What Top Tal­ent Does Dif­fer­ently

The Washington Post Sunday - - JOBS -

Job seek­ers want to know: What sets top tal­ent apart from the rest? While the an­swer de­pends on the role and the com­pany, four spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics stand out, re­gard­less of job re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. (No­tice that, for top tal­ent, tech­ni­cal skill is as­sumed. What sets top per­form­ers apart is their mas­tery of “soft” or qual­i­ta­tive skills.)

1. Cre­ativ­ity

Top tal­ents can en­vi­sion a new fu­ture and carve out a path to it. They pos­sess the con­stant and con­sis­tent abil­ity to reimag­ine pro­cesses, in­vent new prod­ucts, re­tool work flows and cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties from ex­ist­ing re­sources. They’re not only able to ideate but to shape and to drive their ideas into ex­is­tence. Can­di­dates who pos­sess this trait in abun­dance will mo­nop­o­lize the in­ter­view with story af­ter story about their cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ences.

2. In­tel­li­gence

While this skill seems ob­vi­ous, it isn’t. We’re not re­fer­ring to highly in­tel­li­gent, prob­lem­solv­ing brain power but re­la­tional in­tel­li­gence. The most tal­ented can­di­dates have honed an abil­ity to build and lever­age re­la­tion­ships in­side an or­ga­ni­za­tion to drive change. Or­ga­ni­za­tions to­day are more com­plex than ever, and the peo­ple who nav­i­gate them most ef­fec­tively are those who’ve per­fected the skill of work­ing across lines, mo­bi­liz­ing peo­ple for work, and show­ing gen­uine em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing with col­leagues. Most work­ing pro­fes­sion­als are not ex­ec­u­tives with ex­ec­u­tive power. The ones that lead, es­pe­cially with­out ti­tles, are masters at build­ing re­la­tion­ships and bridges. They in­fuse en­ergy into the peo­ple they work with, both in­side and out­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

3. Hunger

Mo­ti­va­tion is an “in­side job.” There are levers that man­age­ment and com­pa­nies can pull to get an em­ployee to work harder, but ul­ti­mately, the mo­ti­va­tion to work hard over a sus­tained pe­riod is in­trin­sic. High per­for­mance is closely cor­re­lated with high mo­ti­va­tion, which in turn com­pels peo­ple to push for bet­ter re­sults, to con­sis­tently im­prove, to con­tin­u­ously learn and to grow what­ever they touch. In most cases, this is a char­ac­ter trait that has been nur­tured over time.

4. Hu­mil­ity

Last, what sep­a­rates top tal­ents from oth­ers is the gen­uine hu­mil­ity that al­lows them to re­ceive feed­back, to lis­ten to oth­ers, to un­der­stand their gaps and ad­dress them, and to view them­selves as a work in progress—a work they are de­ter­mined to im­prove. Most of us have worked with tal­ented ego-ma­ni­acs who pro­duce im­pres­sive re­sults but leave peo­ple worse off from hav­ing in­ter­acted with them. The very best can­di­dates pos­sess a quiet con­fi­dence that al­lows them to fo­cus on what they can learn, not just on what they can teach.

For some­one look­ing to be­come top tal­ent, try do­ing a self-assess­ment of these four traits. If you’re un­sure how you stack up, ask your col­leagues—they’re keenly aware of your strengths and weak­ness. Also, it’s a great op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice hu­mil­ity, as they’ll give you feed­back. From there, de­ter­mine your game plan to get bet­ter.

Another great way to learn how to be a top per­former is by ob­serv­ing top per­form­ers. Iden­tify two or three peo­ple you deem top tal­ent, ask them out for lunch or cof­fee, and pick their brains about these four dis­ci­plines. Who knows – the net­work­ing alone could help you land your next job.

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