Warren Buffett on Habits & Qualities

Warren Buffett on Habits & Qualities

In business, few individuals command the same respect and admiration as Warren Buffett. Known for his keen investment insight and a net worth that places him among the wealthiest people on the planet, Buffett’s success is a testament to his unique approach and philosophies. One of the areas he often speaks about is the importance of specific habits and attributes of people in business and how these contribute more to an individual’s success than their academic achievements or IQ. His insights extend beyond the realm of business, offering valuable life lessons. Let’s delve into Buffett’s wisdom, breaking down his take on these crucial elements, their importance, and how they can be developed.

Here is a list of the habits and qualities Warren Buffett believes are most important for people in business to succeed:

  1. Integrity: This is at the top of Buffett’s list. He places a strong emphasis on honesty and ethical behavior.
  2. Intelligence: While Buffett doesn’t necessarily equate success with high IQ, he recognizes the importance of intelligence in problem-solving and decision-making.
  3. Energy: A certain level of drive and passion is required to maintain the dedication and perseverance needed in business.
  4. Leadership Qualities: The ability to inspire and motivate others is crucial, especially when it comes to bringing a team or organization towards a common goal.
  5. Generosity: Buffett values individuals willing to give credit to others and share opportunities and benefits.
  6. Honesty: Being truthful and transparent in business dealings fosters trust and builds strong professional relationships.
  7. Emotional Intelligence: The ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
  8. Adaptability: Being open to change and adjusting strategies or processes in response to new information or circumstances.
  9. Humility: The ability to acknowledge one’s mistakes and learn from them is valuable. Buffett suggests avoiding egoism and overconfidence.
  10. Discipline: Consistency and the ability to adhere to rigid rules and systems are essential in business.
  11. Resilience: The ability to bounce back from failures and setbacks and continue to move forward.

Buffett on Habits and Qualities to Look for in People

Below is the transcript of Warren Buffet’s speech on the importance of habits and the qualities needed for success in the business world. [1]

“Most of you will succeed in meeting your aspirations, but in determining whether you succeed, there’s more to it than intellect and energy, and I’d like to talk for just a second about that. In fact, there was a fellow, Pinky, in Omaha used to say he looked for three things in hiring people, ‘He looked for integrity, intelligence, and energy.’ He said if that person didn’t have the first two, the latter two would kill him because if they don’t have integrity, you want them dumb and lazy. You don’t want them smart and energetic. I really like to talk about that first one because we know you’ve got the second two.”

“And I’d like to play along with me a little game for just a second in terms of thinking about that question. You’ve all been here; I guess almost all of you are second-year MBAs, and you’ve got to know your classmates. Think for a moment that I granted you the right to buy 10% of one of your classmates for the rest of his or her lifetime. Now you can’t pick one with a rich father; that doesn’t count. You’ve got to pick somebody who’s going to do it on their own merit.”

“And I gave you an hour to think about it. Which one are you going to pick among all your classmates? The one you want to own 10% of for the rest of their lifetime? Are you going to give them an IQ test? Would you pick the one with the highest IQ? I doubt it. Are you going to pick the one with the best grades? I doubt it. You’re not even going to pick the most energetic necessarily, nor the one that displays the most initiative. But you’re going to start looking for qualitative factors in addition because everybody’s got enough brains and enough energy.”

“And I would say that if you thought about it for an hour and decided who you’re gonna place that bet on, you’d probably pick the one who you responded the best to, the one that was going to have the leadership qualities, the one who’s going to be able to get other people to carry out their interests. That would be the person who was generous and honest and who gave credit to other people, even for their own ideas. All kinds of qualities like that.”

“And you could write down those qualities that you admire in this other person, whoever you admire most in the class. And then, I would throw in a hook. I would say as part of owning 10% of this person, you had to agree to go short 10% of somebody else in the class. Now that’s more fun, isn’t it? And you think, now, who do I want to go short on? And again, you wouldn’t pick the person with the lowest IQ; you would start thinking about the person who really turned you off for one reason or another.”

“I mean, they have various qualities quite apart from their academic achievement. They have various qualities that you just really don’t want to be around them, and other people don’t want to be around them. What were the qualities that lead to that? Well, there’d be a whole bunch of things. It’s the person who’s egotistical, the person who’s greedy, the person who’s slightly dishonest, cuts corners, all of these qualities. And you could write those down on the right-hand side of the page.”

“And when you look at that, as you looked at those qualities on the left and right-hand side, there’s one interesting thing about them. It’s not the ability to throw a football 60 yards; it’s not the ability to run a 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds, it’s not being the best-looking person in the class. They’re all qualities of behavior, temperament, and character that are achievable. They’re not forbidden to anybody in this group.”

“And if you look at the qualities on the right-hand side, the ones that you find turn you off in other people, there’s not a quality there that you have to have. If you have it, you can get rid of it. And you can get rid of it a lot easier at your age than you can at my age because most behaviors are habitual. They say the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken.”

“There’s no question about it. I see people with these self-destructive behavior patterns at my age, or even 10 or 20 years younger, and they really are entrapped by them. They go around, and they do things that turn off other people right and left. They don’t need to be that way, but by a certain point, they get, so they can hardly change. But at your age, you can have any habits, any patterns of behavior that you wish. It’s simply a question of which you decide.”

“Ben Graham did this, as did Benjamin Franklin before him. Ben Graham, in his low teens, looked around, and he looked at the people he admired. He said, ‘You know, I want to be admired. So why don’t I just behave like them?’ And he found there was nothing impossible about behaving like them. Similarly, he did the same thing on the reverse side in terms of getting rid of those qualities.”

“So I would suggest that if you write those qualities down and think about them a little while, and make them habitual, you will be the one that you want to buy 10% of when you get all through. And the beauty of it is you already hold 100 percent. You’re stuck with it. So you might as well be that person somebody else will want to invest in.” 

Key Takeaways

  • As per Warren Buffett, the three cardinal traits for success are integrity, intelligence, and energy, with integrity taking the top spot.
  • Determining the worth of an individual goes beyond their academic achievements or high IQ; it focuses more on their behavioral attributes, leadership skills, generosity, honesty, and ability to inspire others.
  • The notion of ‘investment’ also extends to people, which does not merely mean investing in the most intelligent or energetic person, but in those with admirable and practical interpersonal skills.
  • These virtues of character are not hereditary, inherent, or based on physical prowess but cultivated habits anyone can develop.
  • The reverse is also true, habits that make a person undesirable, such as egoism, dishonesty, or greed, are not obligatory and can be shed.
  • Behaviors are primarily habitual and become harder to change with age; therefore, it’s critical to instill good habits early.
  • The path to personal success lies in embodying the traits admired in others and shedding those seen as off-putting.


Warren Buffett’s insights into habits and qualities profoundly explore how we perceive success and what truly makes a person successful. His emphasis on integrity, behavioral attributes, and the power of habits is a potent reminder that character and interpersonal skills often surpass academic achievements or natural intellect in the quest for true success. These virtues are neither inaccessible nor inherent but can be cultivated by anyone through consistent effort. By nurturing desirable qualities and shedding unfavorable ones, we can indeed become someone in whom others – and, more importantly, we – would want to invest. We hold the ultimate agency over our actions and behaviors, with the power to mold ourselves into individuals of substance, value, and respect.