Leadership: on Conscientiousness

By | April 27, 2019

[April 27, 2019] What matters most in a leader’s development is not how much information we can cram into his (or her) brain, but whether we can help them develop their character. It should, therefore, come as no surprise, that the main theme of this leadership blog is to help develop that character. Conscientiousness, however, is the greatest predictor of success.

“People high in conscientiousness get better grades in high school and college; they commit fewer crimes, and they stay married longer.” – Paul Tough, Canadian-American writer and broadcaster

Intelligence is also a predictor of success. However, personality qualities such as persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit, self-confidence, what we call conscientiousness are the main noncognitive skills that better enable long-term success in all endeavors of life. Psychologists call these personality traits. I like to call them ‘character.’1

Military leaders who show an ability to control their impulses and delay gratification rather than giving in to immediate rewards that often produce undesirable long-term consequences reach greater rank and responsibility quicker. Such leaders are very organized, rarely late, and are excellent at making plans and sticking to them.

There has been the growth of leadership development programs in both the civilian commercial and military sectors over the past three decades. Some of these emphasize a data-driven methodology that gets short-term leadership results. But those that put those that accentuate what we see in conscientiousness have the greatest and best long-term effects.

The question most that I get asked of me regarding conscientiousness is whether the trait(s) is innate or learned. I’m asked that when I say that conscientiousness is the single biggest trait that predicts success. To me, the question is irrelevant because it matters not. What matters is that conscientiousness can be learned and can be learned at any stage in life.

Learn and study conscientiousness if you want to be successful. The best way to be successful is to find highly successful people and figure out how they differ from others and copy them.


  1. A person’s character matters. Are they trustworthy, loyal, cheerful, brave, helpful, etc.? Are they respectful, forgiving, tolerant, modest, etc.? Cultures differ in the level of emphasis we give each of these traits but what matters most across all cultures – and as far as we can tell also across all time – is the trait of conscientiousness and it predicting of success.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Leadership: on Conscientiousness

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    “The conscientious person is going to have a plan,” University of Illinois psychologist Brent Roberts says. “Even if there is a failure, they’re going to have a plan to deal with that failure.” I know, I just taught this in my High School class. 🙂

  2. Dennis Mathes

    Conscientious people also like to follow rules and norms. You can spot the conscientious kids in the classroom. They sit in their chairs, don’t complain, and don’t act out.

  3. Kenny Foster

    There’s a staggering amount of research linking conscientiousness with success. A National Institute of Mental Health study found that conscientious men earn higher salaries. The National Institute on Aging also found that conscientiousness is linked to income and job satisfaction. Other studies show that conscientiousness is the most important factor for finding and retaining employment.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      I agree. Research shows that arriving on time, doing thorough work, and being thoughtful toward your colleagues helps people regardless of their job function or workplace situation. “Being on top of deadlines is almost universally a good thing.”

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Simple…..The only major personality trait that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness. Good to hear from you again, Bryan!!

  4. Tony B. Custer

    I recommend that you, Gen. Satterfield, find some of the older Greek ancient philosophers that might support this. I think you will find they do. The words may be different but the idea is there. For example, take a look at Heraclitus (approx 500 BC) and known as the “weeping philosopher.”

  5. Lady Hawk

    Yes, a person’s character does matter. If you’re lazy, narcissistic, have a privileged attitude, dismissive of others, etc., then you will be unlikeable and not successful in life. Well, you might be successful if that is measured simplistically but in reality you won’t be and cannot be a real true person that is satisfied with their life.

  6. Xerxes I

    I’m sitting here with my dog at my feet, my coffee in my hand, and the newspaper sitting in the driveway. But reading your blog today, Gen. Satterfield has made me actually think. You have explained a great deal to me about how men and women can be successful in their lives; in marriage, in work, in play, all endeavors.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Yes, loved thearticle today. Conscientiousness does matter. Some call it grit or resilience. It goes by many names but the idea is the same; work hard, be on time, stay out of trouble, focus on a few goals and not many, and the world will come to you.

  7. Greg Heyman

    Many longitudinal psychological studies have shown that ‘conscientiousness’ is the best predictor of all things that are measureable and successful. Why we don’t teach what this means is a foreign idea to me.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Not sure what you exactly mean but I do agree that conscientiousness is the best predictor of success in all things.

  8. Maureen S. Sullivan

    “Highly conscientious employees do a series of things better than the rest of us,” says University of Illinois psychologist Brent Roberts, who studies conscientiousness.

  9. JT Patterson

    Are you sure you’re not a philosopher? Great article today.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Me too. That’s why I keep reading this blog.

      1. Fred Weber

        I think you will see that this is why most of us are here.

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