Earlier this year, a friend received an award from his organization. It was a new “outstanding employee” recognition program and he was among the first recipients. He told me of his surprise and gratification upon reading the email that notified him of the award. He felt it was quite an honor to be recognized in this way, out of more than 4500 employees. He clicked the link to see the names of other recipients and then his heart sank a bit. After doing some quick math, he realized that about 1/3 of the company’s employees had been given the award. He was being recognized for “being in the top third of his class.”
To be fair, he still appreciated the recognition and his boss sent a congratulatory note, too, which was copied to a VP. It was a nice and well-deserved pat on the back. He recognized that the program is all well-intentioned, too. He asked me, though, what does it take to be a top performer. He already had some good answers to that question, but here are my thoughts on the issue.
Work from your strengths
Here at LeadStrategic.com, we’ve written a number of articles about strengths. We believe you were designed with a purpose and a unique mix of gifts and a style. The more you understand that design the better you will be able to leverage it effectively. When you leverage that design you will make a better contribution to your organization and be recognized as a top performer.
Don’t be a first responder to work and life. Be a first actor. A number of years ago, I conducted some interview research with leaders in a variety of fields: education, retail, ministry, engineering, and others. A common theme that emerged is the importance of intentionality. They all told me that top performers go after problems and work on solving them before they become hot. Average and mediocre “leaders” wait until the first fire alarm is pulled and then do something about it. They might indeed be very good at putting out fires. However, top performers are able to see the conditions that cause fires and change that before it gets too hot. (Click here to see more articles on intentionality.)
Enable others to work from their strengths
Top performers are often at the top not because of what they do but because of what they enable others to do. An important element of this is helping others apply the first principle above: work from your strengths. Top performers not only understand their own strengths, but have insight into the strengths of others. They help them develop those strengths and give them opportunities to use them.
Expand your view
It’s hard to put the ideas in this article into any rank order, but I might argue that this one is near the top. Top performers frequently and consistently expand their view outside their professional bubble. If you are an engineer, you explore art, history, and culture, too. If you are a salesman, you explore music theory, viniculture, and NASCAR. If you are a medical professional, you explore religion, business, and politics. Does it matter what you explore? Not really, as long as it is outside the box for your profession and it is interesting to you. Why is this important? One of the most important characteristics of top performers is the ability to see problems from a variety of perspectives and to understand the frame of reference for people from various walks of life. Read more at “How To Generate Ideas” and “Finding Yourself“.
Accept new challenges one at a time
Top performers are also eager to take on new challenges. They welcome the opportunity to stretch the limits of what they believe they can do—and in the process develop new abilities. They also prove their expanding value to co-workers, employers, and clients. They show courage and creativity in applying their strengths, intentionality, and broad perspective to solving problems that others would be afraid to tackle. However, they also have the wisdom to accept one new challenge at a time. Taking on too much decreases your effectiveness with regular duties as well as the new challenge. Search our blog for articles on risk and challenge. You can also read the article “Taking Risks.”
If someone asked you, “what does it take to be a top performer?” how would you respond? Please reply with your ideas.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.