Who Floats to the Top



There’s a war for talent developing . . . if our budgets can only accommodate the best-performing, highest-potential staff, whom do you keep and whom must you release? As the way-we-do-work changes and as tech evolutions challenge and stimulate all of us, who will keep up and lead the way? As the work becomes more specialized and more valued, the role of the multi-tasking generalist also becomes important – how can you have it both ways?

The answer is in attracting and retaining and growing the highest potential talent you can. Below are some thoughts on ‘Who Floats to the Top’, as you evaluate and consider the A players for your team.

Character Traits

1. Integrity – It’s about doing the right thing, regardless of whether someone is looking, regardless of whether anyone would ever know, regardless of whether there’s a consequence. An integrity breach is the greatest cause of concern for any leader, for the trust connection will be broken and difficult to heal. With that said, people have different standards of what it means to do the right thing, and flexibility about what’s right and wrong might be called for.

2. Passion – Showing energy and passion around projects and people is an essential element of leadership. Nobody wants someone complacent on their team, but remember that passion may display itself as an Energizer Bunny or as a quiet storm, depending on personality and communication style. Leaders need to have the judgment to know if the bunny will spin in a productive direction or just around in circles, and whether the storm is proactively focused, or just unnecessary drama.

3. Self-Awareness – Knowing yourself for all your strengths and weaknesses, knowing your values and desires and motivations is essential for success. High-potentials are well grounded in who they are and what their value-add is, but they are also open to how they can be better at who they are and what they do! On the one extreme are those who are *too* open to feedback and input and criticism, and on the other hand are those who are closed-minded and want to only do things in ways which have worked in the past. Again, the challenge is to manage others and yourself so that you and they can find that middle ground.

4. Entrepreneurial – An entrepreneurial person is always looking for a product, service, process or solution that would help better solve a problem at hand. Having the curiosity, flexibility and open-mindedness to always ask questions and entertain other-ways-of-doing-things is generally an asset for most teams. The only caution is to include the perspectives of those consistently out-there, beyond the realm of practicality, to the point of being non-productive themselves and distracting to others.

Track Record

5. Measurable accomplishments – There’s no substitute for results, and everyone knows who’s delivering on them. But not everyone is good at communicating what their role was and what the tangible outcomes were for the team. And the opposite is also true: some people are really good at taking credit for work they did not have much participation in. Helping the good people communicate what they’ve done and tackle projects that would build themselves and their team and company would serve all well. Calling out the others would also help sift out who floats to the top.

6. Working across teams and roles and companies – Embracing the perspectives of those-who-think-and-act-differently than you facilitates collaboration and more balanced, integrated solutions. Commanding the respect and support of a wide range of stakeholders is a testament to the capabilities of leaders.

7. Credentialed training – Sometimes that’s necessary, and sometimes not so much, provided you have the foundational knowledge you need to succeed. I believe in programs which are 20% about knowledge and information and 80% about applying it into a real-life setting. When someone itemizes a long list of tech credentials for example, I would ask specific questions about how each were applied and what business results were generated.


8. Focus on Measurable Results – In business, it’s about doing the right thing and showing the measurable results that align with corporate goals and serve the customer. Promising leaders continually focus on delivering and communicating those measurable results, and continually adjust, based on the needs of the individual stakeholders.

9. Team Player – Nobody wants to work with a self-centered jerk, no matter how brilliant they are. Sometimes these jerks can be charming for short periods, but then they show their true colors. Don’t spend time trying to train them and integrate them, no matter what they are achieving for the team in the short term. In the long term, if they don’t speak and act like team players, there’s no room for them on the bus. Period.

10. Politically Astute – What I’m noticed about people who are good at what they do is that they are both politically astute, and in some measure, politically adverse. They get that where there are people, there will be politics, but they don’t want to play games for the sake of the game, especially when things get personal and sneaky.

These are our thoughts on Who Floats to the Top – the same kinds of traits that have always been important, and more so in today’s business environment. What did we miss? What shouldn’t be there? Share your feedback to info@whenshespeaks.com.


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