The 6 traits of high potential future leaders: who has them in your organisation?

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Strong leaders are critical in formulating and communicating strategy and driving the direction and vision of an organisation.


With 41% of high-growth firms finding deficiencies in leadership competencies to be an obstacle to business growth (CIPD), it’s vital that you are putting the right people into the right leadership roles and continually supporting their development. Our latest leadership tool, the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI) for leadership potential is developed specifically for the workplace to identify your next generation of leaders and support those already at the top.

Leadership is an action, not a position

- Donald McGannon

The HPTI measures six traits that can indicate high potential to succeed or to derail in different setting. The HPTI for leadership potential has optimal levels for each trait that indicate high potential strategists.

The 6 traits


Conscientiousness is someone's self-motivation and drive to achieve. High conscientiousness means strong planning, goal-directed behaviour and discipline. Strategic thinking is impossible without high conscientiousness. Low conscientiousness leaders are those whose organisations will be governed entirely by strategy. They may be brilliant negotiators of last minute situations, of adapting to opportunities, and being decisive even when they do not know what is going on. Those with higher conscientiousness tend to be more internally motivated while those with lower conscientiousness are more motivated externally, by people or circumstances around them.


Adjustment is how someone reacts to stress. Being able to cope with high levels of stress is a useful trait as a leader, but is also relative to the demands of the organisation and situational factors. Greater demands, more intense pressures and hostile climates demand greater adjustment. Leaders must take responsibility and take the brunt of consequences, which requires emotional stability. A strategist must be able to overcome their own emotional (in)stability and focus on the values and strategy of the organisation. Those with high adjustment are very resilient to stress while those with low adjustment are more affected by potential difficulties they face at work.


Curiosity is essential for strategy: the desire to learn and explore information is foundational for the strategist. Good strategy is rooted in a rich understanding of the company, the people in it, and what is going on outside of the organisation. Continual learning informs the top-down strategy, helps to discover successful emergent strategy and to make informed decisions. It is difficult to develop a strategic understanding of any issue or company without intellectual curiosity. Those with high curiosity like new methods and ideas, those with lower curiosity tend to stick to tried and true methods.

Risk Approach

Risk approach is how willing someone is to confront and solve difficult situations. The leader as a strategist must have the courage to explain why strategy is important, even in the face of opposition. They must have the fortitude to stand by and explain their own values. Those with higher risk approach have a more proactive approach to dealing with problems whereas those with lower risk approach tend to have more reactive, instinctual responses.

Ambiguity Acceptance

Ambiguity acceptance is how someone approaches uncertainty and complexity. The oversimplified solutions are often the most appealing and the least successful. Those with high ambiguity acceptance seek out more information, even when there are conflicting opinions. Leaders must have the capacity to listen to unpopular or dissenting opinions, and those with low ambiguity acceptance have little tolerance vagaries or complexity. But, good strategy cannot form without understanding of complex issues. Simple, unambiguous and insincere solutions are frequently peddled by toxic leaders. Those with higher ambiguity acceptance thrive in complex environments whereas those with lower ambiguity acceptance prefer clear-cut answers and stable working environments.


Competitiveness is instrumental, but in moderation. Useful competitiveness focuses on the success of the organisation, competitive advantage of teams, departments and the company. The moderately and adaptively competitive leader can channel their desire to succeed into realistic objectives. The hypercompetitive leader wants to be seen as the success of the organisation; whereas the uncompetitive leader may have difficulty focusing on strategic advantages and pursuing opportunities. Those with lower competitiveness take a more collaborative approach.

How can HPTI help you?

Succession planning

  • Identify internal talent with strong leadership potential
  • Implement development plans with the aim of moving them into leadership roles
  • Assess the unique personality profile of an organisation
  • Understand personality traits as well as skills that need to be replaced

Leadership development

  • Use an optimal model of leadership
  • Compare individual traits with optimal profile of leadership
  • Pinpoint strengths and areas for development
  • Boost self-awareness
  • Use a common language to talk about personality

Leadership teamwork

  • Increase self-awareness and awareness of others
  • Identify and maximise on team strengths
  • Identify different leadership roles and corresponding personality traits
  • Detect and resolve skills gaps in the team

Graduate recruitment

  • Identify candidates with strong leadership potential
  • Distinguish between leadership career path and other types of potential
  • Add certainty when choosing individuals who will thrive in a fast-track scheme

Employee retention

  • Retain future leaders by investing in their development
  • Progress top talent into senior roles that suit them
  • Understand individual differences in why people stay

Employee engagement

  • Develop a leadership team who embody and drive company vision and culture
  • Understand individual differences in approach to work
  • Use assessment to initiate conversations on employee engagement

Take a look at the sample report for an insight into the power of HPTI. The HPTI report gives you information on:

  • How the person measures against the six traits
  • Optimal trait zones for leadership
  • The implications of each trait upon leadership
  • How to interpret the scores and how they can act upon their report
  • Hints and tips to develop their leadership style
  • Setting goals to develop their skills, experience and knowledge

Download a sample HPTI for leadership potential report

Keep an eye out for our next HPTI post from Ian MacRae, which will take you through a case study of optimal leadership, profiling an ex-CEO from the finance industry. 

To find out more about HPTI and how it can transform the leadership of your organisation, speak to your consultant, email [email protected] or call us on 01628 475 366. Alternatively, read more about the assessment here.

Ian MacRae

Ian MacRae

Ian has been an organisational psychology consultant for over a decade and is the director and co-founder of High Potential Psychology Ltd. He is the co-author of High Potential: How to Spot Manage and Develop Talented People at Work and the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI), a measure of leadership potential, which is available to Thomas clients.