29 Characteristics of Highly Successful People

What makes someone successful? Is it luck, talent, or something more? While there’s no secret recipe for success, one thing is sure—it’s not just about working hard. It’s also about how you work and how you think.

In this article, we’ll look at the traits that people who do really well in life all seem to have. These traits aren’t locked away in some treasure chest reserved for the chosen few. They’re habits and ways of thinking anyone can pick up and work with.

So, let’s unpack the characteristics of highly successful people. You may discover that the path to the top is closer than you think. Are you ready to start the climb?

They Have a Clear Leadership Philosophy

Successful people are clear about their “why.” This means they know exactly why they do what they do. It’s not about making the most money or being the boss. It’s about making a difference and helping others. They see the big picture and make every decision with that picture in mind.

So, what’s their secret sauce? They’ve got a vision, values, and a unique way to talk about it all. These guide them like a map. When things get tough, and boy, do they get tough, this philosophy keeps them moving forward, no matter what.

And let’s not forget, they’re all about sharing this with the team. Successful leaders point at the moon, making sure everyone is looking up, not down at their feet.

"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."

— David Leonhardt | President, THGM Writers

They Set Clear and Specific Goals

Now, let’s talk about goals. Successful people are pros at setting clear and specific ones. Not just any goals, but the kind you can measure.

No vague ideas; they’re precise. “I want to double my reading this year” is their style, not “I want to read more.” They know by setting detailed goals, they’re more likely to cross the finish line, and that’s a sweet feeling!

Here’s how you can get in on this action:

  • Write down your goal. No fluff; be specific.
  • Break it into bite-sized tasks that you can tackle one by one.
  • Give yourself a deadline because a goal without a time limit is just a dream.

It’s all about making your goals something you can touch, measure, and celebrate when you nail them.

"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."

— Richelieu Dennis | Founder & CEO, Sundial Brands

They Have a Strong Work Ethic

Successful folks work hard. Period. But it’s not about pulling all-nighters or being busy just for the sake of it. They’re smart about it. They focus on what really matters. They show up, day in and day out, and give their tasks everything they’ve got.

Here’s how they do it:

  • They start on time—no excuses.
  • They focus—no scrolling through social media when there are things to do.
  • They finish their tasks—they don’t leave stuff half-baked.

Think of it like a bike race. You’ve got to pedal constantly if you want to stay ahead. Sure, it’s tough, but hey, who said winning was easy?

They Prioritize Health and Well-being

You know that feeling when you’re all charged up and ready to take on the world? That’s how successful people want to feel as much as possible because they know running on empty gets them nowhere. They treat their body like VIPs—healthy food, enough sleep, and staying active.

Balance is key here. Just start by choosing one thing to improve, like swapping chips for an apple or turning in half an hour earlier at night. Simple changes have a big impact.

Taking care of your body and mind is not just healthy living 101; it’s also success 101.

"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."

— Tina Willis | Owner, Tina Willis Law

They Have a Growth Mindset

Successful people love learning and are not afraid of mistakes because that’s just another way to learn. It’s like they have a sticky note in their brain that says, “Never stop growing.” They believe skills can be developed with effort and persistence.

What does this look like day to day?

  • When they don’t know something, they find out how to do it.
  • They listen to feedback, even if it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, because they know it helps them improve.
  • They push themselves out of their cozy comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens!

And they’re always curious. They’ll dive into books, courses, podcasts—whatever it takes to find a solution. It’s not just about formal education. Life’s their classroom, and every experience is a lesson.

"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. Individuals with a growth mindset 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."

— Hannah Gentile | Entrepreneur | Mindset Coach

They Are Passionate and Driven by Purpose

Now, let’s switch gears to the fuel behind the engine: passion and purpose. Successful people have a fire in their belly for what they do. It’s like their work is their favorite hobby.

And here’s the kicker: their passion is infectious. They don’t just keep the excitement to themselves. They spread it around like confetti. 

Working with them, you can’t help but feel you’re part of something bigger. It’s like being on a team where everyone’s pumped to score the winning goal, not just for the trophy but for the love of the game.

"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."

— David Leonhardt | President, THGM Writers

They Have a Strong Sense of Self-discipline

You know how sometimes you really want that extra slice of cake but decide to save it for later? That’s self-discipline, and successful folks have tons of it. It’s like they have an inner coach keeping them on track, making sure they’re not swayed by every distraction that comes their way.

This isn’t about missing out on fun. It’s about choosing what’s more important in the long run. They set boundaries for themselves and stick to them.

It’s also not just about work. This self-discipline spills over into their personal lives too. They know when to say no to a night out if it means a refreshed start the next day. But don’t get it twisted; they know how to party when the time’s right.

They Are Emotionally Intelligent

Emotionally intelligent people handle ups and downs with a calm you wish you could bottle and sell. It’s not about hiding emotions. Instead, it’s about understanding feelings—theirs and others’—and reacting to them wisely

For successful people, this means working smoothly with others, solving problems without drama, and solidifying friendships and work relationships.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Listen, and I mean really listen when people talk.
  • Notice how others feel, and don’t be afraid to ask about it.
  • Pay attention to what’s not being said—body language can shout louder than words.
  • Show genuine interest in those around you. What’s the story behind their day?

They Are Resilient and Persevere Through Challenges

Think of resilience as that bouncy ball you had as a kid. No matter how hard it hits the floor, it comes right back up. That’s how successful people deal with life’s knocks. They face setbacks, sure, but they don’t let them stick around. Instead, they bounce back and keep moving.

They view challenges as puzzles to solve, not roadblocks. Hit a wall? They’ll start looking for a ladder, a tunnel, or maybe they’ll just build a door. The point is that giving up isn’t in their vocabulary.

Life will always have its share of rainy days, but it’s about how they dance in the rain, not waiting for the storm to pass.

"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."
— Suzanne Evans | Founder, Driven, Inc | Author, "The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything"

They Have a Positive Attitude and Mindset

Successful people aren’t living in a bubble of eternal sunshine. They have their down days like everyone else. But the difference is that they don’t let those down days define them.

A positive attitude shields them from the darts of doubt and negativity. It’s not about ignoring problems but facing them with a we got this” spirit.

And their mindset? It’s wired for Yes, I can. If life were a game, they’re playing to win, not just to play. This positive lens through which they view the world fuels them to chase after what they want with hope and grit. It’s contagious and inspires others to start seeing the glass as half full, too.

"The best leaders I have ever interacted with have always been able to keep a sense of optimism through thick and thin... 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."

— Walt Capell | President & Owner, Workers Compensation Shop

They Practice Self-reflection and Self-awareness

Now, this is where it gets deep. Successful people know themselves like the back of their hand. It’s like they have an internal mirror constantly reflecting on their thoughts, actions, and emotions. 

Self-reflection for them is a daily ritual. It’s a chance to:

  • Check-in with themselves
  • Set intentions
  • Align their actions with their goals
  • Ask tough questions and be brutally honest with the answers

And self-awareness? It’s their compass. It helps them navigate through life, making decisions that are true to who they are and what they stand for. 

"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."

— Hannah Gentile | Entrepreneur | Mindset Coach

They Are Proactive and Take the Initiative

Successful people don’t wait for a green light in life—they go ahead and press the button themselves. Being proactive means, they grab the steering wheel and drive.

Being proactive means they’re always a step ahead. 

  • Got an idea? They’re already on it. 
  • See a problem? They’re fixing it before it turns into a big mess.
  • Got a task? They don’t wait around. They tackle it head-on.

It’s like they’re saying, “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Make the moment perfect.

They Have a Future-oriented Vision

Imagine building a time machine not to change the past but to create a better future. That’s kind of what successful people do in their minds. They have this ability to look ahead, to envision not just what is but what could be.

They don’t just think about tomorrow or next week. They’re planning years, even decades ahead. They share this vision, inspiring others to see beyond the horizon, too. This is what sets them apart.

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?"

Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Emeritus | Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)

They Take Calculated Risks

Now, hold your horses; we’re not talking about bungee jumping without a rope here. Taking calculated risks means they do their homework, weigh the pros and cons, and then decide if it’s a risk worth taking.

Getting good at this risk-taking business means:

  • Doing research. Know what you’re jumping into.
  • Asking “what if” and being ready with a Plan B… and maybe a Plan C.
  • Being willing to step out of your comfort bubble. It might just be the best step to ever take.

Think of it as trying a new, exotic food. There’s a chance you might not like it, but there’s also a chance you’ll discover your new favorite dish. That’s the kind of risk we’re talking about—ones that have the potential to open new doors, bring new opportunities, and, yes, sometimes teach hard but valuable lessons.

They Are Adaptable and Open to Change

Successful people are like chameleons; they adapt. When plans change, they don’t throw a fit; they adjust and move forward.

Being open to change means they’re always ready for the next curveball life throws at them. If one door closes, they’re already looking for another door…or a window…or maybe they’ll just build a whole new door.

This adaptability allows them to thrive in nearly any situation, turning “Oh no” moments into “Aha” ones.

They Are Excellent Communicators

Imagine being able to share your thoughts and ideas in a way that everyone around you not only understands but gets excited about. That’s the level of communication skills successful people have. They craft clear, compelling messages.

Good communication for them isn’t just about talking; it’s also about listening. They’re the ones in meetings who listen more than they speak, absorbing everything before contributing their insights.

And when they do speak? They’re clear, concise, and to the point. No beating around the bush. Whether it’s giving a presentation or just a casual chat by the water cooler, they know how to engage their audience, making every word count.

"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."

— Sanem Ahearn | Head of Marketing, Colorescience

They Practice Effective Time Management

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it also zips by when you’re busy not managing it right. Successful people are like time wizards. They get 24 hours just like the rest of us, but somehow, they make each hour pack a punch. It’s all about priorities, knowing what needs their attention, and what can wait.

Here’s how they manage their time like a true boss:

  • They plan their day the night before.
  • They zone in on the big tasks first. 
  • They remember to take breaks. 
"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."

— TyAnn Osborn | Founder, Osborn Consulting Group, LLC

They Are Skilled at Networking and Building Relationships

Networking isn’t just about collecting business cards or likes on social media; it’s about making real connections. Successful people know this. They’re collecting and sharing valuable insights, support, and laughter. 

They’re genuinely interested in other people’s stories, challenges, and successes. And it’s not a one-and-done deal—nope, they keep the conversation going, checking in and lending a hand long after the first hello.

Here are a few tips to get your networking game on point:

  • Be the one who says hello first. A “Hey, how’s it going?” can work wonders.
  • Really listen when someone talks. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak.
  • Stay in touch. A quick message or a friendly coffee invite keeps the relationship alive.

Building a network is less about networking and more about connecting. Think of it as making friends, not contacts.

They Are Creative Problem-solvers

When problems pop up, successful individuals don’t just throw their hands up. Nope, they get creative. They’re like detectives, looking at the clues to find solutions nobody else has thought of. Their creativity in problem-solving comes from asking the right questions and looking at things from different angles.

And trust me, they’re not afraid to think outside the box, around the box, and even tear the box apart if it means getting to a solution. It’s this relentless pursuit of solutions that sets them apart.

They Practice Fairness and Honesty in All Dealings

Integrity is non-negotiable for those who truly succeed. It’s like having a moral compass that guides them to do the right thing, even when no one’s watching. Whether it’s a business deal or everyday interactions, they keep it 100. Why? Because they understand that trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, and they treat it like gold.

They’re the ones who: 

  • Admit when they’re wrong
  • Give credit where it’s due
  • Would rather lose out on a deal than compromise their values

This steadfast commitment to fairness and honesty earns them respect and loyalty, making others more willing to work with them again and again.

"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."

Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Emeritus | Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)

They Have Confidence

Walking into a room with your head held high isn’t just for movie stars and CEOs. Successful people have this kind of confidence in spades. 

But let’s clear something up: it’s not about bragging or showing off. It’s a quiet certainty, a belief in their own abilities. This confidence helps them to take on challenges, speak up when they have ideas, and stand firm in their decisions.

Boosting your confidence can start with small steps:

  • Remember your wins, even the small ones. They all count.
  • Practice what you’re good at and improve what you’re not so hot at.
  • Encourage yourself. Sometimes, you’ve gotta be your own cheerleader.

They Show Concern for the Welfare and Growth of Subordinates

Great leaders aren’t just about climbing to the top; they’re about bringing everyone up with them. They genuinely care about the people they work with. It’s like being part of a family where the success of one is the success of all.

They invest time and resources into developing their team, knowing that the growth of their people is the growth of the company. It’s like planting a garden and nurturing every plant, not just the ones that catch the eye immediately.

This concern isn’t just lip service. They listen, provide constructive feedback, and always look for ways to help their team members shine. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued and motivated to give their best.

"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... Exceptional leaders are adept at harnessing the power of the team!""

Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Emeritus | Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources (Retired)

They Have a High Level of Accountability

Accountability is the name of the game. Successful people take ownership of both their wins and their blunders. This honesty creates trust and respect, and it shows leadership by example.

They up their accountability game by:

  • Making commitments you can stick to. It’s better to promise less and deliver than overpromise and underdeliver.
  • When things go south, they don’t play the blame game. They look at what they could’ve done differently.
  • Learning from their mistakes. Every error has a lesson tucked inside.
"Life can often deal us unforeseen and terrible hands. But nobody who is successful in anything does anything other than take personal responsibility for their problems."

— Nick Mitchell | Founder & CEO, Ultimate Performance

They Are Financially Literate and Make Smart Money Decisions

Money talks, but successful people know how to have a conversation with it. Financial literacy for them means knowing how to budget, invest, and save, turning financial goals into financial achievements. They’re the type who read the fine print, ask the tough questions, and plan for the future today.

When they face financial decisions, big or small, they weigh their options, consider the outcomes, and choose what aligns with their goals. It’s like playing chess with money, thinking several moves ahead.

They Select the Right Support Team

No person is an island, and that’s especially true for those who make waves. Successful individuals understand the power of teamwork and make it a point to surround themselves with the right crew. 

It’s like forming a dream team—everyone brings their strength to the game, whether it’s creativity, number crunching, or people skills.

But it’s more than just hiring the best. It’s about finding people who: 

  • Share your vision and values
  • Complement your strengths 
  • Compensate for your weaknesses

In essence, it’s about surrounding themselves with a tribe that challenges them to grow and cheers them every step of the way.

"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."

Galit Ventura Rozen, M.A. | Business Performance Expert | Professional Speaker

They Stay Organized

Staying on top of things doesn’t mean you have to color-code your sock drawer (unless that’s your jam). But for successful people, being organized isn’t about being a neat freak; it’s about creating systems that allow them to effectively manage their time, resources, and responsibilities.

From calendars and to-do lists to clear workflows and decluttered workspaces, they create an environment where productivity thrives.

This level of organization frees them from the chaos of the daily grind. It turns potential stress into streamlined success, proving that a little order can indeed go a long way.

They Seek Out Mentors and Learn From Others

Nobody climbs to the top alone. Successful people know this and actively seek out mentors who can guide them along the way. Mentors provide: 

  • Invaluable insights
  • Hard-won wisdom
  • Open doors to new opportunities

But it’s not a one-way street. Successful people also take the time to listen, learn, and apply the lessons shared with them.

Moreover, they understand the importance of being a mentor themselves, passing on the knowledge, and helping others climb their own mountains.

"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."

— Beverly Friedmann | Content Manager, FoodSubscriptions

They Avoid Burnout

Staying fired up without burning out is a fine art. Successful people know their limits. They understand the power of a well-timed break and that being “always on” doesn’t mean being productive; it often leads to the opposite.

It could be as simple as: 

  • Taking regular breaks. Even a 5-minute walk or a coffee can reboot your system.
  • Setting boundaries. Work time is work time; downtime is your time.
  • Finding relaxing activities that recharge your batteries. It could be yoga, reading, or jamming on the guitar.

This downtime isn’t laziness; it’s an investment in their well-being and, by extension, their success.

"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." 

Thomas Adams | Digital Marketing Consultant, Tech Prosperity, LLC

They Let Go of the Things That Don’t Serve Them

Holding onto things that no longer serve our purpose is like carrying a backpack filled with rocks on a hike; it slows you down. 

Successful people have learned the art of letting go, whether it’s outdated goals, toxic relationships, or old grudges. They keep their load light and their focus forward. They ask themselves: Is this helping me grow? If the answer’s no, they find the courage to let it go. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.

Excerpt From the Expert

“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 of 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.”

— Suzanne Garber | Co-Founder, Gauze

Frequently Asked Questions

How does one develop a strong work ethic?

A strong work ethic can be developed by establishing professional values, setting personal standards for work quality, and consistently striving to exceed expectations. It involves dedication, reliability, and the commitment to do whatever it takes to complete a task well.

Does success always lead to happiness?

Not necessarily. While achievement can bring satisfaction, true happiness often comes from a sense of purpose, meaningful relationships, and a balance between personal and professional life.

It’s important to define what happiness means to you and not just equate it with traditional markers of success.

How frequently should I self-reflect to achieve success?

Regular self-reflection is important for continuous growth and achieving success. This can be a weekly or monthly process, where you assess your progress, identify areas for improvement, and realign with your goals.

How do I know if I am making progress towards becoming more successful?

Success is typically measured by achieving set goals, personal growth, and how your actions positively impact others. If you consistently meet or exceed your objectives and feel fulfilled, you’re likely on the right path.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a rundown of the go-to habits and ways of thinking that mark the path to success. It’s not fancy or hidden away — these are simple, solid steps anyone can take.

Remember, it’s not about being perfect or never facing setbacks. It’s about sticking to it, learning from each step, and keeping your eyes on your goals.

Now that you know what successful people do, why not give these traits a try? You’re already on your way just by reading this. Keep moving forward, keep learning, and most of all, believe in yourself. You’ve got this!

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Robby is a multimedia editor at UpJourney with a journalism and communications background.

When she's not working, Robby transforms into an introverted art lover who indulges in her love for sports, learning new things, and sipping her favorite soda. She also enjoys unwinding with feel-good movies, books, and video games. She's also a proud pet parent to her beloved dog, Dustin.