8 Personality Traits Top Employees Have in Common

Indispensable employees tend to share eight common traits

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Companies of all shapes and sizes are now facing higher levels of uncertainty and considerably fewer resources to spend on even top-priority initiatives. The result has been a growing significance of a certain type of employee: dynamic, consistently effective, endlessly useful, and enjoyable to work with.

These people can be hard to spot in advance, but when you have one working for you, you know it right away. At ReWork, we’ve found that these indispensable employees tend to share eight common traits. Here they are, along with some advice on how you can uncover them.

1. RESOURCEFULNESS

The ability to (quickly) find, unlock, and mobilize resources (i.e. money, expertise, skills, support) in order to plan, pivot, evaluate, execute, or scale a project.

The information age has been upon us for sometime now. Anything we could ever hope to know is at our fingertips, including best practices, trouble-shooting guides, top-10 lists, and the Twitter handles of people who are far more experienced than we are. But not everyone can access this information equally.  Most are still overwhelmed in this sea of knowledge.

If I asked you to conduct a feasibility study on effective conservation techniques to protect the rare aquatic pygmy sloths of Panama, how quickly could you find a template for such a study? How long before you would be in touch with a niche conservation biologist who studies those animals to help advise you?

If your answer is anything over two hours, you’ve got room for improvement (seriously).

How to uncover it:

  • Ask for specific examples of times that they found critical information or resources quickly. This includes fundraising and coalition building, as well as smaller stuff (like “How-To” lists) that helped a project move forward faster.
  • Tell them you want to do an obscure project and need help. Ask them to conduct a feasibility study on something like the pygmy sloths examples above. See how quickly they can find a template for such a study, or the contact information for the niche biologist who studies those animals and may be able to serve as an advisor.

2. RESILIENCY

The ability to work well under uncertainty, and to continue after (substantial) setbacks.

Most organizations are now experiencing increased instability and uncertainty, and thus, using shorter planning horizons. Teams in all functional areas are seeing more tumultuous work streams with changing goals and deadlines. Some people have a strong tendency to mentally lock-up under those conditions. The results aren’t good: decreased performance, irritability, fear, and tensions with other team members. Resiliency is the ability to maintain smooth sailing through those situations.

How to uncover it:

  • Ask for evidence of grit. This could be times they narrowly averted disaster, took a huge risk and had it pay off, or came back from a stunning defeat to achieve victory in the end.

3. CONFIDENCE

A healthy esteem for one’s abilities and approach to life; an innate knowledge that “I can handle it.”

The line between confidence and arrogance is fine, as we all know. Nobody wants to work with people who think they are always right. But there is no substitute for someone who truly, with good reason, believes in his or her ability to handle any situation and figure it out.

How to uncover it:

  • See if the person is willing to say “I don’t know.” Ask a question (perhaps about your organization) that: A.) has a right and wrong answer, and B.) is highly unlikely that this person knows the answer. See if they admit not knowing, or if they dodge or BS an answer, or try to guess. If they do any of those things, beware. That is not cool.
  • Listen to how they speak. Confident people tend to speak more slowly, take pauses before answering, and don’t backpedal their answers.

4. COACHABILITY

The trait of not only being able to accept constructive criticism, but of actively seeking out consistent feedback and mentorship; the trait of intentionally cultivating a beginner’s mind; the essence of a learner.

Especially for those early in their careers, this is key. Nobody knows everything, and there are lots of people who’ve been there and done that, with failure and success. Having a genuine interest in learning from them–even when it’s hard–is incredibly useful.

How to uncover it:

  • Ask for examples of times when they pursued or engaged in mentorship opportunities, and how their mentors helped improve their professional abilities over time or when it mattered most.
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