Gillian Armstrong

@virtualgill

The ideal personality traits in an employee

What sort of people make up an ideal team? Let’s look at some examples.

Meet Blake. He’s highly resilient. A really valuable skill. No matter what life throws at him, he bounces straight back, immediately ready to go again.

Meet Art. He’s highly responsive and adaptable. Another highly valued skill. If life changes, he changes too, easily becoming whatever shape is needed.

Art and Blake work in the same team. They started around the same time and have had all the same training. From the outside they look very similar. However, Art and Blake’s organisation is changing. Spheres are out, cubes are in. Art can easily make that transition, barely missing a stride. Blake will struggle to become a square, even when he is genuinely trying. He is designed to snap back to his original shape.

If we are feeling unkind towards Blake now we won’t say he’s highly resilient, we’ll say he’s change resistant.

But not everything is positive organisational change in Blake and Art’s work lives. Their project is under pressure. The environment they are working in has shifted into a very tough spot for a time.

Thankfully, the situation is temporary. Blake, with the pressure removed, springs back into shape and walks away (bounces away?) unscathed, immediately ready to pick up the next piece of work. Suddenly that change resistance has become powerful.

Art has not fared so well. Highly adaptable, he has adapted to the poor conditions. It has not been a positive change — it has been a crushing one. If we are now feeling less kindly disposed to Art we’ll point out that another word for highly responsive is sensitive. We’ll tell him he needs to be less so…even though only moments ago we were benefiting from him being able to seamlessly respond and adapt to new environments or needs in the project or organisation.

Let’s take a step back

Now, you may be thinking that the lesson is to have only have people that are resilient AND responsive and adaptable in your team. Or maybe you wish you were all those things yourself. The fact is that these two traits are opposite ends of a scale. Wherever you fall on the scale it doesn’t mean you are only one or the other, it just represents the amount of effort and energy it will take you to be either resilient, or responsive and adaptive. There is no perfect place to be on this scale — each side has its opportunities and its challenges, as we have seen from Art and Blake, even being right in the middle has its challenges. Neither Blake nor Art are ‘better’, they are just different. The one thing we can see is that it isn’t possible to be both highly resilient and highly responsive and adaptable at the same time!

We’ve gotten into a bad habit of romanticising certain character traits and demonising others. The truth is there is no perfect set of personality traits that will work in every context. There may certainly be for a specific context, but the moment that context shifts, different traits will be needed.

We need to learn that no trait is a gift or a flaw.

Self-confidence can become Arrogance.
Stubbornness can become Perseverance.

Unless you are cursed with an excessive amount of meta-cognition (thinking about your thinking, then thinking about thinking about your thinking…) it’s almost impossible to really do the level of self reflection needed to identify what our traits are, and consider what situations we are going to be able to use those powerfully in, and which situations we may need some help in overcoming our own natural tendencies. People need outside help and support to identify those things, but to do that someone else is going to have to be willing to expend time and energy to get to know them and to work with them. Someone willing to look at people as opportunities, not problems to be solved.

What about Art and Blake?

All is definitely not lost for Art and Blake. Art can be picked up and helped to get back into a better shape. He won’t get it automatically like Blake does, and he will never be the exactly the same shape again, but with some effort and hopefully a helping hand, he can get back to something similar. Blake will find it hard to change, but it’s not impossible for him. It will however take a lot of effort and time, and almost certainly some outside help.

It wouldn’t be helpful for someone to expect Art and Blake to be good at all the same things, or to expect everything should take them the same amount of effort. It would be ridiculous to expect them to be able to change or recover in the same amount of time. It shouldn’t be seen as a negative to need or ask for outside help. Recognising that you do is a powerful thing in and of itself.

A squash ball and a ball of plasticine may look somewhat similar, but no-one would turn up for a game of squash with a ball of plasticine and expect the same performance. Why do we imagine that infinitely more complex humans are more interchangeable?

What does this mean for me?

Let me say it again. No trait is a gift, and no trait is a flaw.

Whatever you are, own it. Recognise when it will help you, and when it will hurt you. Do not let others put negative labels on you. Nobody finds everything easy, there will always be things you have to work harder at.

Find the positive side of every part of who you are. Use it.

What does this mean for my team?

When Blake and Art are treated as individuals, and given the correct support for who they are, they make a team far more powerful than either of them could be on their own.

So, what sort of employee is ideal? Anyone can be. It’s on both you and them to make sure they are. Let’s make awesome teams by having a mix of people who use who they are to make that team better.

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