In response to my recent post on trading for a living, one reader asks, "In your opinion what are the starting qualities needed to be a great trader?" This is a difficult question, because different kinds of trading require different skill sets. For example, many of the best hedge fund portfolio managers have superior analytical skills and abilities to detect themes in noisy data. Many of the best market makers have an uncanny speed of mental processing and level of concentration that enable them to stay on top of order flow throughout the day. This is why I emphasize, in the trader performance book, that matching one's style of trading to one's strengths--talents and skills--is an essential component of success.
If I had to identify qualities that distinguish "starting qualities" that are important across all traders, the following come to mind:
1) Capacity for Prudent Risk-Taking - Successful young traders are neither impulsive nor risk-averse. They are not afraid to go after markets aggressively when they perceive opportunity;
2) Capacity for Rule Governance - Successful young traders have the self-control needed to follow rules in the heat of battle, including rules of position sizing and risk management;
3) Capacity for Sustained Effort - Successful young traders can be identified by the productive time they spend on trading--research, preparation, work on themselves--outside of market hours;
4) Capacity for Emotional Resilience - All young traders will lose money early in their development and experience multiple frustrations. The successful ones will not be quick to lose self-confidence and motivation in the face of loss and frustration;
5) Capacity for Sound Reasoning - Successful young traders exhibit an ability to make sense of markets by synthesizing data and generating market and trading views. They display patience in collecting information and do not jump to conclusions based on superficial reasoning or limited data.
Finally, I would say that successful developing traders approach their work with a kind of humility. They don't know it all and they don't pretend to know it all. They absorb wisdom from mentors and markets, and they are quick to acknowledge when they're wrong, so that they can get out of bad positions and learn from their experience. Show me a stubborn young trader with a defensive ego, and I'll show you one who will fight his or her learning curve every step of the way, with predictably poor results.
If you want to identify potentially successful young traders, look at their trading journals and gauge the amount of time they spend behind the screen. The good ones will have detailed entries about markets and about themselves, with constructive ideas, goals, and feedback. The less successful traders will have sparse entries that display little effort or analysis, with no goals, no constructive direction. The good ones watch markets closely, even when not trading. The less successful ones find little reason to watch markets if they don't have a position.
Effort alone won't make a trader successful, but lack of it will almost certainly ensure failure.