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When I sat for a panel discussion to go over my expertise in the board space recently, one of the main topics revolved around identifying a quality outside board member. To me, this is an easy answer: The qualities that make a great board member are the same ones that would make a great employee.
Like a great board member, a great employee has expertise and education, which are easily identified through the accumulation of credentials over time. But even without experience, good employees exist — people with untapped potential and the drive to work harder and excel at what they do — with a strength of character that’s challenging to build in someone when it doesn’t come naturally. To avoid letting these good employees slip through your company’s proverbial fingers, here are six traits to look for to identify them:
Essential character qualities
Employees who miss out on a job opportunity because they lack education or experience can put in the work to build both of those qualities and develop their expertise. As they collect these tools, they are molded into great employees with high levels of expertise, but what about hiring someone without experience?
We all know the catch-22 — only hiring employees with experience keeps inexperienced employees from ever getting hired. But all it takes is for one leader to identify a quality candidate, give them that first opportunity and provide the experience they need to start becoming an expert.
Look for these six characteristics:
Passion and excitement
Good communication skills
Continued learning/desire to learn
Creativity and innovation
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Skills with a practical value
A good employee is passionate, and when their personal mission, vision and values align with those of the company, they naturally apply that passion towards their work. Passion gives them the confidence they need to tackle tasks and overcome obstacles. They feel excited about getting involved in company activities and ask how they can help to contribute.
When they can connect their work to something they care about, they feel more eager to engage and participate in company projects. Even if the task is beyond their experience and expertise, they raise their hand and volunteer anyway, hoping to get a shot at it. People with strong character know that if they feel themselves failing, they will find the solution, even if that means asking for help. They trust that each attempt, successful or not, will earn them another badge of experience and expertise, which drives them to do whatever it takes to get through it.
Good employees will also do what it takes to be prepared. If they know they have a meeting, instead of walking in blind, they research the meeting topic and bring relevant concepts to discuss with confidence. They have strong communication skills and feel comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas. If they think they know how to do a certain task faster or better, they bring those suggestions to their managers. This is why good employees stay curious and are always learning, no matter their age, degree or experience. They strive to innovate and continuous learning lets a good employee stay creative in their field. Young or old, they know there’s always another lesson to learn.
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Building character is challenging, but not impossible
It may be true that some people are born with stronger character than others, but many skills can be developed and changed over time. A child born with a certain character will soon evolve, first to be more like their parents, and then when they go to school, more like their friends. These experiences show us that character can be molded. Of course, change gets harder as we grow older, especially when it comes to changing one’s natural-born character, but even still, people can change their behavior and the way they express themselves to develop new character skills as adults. It might take dealing with some anxiety at first, and years of practice to master, but especially if someone already exhibits some qualities of a strong character, they can learn to develop more.
Character can evolve and be molded as we gain new experiences. When I was very young and living in Poland, I was more outgoing and had many friends. Life was comfortable. Then at 11 years old, I moved to the US where the other children had already established very close relationships that were less than welcoming to the new guy. Eventually, I made friends with a close-knit group of foreigners like me, but I stayed shy all the way through high school and kept to my small circle. I was never the same outgoing kid that I remembered myself to be back in Poland, at least not until I got to college and had a fresh start.
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There, instead of kids making fun of my accent, I was meeting adults who thought my accent was cool. It started conversations. All of a sudden, people took an interest in my journey and I came out of my shell. By the time I entered the corporate world, my character had completely changed. Now, no one would ever describe me as shy — but getting there took years. If someone presents the will to express these character skills but has no history of expressing them in the workplace, they may just need a chance to prove they can.
Good employees are a rare commodity and, in today’s job climate, even harder to find. Instead of only focusing on expertise and education to determine an employee’s quality, look to see if their character aligns with your company’s mission, vision and values, and pay attention to their behavior and the expression of their skills. All the experience in the world may not be enough to stop a cheater from finding ways to cheat, but with the positive qualities of a strong character, even an inexperienced employee can become a valuable part of your team.