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Six traits of high flyers according to Deloitte

High flyers are workers that experience faster career development compared to their peers. Career development is a prestigious goal and personal development books are increasingly popular but they rely on anecdotal examples and fall short of being useful in practice. As large-scale organizational research is scarce, Deloitte researched the traits that their high flyers share based on a psychometric database on over 20,000 managers in their 2020 Human Capital Consulting study.

These are highlighted traits that the high flyers shared according to the study:

  1. Lower vulnerability to stress

  2. Generally more extroverted behavior

  3. Less fear of criticism and failing openly

  4. More self-awareness both emotionally and conscientiously

  5. Open to new actions

  6. More optimistic

What do these traits tell about skill?

While the listing is insightful in itself, some explanation is needed. The ideal high flyer shares all these traits and by adopting at least some of them you will most likely experience better career development. I have analyzed each trait below and provided scientific research to back up why these traits translate to superior performance.

1. Lower vulnerability to stress is massively beneficial

Stress is one of the most pervasive problems of modern society as it affects the productivity, energy, focus, creativity and even personality of a worker negatively. Not only does stress affect your work, but it creeps into your free time as well: Stress is linked to serious health issues like memory problems, cognition and learning problems and issues with sleep. It’s safe to say that less stress is more success.

Greater stress tolerance is very understandable from a perspective of productivity: Being stressed at work means spending more time worrying than doing the work itself. On the contrary, a person with high stress tolerance spends less time concerned and spends more time working instead, thus being more productive.

2. Why does extroverted behavior matter in a career context?

An important distinction needs to be made first: extroverted behavior does not mean being an extrovert. It just means that there is more extroversion or social behaviour compared to their peers. Introverts can exhibit extroverted behavior occasionally as much as extroverts exhibit introverted behaviour. What matters is that in a work context, an open and agreeable personality is a great plus as it facilitates teamwork by making communication and working together easier.

As this study was conducted on managers climbing the corporate ladder, it is important to note that extroversion is crucial in a managerial position: leaders must be able to interact well with the entire team for the group to function at maximum efficiency – being socially open and unreserved helps guarantee this structured function.

3. Less fear of criticism and failing openly

We’ve all experienced some fear related to criticism or failure at some point. Having to give a presentation in front of the class or asking for a pay raise at work – there are countless of examples. A little stress is healthy as it’s designed to help us perform better: Initially, stress releases dopamine, improving your performance for the daunting task at hand.

However, an excessive fear of criticism and failure can be paralyzing: Nobody wants to fail and be criticized, that’s human nature. But if this fear leads to being so afraid that you stop suggesting new things and trying out new approaches entirely, it slows you down. You no longer learn new things because you aren’t trying things out, and it slows your growth significantly.

Not being afraid to fail and just embracing it leads to more mistakes and failure, yes, but each of those hardships develop your skills if you try to learn from them. You will grow faster this way than you have ever thought you would by avoiding mistakes and embarrassment. I have written a more comprehensive article on the benefits of failure just recently, so check it out for a more in-depth analysis.

4. Being more self-aware both emotionally and conscientiously

Self-awareness is an extremely vital tool: You can reflect on your own improvement and faults, but also to understand your feelings. This awareness ties heavily into extroversion which was mentioned before. Usually, the most despised co-workers are unpredictable and negative people that have occasional outbursts of not being in control of their feelings.

No-one wants to be around negative people, especially around a manager that makes them uncomfortable. Being emotionally self-aware leads to identifying your emotional fatigue and being able to control your feelings better without blowing off steam on your colleagues. Even if you accidentally took your anger out on an innocent colleague, your self-awareness would most likely kick in: You would quickly realize that your emotional reaction was unreasonable prompting an apology.

From a conscientious standpoint, believing in the quality of your own work is crucial. According to a recent meta-analysis from 2019 gathering over a century's worth of research data, conscientiousness is determined to be the most potent non-cognitive predictor of occupational performance. High flyers are, after all, in addition to being social traits also competent workers. They often produce work of pristine quality, and that standard is most often thanks to their conscientiousness: giving maximal effort in regards to your projects because you believe in yourself and consider your work important often leads to fantastic results.

5. An open approach to new actions

Innovation is what drives progress: The reason why companies continue to exist is that they keep innovating and developing their work so that customers keep buying products and services that continue to match their evolving needs. The same principle applies to workers as they strive to match their gradually developing industries by updating their skills.

An open attitude towards challenges at work might lead to discovering more efficient methods to deal with them. Sure, experimentation is risky, but stepping out of your conventional framework is often extremely useful: If you don’t discover a more efficient approach to the problem, you can still reflect on how it is usually solved and particularly if there is room for improvement in that dimension.

6. Being optimistic at work

Optimism is one of the most underrated traits as constantly growing research indicates numerous benefits: Not only do optimists get promoted more often at work, but they also get paid more on average compared to their pessimist colleagues (although the exact link between the two variables is still slightly unclear).

A study from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that optimistic sales professionals outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. I suppose that optimism grants much more energy and tenacity to withstand failure: Optimists aren’t afraid to fail as their positive outlook maintains the unwavering confidence and motivation to continue. The benefits of optimism also extend to private life but that’s a larger topic designated for another article.


I can confidently admit that I do not know enough about the formation of individual human personality, but analyzing these traits and comparing them to yourself is extremely beneficial from my own experience:

For the longest time, I used to be afraid of criticism and failure to a sheepish extent: My fear would limit me from testing my ideas because I was so afraid of the reaction that I would get. However, I have grown much more ambitious in the recent years and it has been very healthy for my growth as a person and worker: For perhaps the first time in my life, I have been experimenting with new things for the sake of my own interests, disregarding what others thought of it – now I’ve got research that indicates that I’m already on the right path.

This Deloitte study confirms my initial hypothesis regarding more and less favorable personality traits in a career context – some traits, among them extroversion and openness, just have a higher chance of translating into a success. I would even say that my own good career development is in part due to possessing many similarities to these six traits. I urge you to analyse your own characteristics and see what you have in common with these traits. Reflecting with real-world experiences help tremendously in this regard. Reflection is a crucial skill, especially if you are looking to become the best version of yourself as a worker.


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