A few months before Albert Einstein unexpectedly passed away, William Miller, an editor for LIFE magazine paid the genius a visit on a personal errand.
William’s son, Pat had recently become bogged down in a sort of “philosophical nihilism,” asking himself what significance there was to human endeavor if the universe was dying?
Trying to inspire his son and encourage him to make a difference in the world, William sought out an old acquaintance of Einstein’s, Professor William Hermanns, in hopes that the professor could connect his son Pat, with his hero Albert Einstein.
William Hermanns had an interesting life himself: he had volunteered for World War I, lived through the Battle of Verdun, been captured and imprisoned for three years by the French, and afterward became a poet and fugitive from Hitler. And now Professor Hermann was a friend of Bishop Fulton Sheen and, just so happened, was planning on stopping by his old friend Albert Einstein’s house to get a statement about “the latter’s concept of God which the bishop might use on his television program.”
And so Hermanns agreed to allow William and his son to come along.
Unexpected, the threesome showed up at Einstein’s door on 112 Mercer Street, to see if they could get a few minutes of the scientist’s time.
After a small discussion with Einstein’s secretary about Dr. Hermanns’ old acquaintanceship with Dr. Einstein, they were allowed to join Albert at a table for tea.
Dr. Hermann and Dr. Einstein discussed religion, but at one point William broke in to explain his son’s struggle, “[Pat] can find no reason he should strive to achieve.”
Einstein turned to Pat, and then proceeded to respond in a thoughtful conversation. As they were preparing to leave, Dr. Einstein closed, saying, “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”
And so we fast forward fifty years to today.
The Meaning of Value
It’s a word we use to measure the worth of a person, thing or experience. It’s the “regard” that something is held to deserve.
But the way we measure value is never quite consistent.
Sometimes something is valued because it is rare or difficult to acquire.
Sometimes we value something for its functionality, utility, and purpose.
And sometimes we place value on something… because of its beauty.
Yet, the way we value people, in the business sense, is not too different.
We value people with exquisite skills that take years and dedication to develop. We value workers who can fill a gap in our business needs. And sometimes, we value a person for their pretty face.
And then, we take these values and lump people into silos accordingly.
We have slackers, procrastinators, and underachievers. We have those who just get by, tread water, and do what’s required. And finally, we have the cream of the crop.
The best of the best. The pick of the litter. The elite. The finest.
The top performers.
But there’s a problem.
No one wants to be an underachiever. No one wants to be average. And I know, for the most part, we all try to rise to the top.
So why are we not all there?
What stops us from being top performers too?
Maybe it’s that we don’t know what top performers look like. Maybe we just lack the motivation to get there. Or maybe…it just feels unreachable.
As a company that’s helped thousands of professionals develop their careers; we’ve found certain qualities that differentiate the top from the bottom.
The good news is that each of these “traits” can be learned and developed.
The bad news is…it takes work. And it probably won’t happen overnight. Just remember Einstein’s thoughtful advice to young Pat, “He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in.”
So as you go through our list, consider which qualities you currently share, which you’d like to develop, and which will help you get more out of life.
Without further ado, here are the 10 qualities of a top performer.
Anthony K. Tjan, author of “Hearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck said, “There is one quality that trumps all [when it comes to bringing success]. That quality is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weaknesses, your ‘super powers’ and ‘kryptonite’.”
Leaders and other top performers who have self-awareness have an incredible advantage.
They are aware of what motivates them and their decision-making. They take that awareness and apply it to how others are motivated.
They know what types of work activities will leave them feeling fulfilled and accomplished as well as which will eventually lead to burnout.
They can manage their time better since they are less likely to pursue the types of work that they are not naturally inclined to perform best at. And they will avoid getting in a position that sucks their energy dry from doing unsustainable work.
So how do you become more self-aware? Here are three things Tjan suggests.
1. Take an aptitude test such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, or StrengthsFinder. These assessments often unclutter the complex personalities, behaviors, and motivations that make us unique, so you can start focusing on the areas that best reflect who you are at your core. (We offer one of these assessments here).
2. Watch yourself and learn. Peter Druker put it this way. “Whenever you make a decision or take a key decision, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the results with what you expected.” Looking back on what worked and what didn’t will help you make better decisions moving forward…and teach you something about yourself.
3. Be aware of others. Don’t just think of your own strengths and weaknesses but consider the talents and short comings of others. What do your team mates do better than you? What kinds of tasks are they unmotivated by?
Being more aware of others will help you think upon your own abilities and desires, which you can then turn to become more productive and effective as a top performer.
Back in January of 2011, a Southwest Airlines pilot made an incredible career threatening decision…because of his values.
One of the passengers expected to board the plane was a grandfather who’s grandson had been brutally injured by a criminal and would be taken off of life support the following morning at 9:00am.
The emergency of the situation had left the grandfather with little time to prepare for the flight and although he had arrived 2 hours early to LAX he was still going to be late for his flight. As he tried to explain his situation to the TSA, Southwest Employees, and other customers…no one seemed to care.
When he finally left security, he grabbed his computer bag, shoes and belt and ran to the terminal in his socks.
All this time the pilot held the plane from 11:50 to 12:02, despite security concerns and schedule pressures.
As the grandfather arrived, the pilot simply responded, “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”
It’s hard to say what anyone would have done in that situation, but we can all agree that this pilot stuck to his values.
Instead of scolding their pilot for not following procedure and causing delays for thousands of additional customers, Southwest responded accordingly, “We are proud of our pilot, a man who clearly understands that taking a child off life support has consequences that run deeper than a flight taking off late.”
As this story illustrates, one way to rise to the top is to stick to your values. Any ordinary employee could have followed business as usual, but this one risked his job so that a grandfather could be with his daughter and grandson in a moment he would never be able to get back had he missed it.
Brian Uzzi’s foundational networking article “How to Build Your Network” says there are three unique advantages networks bring: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power.
“These days, public information is easily available from a variety of sources, including the internet, but precisely because it is so accessible, public information offers significantly less competitive advantage than it used to.
Highly diverse network ties can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues. And when you trade information or skills with people whose experiences differ from your own, you provide one another with unique, exceptionally valuable resources.”
The last advantage, power, comes from your ability to connect people with win/win relationships. Someone who has access to these kind of resources will go far in their career.
The great thing about confidence is that when you have it; dangers become opportunities, obstacles become innovations, weaknesses become advantages, and setbacks become breakthroughs.
It’s no wonder why this is a quality found in top performers.
So what’s the secret to building confidence?
Amy Gallo, editor at Harvard Business Review gives the following suggestions.
Just as you practiced piano hours and hours before ever performing at a recital, you can follow the same concept for any other areas you lack confidence.
2. Get out of your own way.
It’s okay if you don’t know everything. It’s impossible to be above average in every element of business.
Once you accept your shortcomings and allow yourself the opportunity to create something greater in yourself, you’ll find confidence is just around the corner.
3. Get feedback when you need it.
If you’re anything like myself, sometimes you’re your own worst critic.
Getting honest, informative feedback can validate the results of your hard practice. And you’ll feel assured in your abilities and the improvements you’ve made.
4. Take risks
Many people don’t know what they are capable of until they are truly tested.
Sticking only to your tried and true strengths can be a hinderance to your career growth. Find opportunities that are new to you, but still in your wheelhouse and you might surprise yourself what you are capable of achieving.
The Wall Street Journal reported some interesting statistics in their article, “Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers are Gobbled Up”
In it they stated, “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”
What’s a good exercise to develop your gratitude?
Sean Achor, a positive psychology researcher and speaker recommends listing three things you’re grateful for over the next 30 days.
Compare how your attitude has changed from before to after the experiment. I think you’ll be pleased.
6. Communication Skills
When was the last time you heard someone complain because a leader communicates too much or too effectively?
Didn’t think so.
The foundation of any business relies on your ability to convey ideas clearly and efficiently. It’s a skill that carries incredible advantages for those who hone it well.
In fact, when LinkedIn surveyed 7,000 professionals globally and found that 84% of them believed in career luck; and “having strong communication skills” was the top factor they contributed to that luck.
Great communicators employ three things in their messages.
1. Credibility: Before others will even begin to listen to you, you need to give them a reason. You can do this through sharing stories, case studies, and displaying integrity.
2. Emotion: People need to know why they should care. How are you planning on connecting to your audience? This is why many public speeches start with a joke or anecdote to build that connection right at the start.
3. Logic: Emotion is a necessary part of connecting, but it takes logic to convince. Data and proof will help ease concerns and build trust in your communications.
Dale Carnegie wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Top performers recognize their success often came from the help of their teams, network, friends, and family. The self-made man is a myth.
A fascinating study that looked at personality traits of 1,000 of the top business to business sales people from leading companies found that despite the conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of the top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility.
Humility comes with a number of benefits. Because you are more down to earth, people tend to relate to you more easily. And because you don’t toot your own horn every time success finds its way to you, others like you.
Innovation is a lot like magic to the business world. It’s the key to solving vexing social problems, spreading new “innovative” products virally across the web, and once you lose it…you are doomed.
Blockbuster, Borders, Polaroid, Kodak, Xerox, and Palm are all examples of companies that have suffered major casualties because they failed to innovate.
What once were giants are now replaced by companies like Google and Facebook, which didn’t even exist 10 years ago.
So it’s no wonder that innovation ranks highly on the list of traits top performers possess.
9. Strong Willed and Competitive
In the same study mentioned earlier about humility in top performers, they found most top performers lacked discouragement.
Top performers were able to “handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses, and mentally prepare themselves for the next opportunity to compete.”
For many, becoming a top performer meant experiencing a number of failures along the way. Having the determination to get through it is what set one group apart from the other.
10. The Ability to Inspire, Engage & Empower
And lastly, top performers are known for their charisma and ability to inspire.
When a company needs to get their staff on board a new initiative, when a manager has to greet an exhausted and demotivated team, or when a brilliant but underperforming subordinate needs to be realigned; the one and only person who can do all these jobs is the charismatic leader.
Brilliant CEO’s have been hired and fired on this trait alone.
And I know, not all of us can turn on the charm at the drop of a hat, but you might consider at least looking into it.
Today you have learned ten ways you can add more “value” to this world. Becoming a top performer isn’t about destroying your competition or taking short cuts. It’s not about chasing success or changing who you are.
It’s about the small steps, the simple shifts, and giving your talents and abilities the attention they need to perform at their fullest.
And so I close how I began with the advice of Einstein.
“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”
This article is provided courtesy of Balanced WorkLife Company with the permission of Mini-Storage Messenger magazine. © MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC. All Rights Reserved. It is not intended for further reproduction/distribution without the exclusive permission of MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC.
Beck, Melinda “Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers are Gobbled Up” Wall Street Journal. November 23, 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704243904575630541486290052.html?KEYWORDS=Grateful+People+Are+Happier+Healthier+Long+After
Elliot, Christopher. “Southwest Airlines Pilot Holds Plane for Murder Victim’s Family.” January 10, 2011. http://elliott.org/blog/southwest-airlines-pilot-holds-plane-for-murder-victims-family/
Gallo, Amy “How to Build Confidence” Harvard Business Review. April 29, 2011. http://hbr.org/2005/12/how-to-build-your-network/ar/1
Life Magazine, May 1955, “Death of a Genius”. http://books.google.com/books?id=dlYEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
LinkedIn. “How LinkedIn Research Reveals Eighty-Four Percent of Professionals Believe in Career Luck” March 13, 2012. http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2012/03/13/470652/249022/en/New-LinkedIn-Research-Reveals-Eighty-Four-Percent-of-Professionals-Believe-in-Career-Luck.html
Martin, Steve. “Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople”. June 27, 2011. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/the_seven_personality_traits_o.html
Tjan, Anthony. “How Leaders Become Self Aware.” Harvard Business Review. July, 19, 2012. http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2012/07/how-leaders-become-self-aware.html
Uzzi, Brian. “How to Build Your Network. Harvard Business Review. December 2005. http://hbr.org/2005/12/how-to-build-your-network/ar/1