David Robson’s BBC article The secrets of the ‘high-potential’ personality hi-lights new psychological research that Ian MacRae and Adrian Furnham of University College London have done. They identified six traits that are consistently linked to workplace success, which they have now combined into the High Potential Trait Inventory (HPTI).

The traits are: conscientiousness, adjustment, ambiguity acceptance, curiosity, risk approach (or courage), and competitiveness.

Robson writes that “together, these six traits consolidate most of our understanding to date on the many different qualities that influence work performance, particularly for those setting their sights on leadership.” However, MaeRae points out that taken to extremes, each trait may also have limitations.

MaeRae’s point seems to emphasize a more universal principle we need to pay attention to: balance. Taken to extremes, any strength becomes a weakness, and vice versa. Let’s look at the six traits below:

1. Conscientiousness:

  • Pro: detail oriented; commit to plans and carry them out
  • Con: lost in details; too rigid and inflexible

2. Adjustment:

  • Pro: adjust oneself to blend with situations
  • Con: adjust and blend too much and lose core value drivers

3. Ambiguity acceptance:

  • Pro: deal with uncertainty; openness; stress resilience
  • Con: not knowing where you stand; stretching too far from your comfort zone

4. Curiosity:

  • Pro: value creativity and learning; flexible
  • Con: devalue the goal; easily distracted from seeing projects through to completion

5. Risk approach (or courage):

  • Pro: engage stress and risk
  • Con: get to far into risk creating inappropriate learning experiences

6. Competitiveness:

  • Pro: compete with others as a way to draw out the best that’s within you
  • Con: compete with others to make your ego feel important and others less so.

Workplace success includes setting goals and learning as we work toward them. Striving for a goal needs to be balanced with enjoying the process as we’re striving for it. Finding this balance helps us utilize high-potential traits in optimal ways. We’re conscientious about the goal and what we’re doing; we adjust to changing situations as we move toward the goal; we deal with ambiguity from a foundation of knowing where we stand; we’re curious about what we can learn as we work toward the goal; we’re willing to engage risk in small steps; and we compete to learn more about ourselves.

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