Traits of Powerful People

24 Jan

Some people are born leaders—but that doesn’t mean that they’ll have anybody to lead. Powerful people must be good leaders, but to attain the status they do—politicians, CEOs, public figures—they often need to possess some other traits. Can these traits be learned or taught? It’s certainly possible, though some people just seem to have them naturally. Think Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Kenneth Mehlman (RNC, KKR), Melissa Mayer (Yahoo!), and Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google).


  1. Willpower—Perhaps one of the most important traits is willpower—to resist, to persist, to do what’s right but not easy. Think of it like a muscle that must be exercised and strengthened. It can be stretched, but it can also be strained if its limits aren’t respected.
  2. Confidence—Some powerful figures have even been a little over confident at times, causing themselves some grief. But that’s certainly better than not believing in themselves at all. It’s a tight balance between the two.
  3. Political Prowess—And not just in public politics. Workplace politics are even more important. Powerful people learn to understand the politics around them, successfully navigating and using them to their benefit.
  4. Persistence/Hard-Charging—This trait is often what robs powerful people of their “likeability.” They must be focused on their goal, on winning, and this can take precedent over pleasing others. Steve Jobs once claimed that it’s better to be respected than to be liked.
  5. Resiliency—Powerful people are often innovators, which means they will find ways to grow, adapt, and survive even in hard times.
  6. Opportunism—When they hear the phrase “Seize the day,” powerful people take it seriously. They don’t get stuck in one place—they’re constantly seizing opportunities, changing and adapting to stay ahead.
  7. Sponsorship—Finding people to support and sponsor them is incredibly important. This can come from painstakingly building relationships in the industry or finding investors that will back their ideas. These relationships are usually cultivated and maintained for years.
  8. Money—OK, this one’s not a trait. But it’s still important. At some point, powerful people find their way to money. If they’re lucky, they are born into it, but that’s certainly not always the case. Often, they find investors, work their way through the ranks, or connect with powerful allies.


Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pheffer, author of Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t, says, “Part of this is luck. Part of it is being in the right place at the right time, having the opportunity and understanding how to build on it.”


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