cultivating je ne sais quoi
September 18, 2007 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to create a descriptor of 'star performers' that's not tied to contextual skillset requirements?

The only common traits I've identified among people in completely different fields who've rather impressed me are [a] gets along with others effortlessly [b] gets things taken care of without making a fuss (again, the appearance of effortlessness). Are there more? Think of "that guy/gal" from your past experience and describe them to me, the more details the better. Thanks.
posted by raisons de coeur to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't really "detailed" but the number one thing for me is "consistency". If someone is good and *consistent* with it (which encompasses "reliable" too) they're more likely to get my business / be hired by me / etc, and they tend to work out.
posted by wackybrit at 1:26 AM on September 18, 2007

It's similar to your first example, but not exactly the same:
The person who other people want to work with.
posted by bunglin jones at 2:29 AM on September 18, 2007

In every situation I've ever observed, "star" performance is quantifiable: revenue generated, publications cited, etc. The beauty of quantifiable measures is that they minimize subjectivity and bias.

By the way, OP: you must work in some pretty laid-back precincts. "Star performers" I know as often as not generate, as part of or as a side effect of their performance, significant interpersonal conflict and, far more often as not receive copious attention for their achievement.
posted by MattD at 3:36 AM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: Good point MattD; I was going more for "people you admire" than "Type-A Personalities." I guess the question behind my question is more "how can I be an asset to organizations rather than a stringer-along."
posted by raisons de coeur at 3:49 AM on September 18, 2007

You might want to check out the GoodWork Project by Harvard smarty-pants (and creator of the multiple intelligence theory) Howard Gardener. It's a continuing, long-scale study of what environments and characteristics lead to "good work" in a number of fields.
posted by HeroZero at 4:19 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

This applies less to "star performers" and more to "born under a lucky star" - people into whose lap amazing opportunities fall - but two key characteristics seem to be boundless enthusiasm and an unflaggingly positive attitude.

Working in a university setting, I've noticed that the students and employees who get singled out for special treatment (job interviews with the CEO of the Fortune 500 rather than being sent through HR, paid internships overseas, promotions for which they appear to be unqualified) seem to be somewhat unremarkable in the brains department but are generally pleasant to be around. These are not people who carry their soapboxes around with them.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:48 AM on September 18, 2007

People who are motivated by something other than fear and avoiding negative consequences. People who can imagine a good outcome, a better world, even if that only means better in a small way that they can cause. People who have faith that they can improve things in a broader way than just taking care of their families or making sure they can afford what they, personally, want.
posted by amtho at 5:01 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure this is what you're looking for, but there was an article about expertise in the July-August 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review, “The Making of an Expert.”

I just read about the article (not the article itself) yesterday in this blog post, So You Think You’re An Expert Academic Librarian.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2007

I guess the question behind my question is more "how can I be an asset to organizations rather than a stringer-along."

Definitely consistency and reliability then. If you can't rely on someone, it's no good however "positive" they are, what their motivations are, or how talented they are in absolute terms. What use is talent to an organization if it's not reliable? Inconsistent but brilliant talent tends to the arts.
posted by wackybrit at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: wackybrit, isn't that a bit of a baseline requirement though? I'd think "consistency/reliability" is just required for "professional"; what's required for "awesome"?

INTPLibrarian & HeroZero, those are good pointers. I'll investigate Harvard's research in the business arena more.

Sweetie Darling, that's actually what I may be most curious about--the intangibles like social presence, attitude...
posted by raisons de coeur at 9:39 AM on September 18, 2007

raisons: It's a baseline for my opinion, but it's definitely not a baseline for most of the "professionals" I encounter. It has taken me ages to find a lawyer who is consistently good or reliable (to always return calls, things like that). It's the little things that count. Someone who actually returns calls, does what they say they will, and is truly consistent and reliable is a major asset to an organization because they're rarer than you think. Most of us are guilty of letting people who aren't like that slide because "they're only human," when we really shouldn't.
posted by wackybrit at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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