Slideshow 7 qualities that produce star performers

  • December 10 2014, 4:22am EST
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Is productivity destined to be the domain of a few, or is it possible that star performance can be achieved by looking beyond the right skill-sets? It may take a combination of job competencies and certain personal qualities to drive top performance. Here are seven personal qualities that can make a difference in the workplace.

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1) A willingness to speak up

Speaking up is about expressing thoughtful ideas, offering suggestions, taking exception to things when appropriate, and coming to your own defense when you believe you’ve been wronged. Complaining doesn’t count. More than anything else, speaking up expresses a commitment to your work and to your employer. It sends the signal about something important: you think for yourself, a capability that’s lacking in business. In a highly competitive business environment, those who spend their working lives keeping a low profile may find that their tenure is shorter than expected.

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2) A sense of modesty

WSJ columnist Brent Stephens offered advice to this year’s graduates: “Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink.” But self-puffery isn’t limited to recent graduates; it’s pervasive. Just read online self-profiles and self-serving recommendations. There is the sadly mistaken notion that this is the way to do it because everyone does it. Being the exception by letting your ideas and performance speak for you may be the way to attract the attention of those who are looking to align with competent people.

3) People who don’t fall for magic bullet answers

It’s so easy to be prisoners of our inclinations — to the point of actually distorting reality. It’s easy for businesses, both small and large, to fall prey to magic bullet solutions. They are dangerous because they drown out rational thought and force decisions that take the focus away from reaching sound business objectives.

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4) People who are ruthless with themselves

Self-knowledge is perhaps the most critical trait that star performers share. A young, competent event planner alienated a key partner with her aggressive, demanding approach. When she learned of the partner's dissatisfaction, she sought advice on how to change and was so successful that the partner declared she had undergone a metamorphosis and was a joy to work with. Achievement comes from being ruthless with ourselves.

5) People who possess a deep understanding of the customer

While this should be obvious by now, it isn’t. Far too many of us have substantial difficulty recognizing that customers can either help or hurt a business. If you want proof, just visit any nearby store or speak with almost any “customer service representative.”

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6) People who avoid using jargon

They may not be the worst words in the world of business, but they’ll do until something else comes along. Here they are: “I thought I would reach out to you.” What’s wrong with “reach out”? It’s pompous. And the list is endless: bleeding edge, core competency, best practices, leverage, scalable, robust and impact. There are many others, but you get the picture. The problem with jargon is that the words don’t have concrete meaning. Jargon is a substitute for clear thinking and communicating accurately. When you see or hear it, it should be a red flag, indicating that the person using it is incompetent. If you insist on being part of the jargon crowd, go ahead and use it. You have permission to embarrass yourself.

7) People who work without ear-buds

Pervasive ear-buds, consciously or unconsciously, are the new “do not disturb” signs, replacing the closed office door that sent the same messages. We feel as if we’re invading the privacy of those wearing ear-buds and we feel guilty as they yank them off, as if to say, “Why are you disturbing me?” It seems that more and more of us want to be left alone, to be isolated from everything and everyone else, particularly when working. Ear-buds may be a way of asserting our independence or expressing disdain for what we are required to do on the job. While much office chatter was totally trivial and wasted time, the opportunity for interaction through “conversation” could be stimulating, an effective way to understand each other better, and a contributor to increased productivity, something that’s suffering today.