What Qualities move Employees Up?: These “Common Core” Attributes will Improve your Career Prospects

By Charles Waldo

What are the qualities exhibited by “employees on the move,” especially managers? Those who “make things happen.” Those always in the right place at the right time doing the right things. Your “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” people. Those who get frequent calls from headhunters. Are those qualities – if they can be identified – common to all “shakers and movers” or are only some qualities needed for success in some organizations or under certain conditions but not in others?

This is not an academic question since finding the answer(s) can lead to better hiring practices, better human resource development practices, better placement and promotion decisions, and better individual and group performance. The answers can also serve as your self-development checklist since no one will be more interested in your professional development than yourself. If you don’t take your development seriously, who should – or will?

While every job and organization has its unique culture, needs, and attributes, there does seem to be a “common core” of qualities or dimensions that are found in most managers on the move. The following qualities were gleaned from a variety of well-respected professional resources such as prominent executive search firms Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds, and Heidrick & Struggles; McKinsey & Company Consulting; The Harvard Business Review; Fortune Magazine; The Center for Creative Leadership; the International Consortium for Executive Development ; Challenger, Grey, Christmas Outplacement; and noted authors such as Dr. Peter Drucker, Dr. Jack Welch, Dr. Stephen Covey, Dr. Ram Charan, and Dr. Daniel Goldman. These qualities are not in any order of importance since they are all important, although some will be more important than others in any given situation.

“Common core” performance qualities

  1. Always acts with integrity and exhibits the highest ethical behavior. Tells the truth and takes responsibility for his or her actions. Is transparent. What you see is what you get.
  2. Is committed to making a difference. Makes personal sacrifices to contribute to the success of the organization. Has a strong drive to achieve targeted results and infects her team likewise. Is persistent and doesn’t give up easily when facing obstacles. Is dependable and always come through.
  3. Seeks opportunities to learn and grow. Looks for opportunities to try out and do new things. Willingly takes on “stretch assignments.” Seeks broad business knowledge that goes beyond the scope of her present job.
  4. Knows the technical aspects of his job and his operation inside and out. Simply cannot be fooled.
  5. Has a knack for bringing out the best in her people. Can pull people together into highly effective teams and work with a wide variety of people.
  6. Seeks and uses feedback on both his performance and that of his operation. Learns from mistakes. Doesn’t take criticism personally. Has changed as a result of that feedback.
  7. Is a calculated risk-taker. Able to go against the flow and stand firm against opposition. But knows when to back off and “live to fight another day.”
  8. Is insightful and creative. Asks good questions; gets others involved in problem solving; sees things from a different perspective. Not generally satisfied with the status quo. Adapts to changing conditions. Is generally an optimist and “glass half full” person.
  9. Puts first things first and prioritizes activities according to their overall impact. Isn’t easily drawn into “brush fires.” Can separate the urgent from the important…..they’re often not the same. Remains calm under fire.
  10. Can communicate effectively in a variety of ways with a variety of people. Is an excellent listener and receiver. Reads people well and “connects” easily.
  11. Can be tough and demanding when the situation calls for it. While generally friendly with her team members, she is not their friend. Is very careful about how and when she socializes with team members.
  12. Doesn’t play favorites. Treats all team members fairly but not necessarily equally…..”different strokes for different folks.” Gives input and feedback that can help them get better. Known for getting people promoted.
  13. Exhibits good critical thinking and problem solving skills. Uses logic , “crunches the numbers” and uses analytics in decision making, but also utilizes experience, intuition, and input from others.
  14. Most resources mentioned the importance of having a trusted mentor, especially in the early stages of one’s career. This might be a college prof, an older boss, or a relative. Don’t wait for the mentor to find you.


While each of these qualities can be talked about in an academic environment, they are generally learned through the fires of experience. Reading, classes, seminars, an MBA, and so on can be helpful but the “rubber meets the road” on the day-to-day job.

For a boss or HR/HRD department — Look carefully at your personnel. None is or will be perfect and strengths will vary from person to person. Reinforce strong performances and provide development resources to beef up weaknesses. But just focus on one or two improvement areas at a time Don’t overkill.

For yourself – No one is perfect. The best development is self-development. Look as objectively as you can at qualities which need improvement. Work out a plan of attack and go for it. Perhaps you have a mentor you can tap into. Since everyone has a boss, hopefully you can get wise and objective feedback and thoughts on improvements from her. Be courageous and seek feedback from your direct reports. The state of your relationship with them will be reflected by how honest they are with you.

Your organization might already have a performance grading system which may or may not include some or all of the above qualities. You will probably have to use it, too, but that’s OK. Build on strengths and shore up weaknesses.

Charles Waldo, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing (ret.) from Anderson University’s Falls School of Business.
He can be reached as This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..