I study extraordinary people for a living. I look for patterns to understand what separates average leaders, professionals, athletes, teachers, and parents from extraordinary ones. What’s the one thing that’s clear from my research and experience? Exceptional people typically possess a healthy dose of each of the following five character traits: responsibility, persistence, delayed gratification, a thirst for knowledge, and conviction.
Let’s discuss each briefly.
1. Exceptional People Are Responsible.
First, people who sustain success over long periods of time take responsibility for their actions. They are much less likely to blame others. The first question they usually ask is, “What might I have done to cause this outcome?” or “What could I have done differently to produce a more favorable outcome?” As a result, they tend to learn from their mistakes and improve. In my experience, and from my work with senior leaders, I believe that responsibility is a critical driver of long-term effectiveness.
2. Exceptional People Have Grit.
Second, because extraordinary people assume their actions can directly affect outcomes, they tend to persist for much longer than those who doubt their ability to influence or alter situations. This quality of persistence, or grit, has been shown to independently drive effectiveness.
3. Exceptional People Delay Gratification.
Third, exceptional people believe they’ll be rewarded through persistent effort, so they’re willing to delay gratification. Delayed gratification has received a lot of attention as a major driver of effectiveness.
4. Exceptional People Seek Out Information.
Fourth, extraordinary people have a thirst for knowledge and seek out information. Believing that their actions can shape their circumstances, they see data as critical, even if the data may not be immediately useful. Average performers, on the other hand, believe that their circumstances are more likely to be affected by luck or fate. This group is less motivated to seek out information, even if it’s potentially helpful. In contrast, successful people are learners. They have a growth mindset. They use failure or setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than reasons to give up.
5. Exceptional People Hold Deeply Held Beliefs.
Finally, people who sustain high levels of performance over time almost always possess a high degree of conviction. Convinced they can shape every situation they face, they are less likely to be persuaded to change unless presented with information that convinces them that their position isn’t accurate. The great leaders who have defined history — think: Galileo, Gandhi, and Churchill — were those who had the conviction to challenge the conventional wisdom of their times.