Qualities that set great talent apart from the rest

May 9, 2022
selective focus of magnifying glass near cubes on wooden desk

The war for talent is real. You’ve seen endless posts on LinkedIn with companies and colleagues who are hiring. Retention programs are in full swing at organizations everywhere who don’t want to lose great talent. But how do you identify that talent? It’s quite likely that your organization has a review process whereby you measure employees on a set of defined criteria. Things like great communication skills, adaptability, integrity, collaboration. And we know it takes motivation and a desire to succeed, but it’s more than that. What does GREAT talent look like, and how is it distinguished from good talent? I appreciate that in this market, “good enough” might really be good enough. However, when people ARE your business, the bar for talent can’t be lowered. So whether you are looking to hire someone amazing, or become that amazing resource so you can land your next raise or position – what are some tangible actions that set the best talent apart? Here are 8 qualities that I think set the ‘rock stars’ apart from everyone else:

  1. Fully Understand the Big Picture: A good employee understands their job and how to do it well. They are clear on the expectations and know how to deliver. A rock star understands your business and what it is trying to achieve. They can articulate what the business does, and what will make it successful. I don’t mean they can give the elevator pitch for the company mission (you can read the website for that). These folks understand the drivers for revenue and profitability. They understand the challenges in the industry and what the company is trying to achieve. And they can appreciate the value of the work they are doing to deliver against the company’s overarching objectives. They don’t just have a job, they are helping achieve the mission. Like the janitor at NASA who in 1962 told President Kennedy his job was “to put a man on the moon.”
  2. Succinct Communication: Good communication skills are a criterion for most jobs. But what sets the rock stars apart? Delivering a message succinctly and effectively is an art. This applies to both written and verbal communication. Rock stars are mindful when delivering a message to consider “what does my audience really want to know” and “how much detail is enough”? If delivering a message verbally, they read the crowd. They know if someone is yawning or checking their phone that they’ve lost them. They might bring them back in with a question, or wrap it up. If they are delivering a message in writing, they likely don’t finish and click send. They take the time re-read the message and determine whether there are any extra words that aren’t needed. They confirm that they’ve gotten to the point quickly and effectively. They acknowledge that their audience might be reading the message on their phone – does it fit in one window? Are they expecting a response? They might indicate up front if the message is an FYI, or whether they need a response. Time is a precious commodity, particularly with executives and senior leaders. Rock stars know how to be concise and clear, and often less is more.
  3. Deliver the Tough Message: Speaking clearly and concisely is important. But what about when the message is a tough one? What about when you have to give feedback to a peer, a leader, or an employee? Or you have to communicate a missed deliverable to management? These are challenging things to deliver. Top talent will own it. They don’t sugar coat the message, they are  honest and direct. They get the feedback (or update) on the table quickly and back it up with facts. If for some reason the discussion gets particularly challenging, they leave it be and revisit when the person has had time to process the feedback.
  4. Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last: I see this one often. Companies praise “the smartest guy in the room”. But what if that person is a challenge to deal with? They know they are smart and think they know better than everyone else. These are not the qualities of a rock star. Rock stars make time for others, are collaborative, and have the best interest of the whole team (and company) at heart. They are approachable and thoughtful in dealing with others. The result maximizes the value and output of the entire team.
  5. Be the Unsung Hero: Being a team player is usually expected. But what sets great talent apart are the folks who jump in to help when they don’t have to. There isn’t a crisis, and they aren’t going to be rewarded for pulling out the cape and being the superhero who saves the day. They are the folks who help a colleague meet a deadline. They offer to show others how to make their jobs better or easier. They do so when no one is watching and the fire isn’t burning. And conversely, when someone else on the team delivers, they always give credit where credit is due. Top talent help shine the spotlight on others when it’s deserved.
  6. Ask for Forgiveness not Permission: So many organizations struggle with timely decision making. Things get caught up in bureaucracy or people are afraid to make a call for fear of what it means to them. You’ve heard the adages…. People or groups get stuck in  “analysis paralysis” or battling the idea that “perfect is the enemy of good enough”. Those who set themselves apart can make decisions. It’s worth noting, not decisions that are entirely out of their scope. But they know how to be decisive and move things forward. These folks can make complex issues surmountable and keep things moving. They have the right amount of support, but are also are not afraid to make a call and own it.
  7. What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There: What sets apart top talent is a curiosity to learn, and a drive to improve. Top talent prioritize the activities to make themselves better. They seek opportunities for a challenging assignment, they explore further learning opportunities, they prioritize networking and learning from others.They are also not afraid to ask for feedback from those around them. For example: How was that approach? Could I have done something differently? How can I be more effective? How are you doing it? What have you learned?No one is perfect. To continue to be ‘great’ you need to be aware and seek and accept feedback.
  8. Make an Impact: Top talent bring out the best in others. People around them want to be better and do better. They are role models for others, whether they intend to be or not. They do this by leading by example, inside work and outside. Often times they engage in resource groups or donate time or energy to a charitable cause where they can further their impact. Top talent inspires others to do better, which in turn creates motivation and a rewarding culture. As we all know, you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. And just because you are a leader, doesn’t mean anyone is following.

If companies are lucky enough to find these folks, they are very likely incenting them generously. Great talent is in higher demand than ever before, and therefore is a great time to set yourself apart as a rock star! And if you think I’ve described you above, and you want to make a move – Notch Above would love to have you!

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