To win an NBA championship, it takes superstars. Superstars make or break a team, taking it from a good team to an unstoppable team. Well, the same notion applies to tech - a star leader or engineer can save a failing project.
Take, for example, Google. The hiring standard at Google is well known to be extremely high. Even still, if given the choice between five "pretty good" Google engineers and one star performer, I would take the star performer without batting an eye. Who wouldn't?
Imagine two junior engineers joining Google today. One follows a steady and average growth trajectory. The other, a superstar, follows an expedited career trajectory. While they may have started in the same place (as new hires at Google), in five years there will be a substantial gap between them when it comes to the impact of their work. The star performer will have more confidence, more future opportunities, and greater financial return than the other engineer. So what gave the star performer his or her so-called star quality? And what can we all learn from him or her?
With these questions in mind, I interviewed close to thirty executives from many elite companies in Silicon Valley, from tech giants Google and Facebook, to many unicorns and baby unicorns. What I found was that every star shines in his or her own way, but there are five qualities all star performers share.
Across the board, tech executives told me that each one of their star performers is dependable and accountable. When they accept tasks, no matter how challenging, they can be counted on to get them done, and to keep their supervisors apprised of progress along the way.
We all know sometimes projects don't go as well as expected even after asking others for input or support. In cases like these, you can depend on a star performer to let you know about the hiccup as early as possible so you can begin working on a plan B.
While dependably handling anything thrown their way is great, that alone is far from star performance.
Star performers also take initiative.
It's not easy to take initiative. Initiative is more than just a bright idea. It's pinpointing issues and problems that others don't see or have chosen to ignore. It's being willing to volunteer for tasks that you think are valuable but that no one is doing.
Every executive I interviewed noted that star performers also regularly do unexpected things that positively impact the organization. (I suspect that these acts come to mind easily since they are unexpected; kind of like fondly recalling an unexpected gift from your spouse years later, even though they love and support you on a daily basis.). It's going above and beyond - taking the initiative to do so - that differentiates star performers from adequate performers.
In a leadership training, a group of managers (including myself) were asked what behaviors we felt were most damaging and unwelcome in a group setting. In coming up with our answer, it didn't take long for us to zero in on negativity - negative people have an air about them that brings everyone around them down. Star performers, on the other hand, bring positive energy to teams. They are upbeat and optimistic, which makes coworkers, managers, and other company leaders want to work with them.
But even with positive attitudes, star performers aren't afraid to point out issues. They simply do so in a constructive way, ensuring the whole team knows how making a change might benefit the project.
Hand in hand with a positive attitude often comes the willingness and ability to collaborate with others. The most successful projects come together so well because they included ideas from everyone at the table - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Star performers not only communicate well and work well with others, but also understand what is important for the organization and put the team's needs above their own. Over time, their collaborative nature tends to rub off on those around them, improving teamwork - and therefore outcomes - throughout the organization.
Willingness to Learn
The world, especially the tech world, moves fast, and and ongoing learning is a requirement for every professional. No matter how much you know about a topic today, if you don't make a concerted effort to learn new things about it each year, your knowledge will soon be out of date, rendering you mediocre. None of us want to be mediocre!
Star performers dive into new topics, striving to understand them not only for professional development, but out of personal curiosity as well. They're open to new ideas and can pick them up quickly - or if they can't, they turn to their networks to find people and resources to help them.
Dependability. Taking Initiative. Positivity. Collaborativeness. Willingness to learn.These are all admirable traits, and a little bit of each of them lives in all of us. I say this to say: every single one of these characteristics can be developed, even if they aren't presently your strong suit. In fact, I've seen many people break ahead of equally-qualified peers by making a pointed effort to cultivate these five traits.
I encourage you to think and act like a star performer starting today. Pick one of these five characteristics and really hone it, or start to work on all of them, building just a bit at a time. With practice, whether you're still a student or a tech professional, you can turn these characteristics into words that other people use to describe you - you, too, can become a star performer.