Traits of High Performers

I previously referenced an ancillary LinkedIn article in the post ‘Sense of Urgency’ defining the top 5 traits of high-performing individuals, and would like to revisit this outline in a primary focus. Many individuals in corporate America are continuously attempting to identify, attract, and retain exclusively unobtainable high performers without essential direction. The practices are an unfounded trial of experimentation with unsubstantiated hopes of efficacy for the organization. I intentionally noted high performers as unobtainable, since that is the permeating perception throughout the entirety of industry verticals. Hopefully this post will lend usable and practical insight into the makeup of high performers, so businesses can define essential qualities through strategy development, and attract corresponding high performers through enticing verbiage in job descriptions that aligns with the desires and motivators of this targeted group.

The targeted group of high performers aligns with the trite representation of a “perfect” candidate as a purple squirrel. These candidates are described as the non-existent, yet highly sought after, rodent, to reiterate and solidify the idea that the existence and attraction of candidates matching 100% of an opening’s and organizational culture’s requirements is impossible. While this opinion may be valid, I propose that the high performing group exceeds adequacy in potentiating delivery beyond mere sufficiency of predefined qualifications for a role and organizational culture. A grave disconnect is present due to organizations, and their constituents, in both developing a defensible, effective, and comprehensive strategy aimed at this people group, and containing the ability to readily identify an individual from the high performing group through analysis of an impersonal, superficial representation of an individual known as written application materials.

In our present time, the hiring authorities of many organizations still rely on application materials to form a regrettably incomplete hiring decision. We must adapt our processes in alignment with current trends to a more holistic, comprehensive assessment of a candidate through personality assessments, competency/skill assessments like trial work duties, and multiple rounds of structured interviews along with pervasive, yet not intrusive, due diligence to include character background checks. I believe the advent, and widespread adoption, of social media does create a hyper-connected world devoid of needed personal downtime, but social media allows hiring authorities to glean deeper insight into the complexities of the human mind.

Moreover, inherent potential of the high performing group is challenging to identify, despite additional data points, as individuals must either be trained for identifying signaling markers, or contain an IQ at a level allowing for accurate assessment of mental capacity within + or – 5 points (1/3rd of a standard deviation). These points hold valid unless the individual exceptionally excels in a particular vocation, trait, or specialty through definition as a thought leader or pioneer of an industry trend. We must display caution when hiring standout individuals, as our lasting impression of unsurpassed proficiency in one particular facet can jade an overall perspective of their persona, as we overlook potential to create discord within groups and other work style inadequacies like procrastination. Another prevalent industry trend is the hiring, praising, and promoting of people possessing superiority in traits known as “soft skills” that correspond to an individual’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ), yet this trend has been shown to ignore another salient trait correlated to performance of Intelligence (IQ). An analogous situation is evidenced in the job searching marketplace, as a bevy of individuals with undergraduate and graduate degrees remain jobless while a dearth of individuals exist whom possess trade skills like required for mechanics or construction workers, despite rising demand in the latter industries. The Harvard Business Review develops persuasive argumentation for consideration of both EQ and IQ when assessing either internal or external candidates for potential executives:

This example appropriately places increased priority on IQ for executives due to the complex intricacies of ideating, implementing, and executing initiatives both cross-functionally and transcending geographical boundaries with corresponding cultural and legal ramifications. Business schools present a model where strategic, tactical, and human abilities are required of all managers, yet the percentage requirement shifts when we move from front-line manager to director to executive. A front-line manager requires more emphasis, and adept proficiency, in the human aspect as they complete daily operational work through the efforts of direct reports with minimal emphasis on the strategic aspect, since these individuals execute daily tasks in adherence to standardized processes, procedures, and protocols. Executives are tasked with overseeing seamless, streamlined operations of expansive organizational entities while also promoting and implementing change initiatives to maintain pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace replete with innovative disruptions from new market participants, supplier fulfillment issues, substitute products and/or services reducing a stable market share, potential Intellectual Property (IP) impropriety such as intentional infringement or theft, and meeting adaptive consumer needs with refined product and/or service offerings through surveys and/or focus groups. The strategic-tactical-human model aptly displays that IQ is important for all managerial roles with greater emphasis on strategically demanding roles integral for uninhibited growth while traversing myriad obstacles and challenges. If an organization is seeking thoughtful change management that accounts for the likelihood of vested interest in implementation, then high performers will successfully measure the severity, frequency, and duration of imposed changes to ensure desired implementation along with additional forethought into potential unintended consequences to mitigate execution risk, and consequent financial losses.

High performers can provide a distinct competitive advantage, as top corporations realize humans are an organization’s unequivocal, indefensible, and irreplicable competitive advantage. Does your company desire to attract high performers to further the attainment and exceedance of organizational goals? Do your current offerings meet and/or exceed the fulfillment of the following 5 traits:

  1. Purpose
  2. Autonomy
  3. Impact
  4. A Formidable Team
  5. Salary and Benefits[1]

Aligning your operations with this list will serve to heighten cultural satisfaction, and consequent morale. Perceptibly “Purple Squirrel” candidates will either expectedly or unexpectedly appear in your talent pipelines with a desire to implement fruitful change for your organization. We must first ensure the capability to identify this invaluable group of individuals, then we can focus on attracting, retaining, and developing this unique subset of impactful candidates. We must not discount the importance of providing a fitting placement into a group and organization to augment the current structural integrity, rather than detract from intended progress.

I wanted to thank my viewership for expending time to read my loquacious discourses, and wish everyone a happy holiday season and Merry Christmas. Tomorrow’s piece will be succinct with a link to an article describing the unique challenges presented to high IQ individuals whom have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

[1] Migale, Davide. “5 Things Top Employees Deeply Care About.” LinkedIn, 5 Mar. 2017,





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