Which traits define leaders that are great performers? Having worked on many initiatives and in several organizations worldwide, I have been fortunate enough to observe professionals performing various roles and at different levels from entry-level positions to C-level roles. I have enjoyed mentoring and coaching others, as well as learning from some of the best people in what they do. I have also had a few failures which taught me lasting lessons the hard way. Based on this, I have identified three main traits that distinguish great performers from others. These traits are like the three sides of a triangle. If one or more sides are missing or weak, then the triangle is not complete. Great performers have all three traits and offer the complete package.
Skillset is about the mechanics of performing a certain job, and it includes the experience, knowledge, talent, and versatility required to perform the work and deliver results. It also includes the ability to learn new technologies, tools, and domains, as well as acquire new skills, to perform various roles, and grow. Skillset is achieved through education and actually performing. It is the most essential of the three traits, and it is what gets your foot inside the door. The vast majority of recruiters and hiring managers focus on this trait as it is much easier to evaluate than the other two traits.
This means going the extra mile and putting in the required effort, commitment, dedication, and perseverance to overcome obstacles and get the job done. Vince Lombardi, the American football icon, said it best: “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” This is the easiest of the three traits as it is about investing the personal time needed to get things done; however, it requires strong passion and belief in a cause and what one is doing.
This trait is about behavior, Emotional Intelligence, and leadership. It is believing that everything is possible, staying calm during the storm, taking personal risks and ownership to solve problems and deliver results. It is about knowing one’s strengths and blind spots, connecting with people regardless of their ranking, and being there during the tough times. It is also about respect, empathy, and the ability to inspire others to believe in themselves as well as achieve the impossible. This is the hardest of the three traits to acquire and sustain because it is about changing behavior. It is also not an easy trait to assess in a typical interview process as it requires observing actual performance and comes out especially under pressure. James Lane Allen, the American novelist, is quoted to have said: “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”
Given the increasing complexity of projects and teams, continuous change, and pressure on organizations to deliver results in the most efficient way possible, today’s professionals must possess the necessary traits to stand out, adapt to changing dynamics and continue to grow. Great performers are great at what they do, they put in the extra time when needed, and they have a great attitude. If someone has only two sides of the triangle, they should work on the missing or weak side to be able to offer the complete package. It is possible to acquire these three traits through learning and the commitment to excel and change one’s habits. While the immediate focus of others is on skillset and hard work, people will tolerate average skillset or putting in the minimum time required for a job, but they will not tolerate a bad attitude.