Possessing the correct skill sets for a position in today’s economy is absolutely essential — but it’s not enough to be a star performer. With so much emphasis on job qualifications, it’s easy to give little thought to certain personal qualities that, when combined with outstanding competencies, result in extraordinary performance.
See also: Self-Discipline: The Key to Success
And it’s the star performers that are missing today. In a recent study of 600,000 people, Indiana University’s Kelley School of business found that individual performance doesn’t fall on a bell curve. Rather, the researchers found a “power-law” distribution, with a few elite performers contributing the most to the productivity of an organization.
Is productivity destined to be the domain of a few, or is possible that star performance can be achieved by looking beyond the right skill sets? It may take a combination of job competencies and certain personal qualities to drive top performance.
Here are seven personal qualities that can make a difference in the workplace:
1. A willingness to speak up. To set the record straight, blathering at the after-work watering hole and texting don’t count. In other words, complaining doesn’t count.
Speaking up is about expressing thoughtful ideas, offering suggestions, taking exception to things when appropriate, and coming to your own defense when you believe you’ve been wronged.
More than anything else, speaking up expresses a commitment to your work and your employer. It sends the signal about something important: you think for yourself, a capability that’s lacking in business.
In a highly competitive business environment, those who spend their working lives keeping “a low profile” may find that their tenure is shorter than expected.
2. A sense of modesty. At the start of the commencement season, WSJ Global Vision columnist Brent Stephens offered advice to this year’s graduates. At one point he wrote, “Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink.”
But self-puffery isn’t limited to recent graduates; it’s pervasive. Just read online self-profiles and self-serving recommendations. There is the sadly mistaken notion that this is the way to do it because everyone does it. Being the exception by letting your ideas and performance speak for you may be the way to attract the attention of those who are looking to align with competent people.
3. People who don’t fall for “magic bullet” answers. It’s so easy to be prisoners of our inclinations — to the point of actually distorting reality. In a recent insurance publication, an agent states, “Not being on social media is like starting an insurance agency but not having a website and not showing up at meetings.” The assumption seems to be that unless such advice is heeded, an agency is headed for failure.
In fact, the same agent suggests that failing to join certain sites isn’t an option. “I think that not doing something actually is not neutral … [it’s] a negative branding signal.”
It’s easy for businesses, both small and large, to fall prey to “magic bullet” solutions. They are dangerous because they drown out rational thought and force decisions that take the focus away from reaching sound business objectives.
4. People who are ruthless with themselves. Self-knowledge is perhaps the most critical trait that star performers share. A young, competent event planner alienated a key partner with her aggressive, demanding approach. When she learned of the partner’s dissatisfaction, she sought advice on how to change and was so successful that the partner declared she had undergone a metamorphosis and was a joy to work with.