The only major personality trait that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness.
"It's emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan," Paul Tough writes in "How Children Succeed." "It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do."
Tough says that people who test high in conscientiousness get better grades in school and college, commit fewer crimes, and stay married longer.
They live longer, too, he says. And not just because they smoke and drink less. They have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease.
How do you know if you're conscientious? Conscientious people tend to be super organized, responsible, and plan ahead. They work hard in the face of challenges and can control their impulses.
Research shows that arriving on time, doing thorough work, and being thoughtful toward your colleagues helps people regardless of their job function or workplace situation. "Being on top of deadlines is almost universally a good thing," one industrial psychologist told us.
Moreover, within conscientiousness are the narrower traits of self control and "grit," which University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth has found to be more integral to children's scholarly success than IQ.
"Highly conscientious employees do a series of things better than the rest of us," says University of Illinois psychologist Brent Roberts, who studies conscientiousness.
To start, they're better at goals: setting them, working toward them, and persisting amid setbacks. If a super ambitious goal can't be realized, they'll switch to a more attainable one rather than getting discouraged and giving up. As a result, they tend to achieve goals that are consistent with what employers want.
Being conscientious "is like brushing your teeth," Roberts says. "It prevents problems from arising."
Conscientious people also like to follow rules and norms. You can spot the conscientious kids in the classroom. They sit in their chairs, don't complain, and don't act out — which also, of course, contributes to earning good grades from teachers.
"The conscientious person is going to have a plan," Roberts says. "Even if there is a failure, they're going to have a plan to deal with that failure."