Perfect employees simply don’t exist. But seasoned managers and executives are nevertheless pretty good at predicting which new hires are destined for the corner office and which are likelier to leave after a few years of workmanlike service.
You clearly want more of the former in your organization. Here’s how to identify the rising stars in your organization — and, fingers crossed, in the hiring queue.
1. Effective Communication
Effective communication is among the most important soft skills for upwardly mobile employees. It makes just about everything easier, from keeping on top of complex projects to training up junior members of the team.
Just remember that this goes both ways. Truly effective communicators know when not to talk. Don’t mistake loquaciousness for emotional intelligence — many situations call for discretion, not disculpation.
Most rising stars do fine without ever appearing on the cover of Fortune magazine or the judges’ panel on Shark Tank. But many do achieve some measure of prominence, or at least visibility, in their professional circles.
Look for people who won’t let fame get to their heads, lest it shade into notoriety. The last type of person you want on your team is someone whose top priority is calling attention to themselves, no matter how effective they are at what they do.
3. Frank Curiosity
In a 2015 Fast Company piece, 4-24 Project founder and dogged questioner Hal Gregersen remarks, “Answers are more valued than inquisitive thought, and curiosity is trained out of us” in the modern workplace.
Ironically, this blunt assessment should give every results-oriented executive pause. Curious employees — those truly interested in learning more about the world around them, even aspects of it that don’t directly pertain to their core responsibilities — are simply better at their jobs.
They’re more likely to anticipate and capitalize on trends, test new solutions (even off-the-wall-seeming ones) to old problems, and inspire their colleagues to do things differently and better. When they take their turns in the boardroom, they’re more likely to ask questions that cut to the heart of the matter — and to spot potential issues before it’s too late to fix them.
4. Fierce Organization
In some industries, the fastest-rising stars are “ideas people” — those who excel at shaping a vision, setting priorities, and leaving more practical colleagues to sort out the details.
The rap on “ideas people” is that they’re not very well organized. While it’s certainly true that not everyone is a librarian-level organizer, even ideas-driven creatives need to have a modicum of organizational skill to excel in their fields and rise faster than their peers.
During the hiring process, be sure to bring up organizational strategies. Once new hires are onboard and adjusted, watch for signs that they are — or aren’t — able to keep up with what’s required of them.
5. Courage Under Pressure
Call it working on deadline, striking while the iron is hot, buckling down — whatever. When the chips are down, rising stars don’t flinch. They get results. The aftermath of a crunch period is a great time to take stock of who’s capable of leading against future challenges and who’s destined for a supporting role.
6. Ability and Willingness to Adapt
Life comes at us fast, and rising stars are ready for it. Your organization won’t look the same in five or 10 years as it does today, if it even exists by then. Look for rising stars willing and eager to roll not just with the daily punches, but with big-picture shifts as well.
7. Internal Motivation
You don’t have time to micromanage everyone in your organization. Nor should you want to. Rising stars — those cut out to one day operate with wide latitude from their superiors, or possibly answer to no one but themselves — shouldn’t need to take hourly, daily, or even weekly direction from those up the chain of command. Look for employees and candidates comfortable with charting their own course and capable of staying on task.
Last, but not least, is self-confidence. There’s a fine line between self-absorption and self-confidence, to be sure. Your task is sorting out those more likely to seek the limelight — see points #2 above — from those with the quiet conviction that they’re up to the task.