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Back to School Lesson for Leaders: 9 Predictors of Employee Success

In the fall as students head back to school, I am often reminded of an article I read several years ago in the Dallas Morning News Community section. Eight local teachers were polled with the question, “How do you know a student will be successful?”

This provocative question intrigued me because I have a very high regard for teachers, and I wondered how it related to the leadership issues I deal with everyday as an executive coach.

As a parent, I reminded my children many times that their “job” was to be a good student. Well, good students turn into good employees, if they are well managed and nurtured.

Here is a summary of the top attributes the teachers named, and how managers can spot them in their teams:

  1. Curiosity: Questions like “Why?” and “How?” from a student tell you they are intellectually stimulated and possess a vision. Top performers usually are stimulated to learn as much as they can, and are agile at integrating their learning. Their quest for knowledge propels them to greatness.

  2. Belief: A child whose parents and teachers have an unbridled belief in them can achieve great things. The student believes he or she can do something even it means hard work and diligence. Over time they discover that success breeds more success. This is equally true of an employee whose manager believes in him or her.

  3. Awareness: Successful students are aware of their capabilities and limitations and work to move forward beyond those levels. Self-awareness and achievement comes from small steps forward, not blind general praise. Do you know your team’s strengths? Are you helping them gain awareness? Are the motivations in place to maximize their talents?

  4. Initiative: When the student gets an assignment and does more or goes further, this signals a successful work ethic and engaged learner. How engaged are your people? Who takes initiative? Have you recognized that, or do the initiators at your organization get pounded down?

  5. Problem solving: These are the students who take failure or mistake in stride and create a solution that moves him or her forward. They apply perseverance and creativity to solve problems. Unfortunately, this creative spark may go out and a child grows up and conforms to society. As an adult, creativity and innovation help enormously, especially when dealing with conflict or trying to persuade others. As a manager, it is your job to challenge people to get creative and think outside the box.

  6. Engaging others: These children reach out to others to reflect ideas or solicit physical help or brainpower. Students who approach problems in a team fashion get better results. In the business world a favorite tactic of interviewers is to ask how the candidate solved a problem. They are listening for the thinking style, approach and attitudes of the candidate. Did they do it alone? Did they reach out and collaborate for best ideas? Did they ask their boss what to do? How independent or dependent are they?

  7. Reflection: This plays a big part in students’ lives as they build on challenges they conquered or consider times they have failed. When is the last time you asked yourself or a team member what they learned from their success or failure? How can you integrate reflection and the insights gained from that thinking into your management style?

  8. Take action: One teacher mentioned that it is his responsibility to provide opportunities for success. Then it is up to the student to act on it, show up and do the work. As a manager, are you giving everyone a chance to succeed? Do you know your team members’ strengths? Do they know them? Are you matching the right person to the job requirements? Have you given the opportunity and challenged your team? They will reach or exceed results, but only if you set the bar high.

  9. Focus, drive, responsibility, commitment: These four traits combine to make up for deficits in other areas. Teachers and parents see this all the time in the classroom, such as a student with average intelligence who makes up for that with tremendous drive or commitment to succeed. This type of student will also succeed in the workplace. As a manager, how are you developing your people who have these natural talents, or are you only rewarding those who have the highest IQ?

How will you use these insights from educators to help your team members score higher in their careers? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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