The 10 Proven Qualities of The World’s Top Performers, Part One

The Inspiration

Top PerformerSeveral months before Albert Einstein unexpectedly passed away, William Miller, an editor for LIFE magazine paid the genius a visit.

William’s son, Pat had recently become bogged down in a sort of “philosophical nihilism,” asking himself what significance there was to human endeavor if the universe was dying?

Trying to inspire his son and encourage him to make a difference in the world, William sought out an old acquaintance of Einstein’s, Professor William Hermanns, in hopes that the professor could connect his son Pat with his hero, Albert Einstein.

Professor Hermanns was a friend of Bishop Fulton Sheen and, just so happened, was planning on stopping by his old friend Albert Einstein’s house to get a statement about “the latter’s concept of God which the bishop might use on his television program.” And so Hermanns agreed to allow William and his son to come along.

Unexpected, the threesome showed up at Einstein’s door on 112 Mercer Street, to see if they could get a few minutes of the scientist’s time.

After a small discussion with Einstein’s secretary about Dr. Hermanns’ old acquaintanceship with Dr. Einstein, they were allowed to join Albert at a table for tea. Dr. Hermanns and Dr. Einstein discussed religion, but at one point William broke in to explain his son’s struggle, “[Pat] can find no reason why he should strive to achieve.”

Einstein turned to Pat, and then proceeded to respond in a thoughtful conversation. As they were preparing to leave, Dr. Einstein closed, saying:

Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”

And so we fast forward fifty years to today.

The Meaning of Value


It’s a word we use to measure the worth of a person, thing or experience. It’s the “regard” that something is held to deserve. But the way we measure value is never quite consistent.

  • Sometimes something is valued because it is rare or difficult to acquire
  • Sometimes we value something for its functionality, utility, and purpose
  • And sometimes we place value on something… because of its beauty

Yet, the way we value people, in the business sense, is not too different. We value people with exquisite skills that take years and dedication to develop. We value workers who can fill a gap in our business needs. And sometimes, we value a person for their pretty face.

And then, we take these values and lump people into silos accordingly. We have slackers, procrastinators, and underachievers. We have those who just get by, tread water, and do what’s required. And finally, we have the cream of the crop. The top performers.

But there’s a problem. No one wants to be an underachiever. No one wants to be average. And I know, for the most part, we all try to rise to the top. So why are we not all there? What stops us from being top performers, too?

Maybe it’s that we don’t know what top performers look like. Maybe we just lack the motivation to get there. Or maybe…it just feels unreachable.

As a company that’s helped thousands of professionals develop their careers; we’ve found certain qualities that differentiate the top from the bottom. The good news is that each of these “traits” can be learned and developed.

The bad news is…it takes work. And it probably won’t happen overnight. Just remember Einstein’s thoughtful advice to young Pat, “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”

So as you go through our list, consider which qualities you currently share, which you’d like to develop, and which will help you create more value in your life.

Without further ado, here are the first five qualities of a top performer (please join us tomorrow for Part Two of this impactful post!):

1. Self-Awareness

Anthony K. Tjan, author of “Hearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck said, “There is one quality that trumps all [when it comes to bringing success]. That quality is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weaknesses, your ‘super powers’ and ‘kryptonite’.”

Leaders and other top performers who have self-awareness have an incredible advantage.

They are aware of what motivates them and their decision-making. They take that awareness and apply it to how others are motivated.

They know what types of work activities will leave them feeling fulfilled and accomplished as well as which will eventually lead to burnout.

They can manage their time better since they are less likely to pursue the types of work that they are not naturally inclined to perform best at. And they will avoid getting in a position that sucks their energy dry from doing unsustainable work.

So how do you become more self-aware? Here are three things Tjan suggests.

  1. Take an aptitude test such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, or StrengthsFinder. These assessments often unclutter the complex personalities, behaviors, and motivations that make us unique, so you can start focusing on the areas that best reflect who you are at your core. (We offer one of these assessments here).
  2. Watch yourself and learn. Peter Druker put it this way. “Whenever you make a decision or take a key decision, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the results with what you expected.” Looking back on what worked and what didn’t will help you make better decisions moving forward…and teach you something about yourself.
  3. Be Aware of Others. Don’t just think of your own strengths and weaknesses but consider the talents and short comings of others. What do your team mates do better than you? What kinds of tasks are they unmotivated by?

Being more aware of others will help you think upon your own abilities and desires, which you can then turn to become more productive and effective as a top performer.

2. Values

Back in January of 2011, a Southwest Airlines pilot made an incredible career threatening decision… because of his values.

One of the passengers expected to board the plane was a grandfather whose grandson had been brutally injured by a criminal and would be taken off of life support the following morning at 9am.

The emergency of the situation had left the grandfather with little time to prepare for the flight and although he had arrived 2 hours early to LAX he was still going to be late for his flight. As he tried to explain his situation to the TSA, Southwest Employees, and other customers…no one seemed to care.

When he finally left security, he grabbed his computer bag, shoes and belt and ran to the terminal in his socks.

All this time the pilot held the plane from 11:50 to 12:02, despite security concerns and schedule pressures.

As the grandfather arrived, the pilot simply responded, “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

It’s hard to say what anyone would have done in that situation, but we can all agree that this pilot stuck to his values.

Instead of scolding their pilot for not following procedure and causing delays for thousands of additional customers, Southwest responded accordingly, “We are proud of our pilot, a man who clearly understands that taking a child off life support has consequences that run deeper than a flight taking off late.

As this story illustrates, one way to rise to the top is to stick to your values. Any ordinary employee could have followed business as usual, but this one risked his job so that a grandfather could be with his daughter and grandson in a moment he would never be able to get back had he missed it.

3. Networked

Brian Uzzi’s foundational networking article “How to Build Your Network” says there are three unique advantages networks bring: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power.

“These days, public information is easily available from a variety of sources, including the internet, but precisely because it is so accessible, public information offers significantly less competitive advantage than it used to.

Highly diverse network ties can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues. And when you trade information or skills with people whose experiences differ from your own, you provide one another with unique, exceptionally valuable resources.”

The last advantage, power, comes from your ability to connect people with win/win relationships.  Someone who has access to these kind of resources will go far in their career.

4. Confidence

The great thing about confidence is that when you have it; dangers become opportunities, obstacles become innovations, weaknesses become advantages, and setbacks become breakthroughs.

It’s no wonder why this is a quality found in top performers.

So what’s the secret to building confidence?

Amy Gallo, Editor at Harvard Business Review gives the following suggestions:

  1. Prepare. Just as you practiced piano hours and hours before ever performing at a recital, you can follow the same concept for any other areas you lack confidence.
  2. Get Out of Your Own Way. It’s okay if you don’t know everything.  It’s impossible to be above average in every element of business. Once you accept your shortcomings and allow yourself the opportunity to create something greater in yourself, you’ll find confidence is just around the corner.
  3. Get Feedback. When You Need It. If you’re anything like myself, sometimes you’re your own worst critic. Getting honest, informative feedback can validate the results of your hard practice.  And you’ll feel assured in your abilities and the improvements you’ve made.
  4. Take risks. Many people don’t know what they are capable of until they are truly tested. Sticking only to your tried and true strengths can be a hinderance to your career growth.  Find opportunities that are new to you, but still in your wheelhouse and you might surprise yourself what you are capable of achieving.

5. Gratitude

gratitude board

The Wall Street Journal reported some interesting statistics in their article, “Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers are Gobbled Up”.

In it they stated, “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”

What’s a good exercise to develop your gratitude?

Sean Achor, a positive psychology researcher and speaker recommends listing three things you’re grateful for over the next 30 days. Compare how your attitude has changed from before to after the experiment. I think you’ll be pleased.

Be sure to read Part Two of “The 10 Proven Qualities of the World’s Top Performers” here.





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This article is provided courtesy of Balanced WorkLife Company with the permission of Mini-Storage Messenger magazine. © MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC. All Rights Reserved. It is not intended for further reproduction/distribution without the exclusive permission of MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC.



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