[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.
- 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.