-oriented vision.
Exceptional leaders consider these questions and develop strategies based upon the answers they formulate. They ask themselves the following: How could this organization be improved?
Given our current situation, what should be our future direction? What are our short-term and long-term goals? How can those goals be achieved in an effective, efficient manner?
A clear, overarching leadership philosophy.
It is well-articulated and is followed at all times. The best leader that I ever worked for had several “rules” of personal leadership that were often repeated. The one that always stuck in my mind was, “Results are more important than style.”
When all of an organization’s members understand the leader’s philosophy, organizational decision-making is streamlined, and group efforts are more easily coordinated.
Related: 24 Best Leadership Books of All Time
Fairness and honesty in all dealings.
This is with subordinates, colleagues, superiors, customers, suppliers, other organizational stakeholders, and the public at large. Integrity creates trust. And an environment based on trust is a prerequisite for organizational success. When leaders say what they mean and mean what they say, the organizational trust will flourish.
On the other hand, unfulfilled promises destroy trust; and once lost, trust can be extremely difficult to restore. Further, when leaders aren’t trusted, team effort usually becomes half-hearted.
Concern for the welfare and growth of subordinates.
Leaders rarely accomplish great things on their own. So they know that when they take care of their people (and help colleagues and subordinates succeed in reaching their own goals), nearly all of those folks will reciprocate.
In an overwhelming majority of cases, organizational success is the result of a group effort — and exceptional leaders are adept at harnessing the power of the team!
Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls
In my experience, here are the top characteristics of people who feel successful in their lives and careers:
Our work and personal lives are in sync.
These lives share common values and give us meaning and purpose.
We value our time dearly and spend it wisely with people and activities that bring us joy.
We will outsource things and spend money to ensure we have more time to do what we love with the people we like to be with. We recognize that money comes and goes but time goes one direction only.
We work hard on things we care about and also plan downtime to recharge on a regular basis.
We savor vacations, sharing meals with family and friends, hobbies, the simplicity of a walk on a beautiful day, a good book or a great conversation.
We give back and volunteer to help others.
We are grateful and appreciate our lives and want to help others achieve their dreams to by sharing our gifts with them. There are so many ways to give back that enrich your life by helping others. I find the more you give the more you get.
We find ways to laugh often.
Highly successful people have gotten where they are because they work hard. However, is there a recipe to the secret sauce that explains what else is needed, beyond the sweat the and tears?
Selecting the right support team.
All successful leaders have a rock-star team behind them. Even though some entrepreneurs find it difficult to let go and delegate, it also frees up their time to do the tasks in which they excel. A good rule of thumb is to look at your everyday task load. If there is something that you don’t feel you are doing at 100%, hire someone for that role.
Most highly successful people are organized. In fact, you’ll rarely find someone who throws organization to the wind and can keep up with their day-to-day activities. This is why it is imperative to use technology to your advantage.
Download apps that can take even 10 minutes from your busy day, and use an email client that can keep all of your emails organized in one place. Task management apps like Asana, Trello or Teamwork can help keep your team on the same page, your tasks completed on time and your project on track.
Successful people know that it’s impossible to work non-stop without a much-needed break – and I don’t mean for lunch. Take some time off and completely disconnect. If you have selected the right team, you can easily hand off the reigns to your number-two, so you can regroup and return better than ever!
Owner, Tina Willis Law
Giving up is never an option.
I really think the most common characteristic of highly successful people is that they never give up and they work insanely hard toward their goals, although not always in the most traditional ways. Those are cliche statements but they really are true.
They usually do not believe any naysayers, when it comes to their goals and visions, which is why they usually don’t give up, even when others might, or usually do.
At the same time, most highly successful people take care of themselves, too, which might mean taking time away from work on a regular basis. But that is part of what allows them to flourish, and really “go after it,” with extreme gusto, when they are working.
Founder, Driven, Inc | Author, The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything
Want to know what makes you successful? It’s simple. Confidence. The person who has the most confidence will always stand out the most. To be highly successful, you have to be an expert and know every aspect of your business.
This means subscribing to (and reading!) research in your field, staying current on the news, and knowing how what’s going in the world affects your industry. If you position yourself as the expert, you must *actually* be the expert. Basically, if you’re going to talk the talk, then walk the walk!
Being the expert goes way beyond just knowing your industry- it’s sharing that knowledge that really skyrockets your success. Want to become the go-to source?
Do your research, make sure you know your industry and share that knowledge consistently! One of the first signs of success is when people want to do business with you, want to know you, and want to share your expertise. Make that happen!
Self-confidence is important and only grows with action. The person with the most mistakes, failures, and foul-ups is usually the most certain person in the room because they know this: It is OK. It is all ok. No matter what. Knowing that in the end, it’s all ok is ultimate self-confidence.
Whether you are just starting out on your journey, or ready to launch yourself to the next level, keep this in mind: it is never going to go as perfect as you like. That’s why being the expert helps- it makes you more confident and assured because you have the knowledge to back up your wins.
There is no magic pill for success. It is about putting in the hard work, including all the attempts that didn’t go as planned and the failures, to be the one that stands out. Once you realize your biggest asset in your business is you, everything changes!
President & Owner, Workers Compensation Shop
The best leaders I have ever interacted with have always been able to keep a sense of optimism through thick and thin.
Now most of them have put in log hard well-thought-out work in order to achieve success. Much of their sense of optimism has come from this work, but this optimism helps leaders keep a positive attitude in the face of tough times.
This is because they believe in themselves, they believe in their organization, and they believe in the mission/plan they have in place. When other people are ready to throw in the towel, the best leaders roll up their sleeves not because they are harder workers, but because they believe in the end they are destined to succeed.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” This saying could not be truer when it comes to the need for a positive attitude in business.
Founder & CEO, Sundial Brands
Focus on making specific goals tied to measurement.
It took me a few years (and a few failures) to truly grasp the importance of this, but a goal that lacks specificity (including a plan, metrics and a timeline) is generally a goal unfulfilled.
Also, don’t be afraid to share your goals with those close to you—your team. In my case, that’s also been, my family. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your network to ask for help. It’s a great way to get new solutions and open wider doors.
We often keep our resolutions and goals to ourselves, not realizing that we can benefit from someone holding us accountable, encouraging us along the way or helping reach the goal faster and further, together.
President, THGM Writers
Highly successful people know what they stand for and they stick to their values.
For instance, if a key value is “respect”, they won’t take a path that disrespects people around them, even if that path would help them “get ahead”. If a key value is “harmony”, they will pass over a promotion to an adversarial position.
Sometimes we forget that success is measured not in dollars or in titles, but in moving through life achieving what we want to achieve. There is a well-known saying: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
We can be successful if we know what we want to achieve, who we want to be, how we want to interact with the world. Successful people of all walks of life, understand this. They know what their values are, and they strive to achieve them.
And so, a person becomes a teacher or trainer, because a top value is to help others learn. And nothing pleases a teacher more than to see a former student succeeding, for that is the teacher’s measure of success.
Gandhi was a raggedy man, but one of the most successful people who ever lived. He knew what he believed in. He knew what he wanted to achieve. And he achieved it in rags.
Related: What Are Core Values and How Do They Control My Life?
Founder, Silent Professionals
Whether you’re a small business or a giant corporation, everyone needs to take the time to keep learning.
Anyone who is a real leader or a business owner needs to take that to heart and regularly access their leadership, their development plan and listen to criticism. It’s not about making me happy, or telling me what I want to hear.
Corporate culture has become all about that. If you have that then you don’t have the right leadership culture.
No matter what success you have right now, you’ll succeed much more if you lead better or commit to leading better from here out. It may not be an immediate success but good leadership is supposed to take time.
Everybody needs to spend far more time focusing inwardly on how are they leading their people, how are they growing them, and how they’re setting them up for success.
If you as a leader and business owner, can’t honestly say to yourself, “I am trying to set these people up so that they can take over my job,” then you’re not leading correctly.
President, Conversations Media Group
Willingness to go the distance.
That means getting up early, working smart and using my time in a way that I am able to be productive and engaging, reaching my audience while also focusing on things that bring me personal joy.
Being in broadcasting and working as an online influencer I am always testing so that I am bringing value to my audience. This has definitely resulted in their being engaged and that just fuels my desire to do more.
It has to be bigger than you. If you can find something that you enjoy and can benefit others then you can’t help but be successful.
Founder, Osborn Consulting Group, LLC
Use time wisely.
One of my favorite things to teach my executive coaching clients is to ask “what is the highest and best use of my time?”
So often we look for the next great productivity hack designed to squeeze even more into an already packed day when the reality is that not everything is deserving of your time.
The most successful people judiciously guard their time and only spend it on highly valuable things, which are those activities that move you closer to goal achievement or enhance personal fulfillment. And you get to decide what is valuable.
Blocking out time to work on a creative brief might be the best use of your time on one day, and the next day an afternoon spent at the park with your family might be the most valuable. The point is that you get to decide.
Founder & CEO, Ultimate Performance
Successful people always take responsibility for their own actions.
We all sometimes indulge in self-indulgent self-pity. Some of us have great justifications for feeling sorry for ourselves. Life can often deal us unforeseen and terrible hands. But nobody who is successful in anything does anything other than takes personal responsibility for their problems.
I employ a lot of people and as the CEO of a global personal training business, we have worked closely with tens of thousands of people. That makes me a student – although certainly not a master – of what makes somebody successful.
Certainly what makes someone successful at sticking to a diet or any exercise program – but I think that can quite easily be extrapolated across other areas including business and relationships.
The consistent thing for everybody who is successful is that they don’t abdicate personal responsibility for anything they do. They don’t blame other people when things go wrong. The first thing they do is look at themselves.
President, The Talent Strategy Group
Rather than cherry-pick successful leaders and try to reverse-engineer their success, it’s easier to identify certain characteristics that are scientifically-proven to make anyone highly successful and do those.
My recent book from Harvard Business Review Publishing (8 Steps to High Performance) identified the eight most powerful, scientifically-proven steps someone can take to be more successful. A few obvious and less obvious ones:
Set big goals.
The scientific research is unbelievably clear – people who set big goals get bigger results. If you want to be more successful, this is the only place to start. But, set one or two big goals, not twenty, to ensure you’re successful. After you achieve those, you can set the next one or two.
Your boss is key to your success, whether you like it or not. People who have better relationships with their boss receive higher performance ratings and faster promotions regardless of their performance, according to the best research.
That doesn’t mean that sucking-up should be your “go to” strategy, but you should build a friendship with your boss the same way you would with anyone else.
People believe that we’re genuine even when we act in ways that were very uncomfortable with. If you’re asked to show up in a new way (i.e. an introvert having to be the life of the party), you are fully capable of demonstrating that behavior (and having others believe it).
Actors do it every day. They fake being happy, sad, scared, enraged. When you’re asked to do something you’re fundamentally afraid of doing, put on the actor’s “mask” and play that role like you want to win an Academy Award.
Owner & CEO, WebTek
They identify their most productive time.
In most forums with lists of characteristics of highly successful people, you’ll find at least one person telling you to wake up at a crazy early hour – like 4 am. While that may be effective for some, 4 am just isn’t realistic for most of us.
Instead, I challenge you to do some self-reflection, find your most productive times during the day, and get your most important things accomplished then.
For myself, I know I do my best work from around 7 am – 11 am, so that’s when I do my prioritized tasks for my web design and internet marketing company.
Just like how success is defined differently by different people, there’s really no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way to get there! Find what works for you, and stick with it!
They value their impact in other’s lives.
I carry around a quote in my wallet by Ralph Waldo Emerson which says:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.“
To have read this quote early in my professional career was critical to my own definition as success for it gave me the freedom, flexibility, and courage to define success as I want to see it—not my peers, neighbors or family.
Very often, we define success by material things, positions of power or titles, or accomplishments. Understanding that success is not necessarily about those things but rather, the impact we have on other’s lives is liberating and empowering.
As a result, I can confidently state that what others might perceive as the low times in my life (being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, living with a congenital heart defect) have been used to be the most successful times in my life (starting a company to help others in similar health quandaries), which I can then point back to the impact I am making in others’ lives. Resilience, courage, and involvement are the keys to success.
Co-Founder & CEO, El Mejor Trato
A highly successful person has resilience. Resilience is the characteristic of some materials to return to their original position after producing stress on them.
A successful person, like any ordinary mortal, has many hard moments. In those moments, he must choose what position to take. He will even sometimes have to deviate and leave his dream aside for a while.
However, the person finds a way out of all these situations, or recovers quickly from the blow and fight again for them. Then he is a resilient person.
A very important characteristic of resilient people is that they do not get carried away so easily by the tricks of their minds or their sentimentalism. He knows that his path can deviate, but that he can always go back to it.
Another important characteristic of these people is the high degree of self-confidence and in what they do, which is fundamental to find the strength with which to face the world.
Head of Marketing, Colorescience
Have big goals.
Having a vision defines a highly successful person. The ability to think optimistically in a grand scheme instead of dwelling on the small hardships in front of you creates a highly successful person.
If you ultimately think you will do great things by having big goals the small things won’t hold you back from achieving success. Make big plans and have big goals because highly successful people know to shoot for the moon because it doesn’t hurt to land in the stars.
Stop talking and listen.
Listening closely is a skill acquired over time by highly successful people. Everyone likes to talk and speak their opinion but highly successful people listen closely and form a better opinion after knowing the opinions of others.
Listening and learning will make you successful in any work environment so save your energy and let others do the talking.
Entrepreneur | Mindset Coach
Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies seem to show a correlation between happiness, and being more co-operative, creative, and flexible. This appeared to be linked to higher levels of career and financial success (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002).
Considering themselves lucky.
In an experimental study, participants were asked to rate how lucky they thought they were. Participants who rated themselves as higher in the good ol’ luck factor actually showed greater levels of success. In the second stage of the experiment, researchers took a group of participants and taught them methods of making themselves believe they were lucky. They were then followed up on, and it was shown that teaching yourself to think you’re lucky also increases success.
It is thought that this is due to two factors:
Risk Aversion. Believing you are lucky helps you take more opportunities because you are less held back by the fear of failure.
Negativity Bias. Believing you are lucky may reprogram your brain to see more positive events, opportunities, and outcomes. This, in turn, may help you to see a wider range of options, and take more chances.
Arguably the greatest factor in success. Grit is the ability to stick with something a persevere through challenges. A multitude of research has been done on what helps people succeed. Grit outdoes talent, intelligence, and support consistently.
It does not matter the field either, from spelling bee winners to athletes, to CEOs and Marines. Grit is what holds them all together. Grit is not just the ability to push through obstacles, it is also the ability to stick with something to see it through.
It is found that one of the key factors of Grit, is that people with it, tend to work harder on things they find tough. They allow themselves to sit in that uncomfortable space of not being good. Compared with the majority of us who like to reinforce things we already know how to do.
Having a growth mindset is really the foundation of most other areas of achieving success. Ask yourself a simple question – do you believe you are both with a certain level of intelligence, and you just use that to the best of your abilities or do you believe that intelligence is diverse and transient? That we can form and destroy neural connections all the time?
If you believe the later, that intelligence is changeable, able to be worked on, then you have a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets tend to work harder and longer on a task because they believe they will get it if they keep at it.
Growth mindset individuals are also more likely to use other people as resources, rather than see them as competition. They like to learn and grow from the experience of others.
If anyone has been following the work of Brene Brown you will know how important vulnerability is in success. Understanding and appreciating our flaws, and being authentic and open about them, helps us to grow and become better.
People who embrace vulnerability tend to be more creative, adaptive, flexible, make better leaders, and show higher levels of success.
We seem to think self-esteem is a predictor of success. However, what research is telling us is that self-esteem is very much determinant on external accolade and recognition.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, is all about being kind and understanding to your own current limitations. This enables successful people to bounce back quicker, practice self-care so they are at less risk of burnout or overwhelm, and have a greater sense of areas they need additional support or education in.
Keynote & Motivational Speaker | Author | Director, Empower India Academia
They prioritize morning power time.
Successful people have their morning prioritized, before looking at their phone and social feeds they spend time empowering their inner self & emotion by having a gratitude time to be thankful for what they already have.
Hearing powerful affirmations is another tool that reminds them to focus on the good and not on what’s not working, they then go about doing a quick work out or a walk followed by writing their thoughts & plan on a hard copy diary.
Whether it is Oprah, Tony Robbins or Jacko Willink, they follow a great morning power time to empower their entire day & performance
They schedule everything literally.
This means that they time every task on their daily list to avoid any element of procrastination, they then stick to it no matter what. When they are able to schedule it, the chances of doing the task becomes higher leading to more being done daily.
They are well networked.
A successful person knows his strength, however, he also knows his weakness, when he networks with people better than him from various fields he learns more than his competitors, he regularly attends events which helps him to network & connect & unashamedly seeks help whenever needed, ,he consistently builds relational capital rather then just focusing on financial capital .
He also goes about sharing his knowledge to others, this leads to goals beings achieved faster.
Courtney R. Beller
Lawyer, Fennemore Craig
A strong work ethic.
There is no job that is beneath you when something needs to get done. You just do it. I’ve been a document runner, a paralegal and an associate on a file, even as a partner. Anything it takes to get the task accomplished.
You need at least a little bit of fear.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that to be successful you need to be fearless. I disagree. I think having at least a little bit of fear, the kind that comes from knowing you have nothing and no one to fall back on if you don’t succeed, is a big factor in staying motivated and persevering, even when things get hard.
Business Performance Expert | Professional Speaker
As someone that is seen as highly successful not just in business, but also in life-work balance, I would say the characteristics of a highly successful person are:
Genuine and authentic.
A morning routine of self-care and a positive mindset.
Balance of work, personal time and family time.
Someone who is a leader but also a team player.
Someone who is aware of the value of their time and can say no to opportunities that are not directly related to their goals.
More than anything, a highly successful person is someone who is interested in sharing benefits with the people they work with and does not think of others as their competition.
Time Management and Productivity Coach
A successful person has a high level of accountability.
My definition of accountability is doing what you say you will do, by when you said you would do it. It may seem like a low bar, but it is the rarest characteristic I see in people, and those who have it always find success. The rare employees who have this trait are those who I would hire again in a heartbeat.
Certified Life Coach and Health & Wellness Expert, Maple Holistics
Life is all about balance, a work-life balance. Successful people know how to work hard in their work life. They are more career-oriented and future-minded. They know how to make the necessary short-term sacrifices to achieve their long-term goals.
Today’s world is all about immediate reward, but successful people are able to see beyond that. They are able to avoid any fun activities that don’t give them anything professionally in return.
In addition to working hard, successful people know how to follow through. Working hard without working until the end will just lead to unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business. Successful people don’t stop until the job is done. You can’t quit or give up too soon or you’ll be missing the chances to win.
Resilience is everything.
In business, ballet, karate, and life, resilience is everything. The ability to bounce back from setbacks is what distinguishes successes from failures.
The easy path is to let defamation, libel, abuse, and bullying behavior overwhelm and undermine one’s ability to do their work at their highest ability. The hard path is to see setbacks for what they are: challenges from
God designed to make one’s business stronger and oneself tougher. It takes incredible maturity and resilience to get through a difficult situation with one’s head held high. Through an experience of being viciously libeled, I’ve gained a steely determination to do extraordinarily, fantastically well in business.
If you look at some of the most successful businesspeople in the world, a lot of them had setbacks before they achieved their current level of success; Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, Sara Blakely, and Coco Chanel wouldn’t be who they are if not for resilience in the face of adversity. They may have fallen down seven times, but they got up that eighth time and have gone down in business history.
Digital Marketing Consultant, Tech Prosperity, LLC
Successful people know when to take a rest.
One of the most important characteristics, in my opinion, for highly successful people that aren’t talked about that often is a person’s ability to rest.
Everyone talks about how many hours successful people work, which is obviously very important, but equally important is how often these same people rest. Without taking time away from work and spending time thinking, dreaming, or doing leisure activities, our work can suffer greatly as we get burned out and suffer “brain fog”.
Winston Churchill managed to spend time at least once a day taking a nap in order to recharge and make extremely important decisions even while bombs were dropping in Europe during WWII. Similarly, Lyndon B. Johnson would schedule his days into 2 long “sessions” in order to ensure that he was able to take two long naps.
In short, people who value rest are typically able to perform at a high-level and become successful.
Content Manager, FoodSubscriptions
While there isn’t certainly just one single factor or hallmark of a successful person, there seem to be some common characteristics that highly successful people share and general commonalities. Here are some traits of highly successful people:
Despite any hurdles or setbacks along the way personally or professionally, highly successful people tend to act with steadfastness and maintain positive consistent efforts.
If a project doesn’t go as planned, successful people will continue on to the next project, and ask how they can continue to achieve despite any perceived failures or losses in the past. Personally, they will also continue to persevere despite any obstacles that may pose challenges.
Optimism and confidence are both keys to being highly successful on a day to day, personally and professionally.
By acting with the assertion and having a positive sense of mind and self, you’ll inspire others around you and feel better about your own leadership capabilities and work. Optimism, positivity, and confidence are all essential traits that make up any highly successful personality style.
Related: What are the Benefits of Positive Thinking?
Strong communication skills.
Highly successful people communicate through active listening skills and clear and effective communication styles. Rather than talking at someone, they use tone and clear speech to effectively communicate points with an assertion.
This doesn’t mean the overuse of business jargon, it simply means practicing healthier communication styles. This helps others understand you in business and in life, and is key to success.
Highly successful people have strong work ethics and are very motivated, with a strong understanding that determination is a key factor in business and in life.
By not letting setbacks get you down and by remaining determined, with your “eye on the prize,” you can really achieve higher levels of productivity and success in your field of choice.
Highly successful people are typically great mentors, and they’re also open to mentorship and learning themselves. Without mentorship in our selected fields, we would never experience new challenges, learning, or growth.
Growth and learning opportunities are the key to success. So typically, a highly successful person is also a strong mentor, teacher, and leader.
Frequently Asked Questions
How important is self-reflection in achieving success?
Self-reflection is an integral part of success because it can help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth.
By reflecting on your experiences and actions, you can better understand yourself and your goals and make more informed decisions about moving forward.
Self-reflection can also help you identify patterns or habits that may be holding you back and develop strategies to overcome them. By reflecting on your path to success, you can gain valuable insights that can help you be even more successful in the future.
Can success be measured?
Yes, success can be measured, but the definition of success can vary from person to person. Measuring success often depends on the specific goals or accomplishments a person has set for themselves.
Success can be measured by progress toward a specific goal, reaching a high level of performance in a specific area, or achieving a particular outcome or result. Success can also be measured by how much impact a person has on their community or industry.
Success is best measured by defining what it means to you and tracking your progress toward that goal. It is important to remember that success is not just about achieving a specific goal or outcome but also about the journey to get there and the personal growth and development that takes place along the way.
Can success be sustained over the long term?
Being successful over the long term can be challenging, as success often requires continuous effort and commitment. However, there are some strategies that can help:
Maintain a growth mindset: A growth mindset involves a willingness to learn, adapt and grow. This can help you stay open to new ideas and opportunities and avoid becoming complacent.
Prioritize self-care: Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, can help you maintain the energy and focus you need to succeed in the long run.
Look for challenges: If you keep looking for challenges and opportunities for growth, you can avoid stagnation and maintain your momentum.
Adapt to change: The world is constantly changing, and adapting to those changes can be the key to long-term success. Stay agile and flexible in your approach, and be ready to shift when needed.
Reflect on your journey: Reflecting on your journey towards success and identifying what has worked well for you in the past will help you make informed decisions and stay on track toward your goals.
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