Identifying high potential and adapting to a changing world of work

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The question of work is always the question of potential. Who has the capability to do well today and, even more importantly, who has the potential to perform even better tomorrow? How do we select the top talent, and what indicates that a person will be a good employee or a great leader in the future?

The world seems to be changing at a dizzying rate. It can seem difficult to predict which trends will catch on and who will be successful, and it can seem challenging to gauge which direction the winds of popular opinion will blow. The most important thing to remember is that the key traits that street high potential remain very stable and consistent. Although we can’t predict the future, we can measure six key traits that indicate how an employee or a leader will react to different situations, stressors or surprises.

With my new book to help workplaces adapt to a rapidly changing world, High Potential looks in detail at how workers and leaders will adapt and react to change in the world of work. Mapping personality traits give us a blueprint of how an employee or leader will navigate any situation, familiar or unfamiliar.

Here is what the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI) traits tell us about how people react to a changing world and how it can present even the most experienced and well-informed person with surprises:


Conscientiousness tells us a great deal about motivation and planning. Those who are highly conscientious tend to have long-term plans, and they stick to those plans irrespective of unforeseen challenges or surprises. When people report high conscientiousness scores they tend to stick with a long-term outlook instead of being blown around by the winds of change.


Adjustment gives us insight about how people react to stress. Those who report high levels of adjustment tend to be unruffled by the stresses and strains that seem to affect most people. The higher the level of adjustment, the more resilient the employee or leader will be to stressful situations and challenges in the world of work.  Those who have lower levels of adjustment will be more reactive to stress.


Curiosity explains how people relate to new information and ideas. Those who have higher levels of the curiosity trait tend to welcome new information and circumstances as opportunities to improve. Whereas those with lower curiosity will be more suspicious and sceptical of novelty; the lower curiosity employees and leaders prefer tried and true methods instead of experimenting with yet unproven ideas.

Ambiguity Acceptance

Ambiguity Acceptance tells us how people react to complexity. In times of uncertainty and change, some thrive and others struggle to survive. Those with high ambiguity acceptance will embrace and use ambiguity and complexity as an opportunity. Those with lower ambiguity acceptance see complexity as something to be avoided or minimised.

Risk Approach

Risk Approach explains how people face challenge and adversity. Those with higher risk approach tend to confront adversity head on. They approach the problem and try to find a constructive way to a challenge or opportunity. Those with lower risk approach scores are more likely to act instinctively instead of rationally, either trying to avoid or fight the inevitable change.


For competitiveness, the clue is in the name. Competitiveness is about how people compare themselves to others. Those with high competitiveness like the spotlight and probably want to be seen leading the charge into the future. Those with lower competitiveness tend to be happier in the background or taking a collaborative approach.

Click here to find out more about the HPTI.
To find out more about what’s new in the latest edition of High Potential, check out this article.

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.