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  • Rob Houghton

The FIVE Attributes of a Superstar

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

I presented a candidate for an account manager position this past week to a client of mine. The individual is one of the most impressive young women I have ever come across in my insurance business. But the client passed on her because “she does not have the precise experience we are seeking in a candidate.” I almost fell out of my chair.


I reminded them that most people are hired for what they have done and everyone is fired for who they are.” The what is the resume and the who being character, and their attributes and intangibles. Attributes are the necessary ingredients to being a superstar – in any profession.

I presented this same individual to another client whom I have known for many years. They have always taken my advice and hired much more so on Attributes than Experience. The results? They have grown from 13 staff to 63 in seven years. An amazing story. They now dominate their insurance niche.


What happened to this candidate I presented? They interviewed her this past Monday and then again on Tuesday. They made her an offer on Wednesday and she immediately accepted. She starts in two weeks. Why did they hire her so quickly? Her experience was not even relevant. But her attributes are off the charts.


So what are attributes and what are the most important ones to look for? There are five of them.

I will take a page out of my US Special Operations leadership training guide and present this in layman’s terms:


Grit: Determination. Not knowing how to quit. Overcoming adversity. In 1979, I drove 2,100 miles to Houston, TX after college graduation with $50 in my pocket. I had one month earlier written handwritten letters to 100 potential firms. 13 responded. Six phone interviews. Three in-person interviews. I landed one of those positions in Houston. But I overslept the first day I was supposed to show up to work. I was fired for showing up three hours late. I feverishly wrote more letters to local Houston firms. No response!


I then got the address and drove to the #1 public accounting firm’s office in Houston – Arthur Anderson & Co. I took the elevator to the 17th floor and literally walked right into the Managing Partner’s office at 5 pm as he was clearing his desk for the day. I stated my case and asked him for a job. I told him my story of overcoming adversity. He hired me. That was my first real job. And the rest is history. That is grit, my friends. You never quit. Never.


Mental Acuity: Smarts. You just can’t teach smarts. You either have it or you don’t. You can have 15 years of experience, but if you don’t have situational awareness, the ability to learn quickly, and task-switching capability, chances are you’ll be at the same company at the same desk 15 years from now. Taking up space.


Learnability is critical, particularly, in the insurance brokerage business because you are dealing with so many different industries and people. Every situation is different. Thinking critically is invaluable. Not having insight when performing risk management functions is a killer.


Drive: Drive is much more than “trying hard.” The drive is having the discipline and courage to keep moving forward in a calculated and focused manner. Without focus, the drive will burn you out. A cousin to drive is open-mindedness. You have to be open-minded about what the correct path is to take.


Leadership: The best leaders in US Special Operations are the authentic ones. Special operators have a unique bullshit meter and can smell it a mile away. You cannot lead men and women if you aren’t authentic.


I have a neighbor who is a partner in a well-known public accounting firm. When I first discovered he was a partner when first introduced to him I found myself in disbelief because he can’t be much older than 30 years old. I quickly found him to be extremely authentic. It is who he is. He’s a great person to be around. It is refreshing. And people are drawn to authenticity in a society now that we live in where authenticity is hard to find.


Leadership is also about selflessness. As the leader, you lead by example. Leadership is not management. It is about being decisive and accountable. As the leader, you own the project. If it fails, you have failed. You own it. Management is telling someone else what to do; monitoring them. You don’t own the project or department – you just oversee it.


Leadership is about empowering and enabling someone to do something so you don’t have to monitor or watch them. I look for leadership capability. Managers are a dime a dozen.


Teamability: We hear a lot about, “he/she is a team player…” What is a team player? I played a lot of competitive sports through high school, college, and after. Teamability is about being part of something greater – 1+ 1 = 3. Team players are winners. I love to win. Always have.


Teamability is also about humility. The ability to achieve great things and make sure everyone on the team receives the credit. You don’t need the credit. You’re already the leader!


Here is one you probably don’t think of Humor. It’s not uncommon for special operators as well as other first responders to inject humor into life-threatening situations. It relieves stress. It relaxes the mind to gain the necessary clarity to make critical decisions “under fire.”


So how do you know if someone has these attributes? There are a number of really good personality tests that measure personal attributes. Most cost less than $100.00 to administer. Take one yourself. You will learn about yourself. Know thyself!


Additionally, you can pull these out of a resume if you know how to look…i.e. competitive sports is one indicator, leadership positions – career progression is another. But the most effective way to uncover these attributes is knowing how to stage and execute a behavioral-based interview. Open-ended questioning is an art and so are the trained techniques of personal assessment. Questioning and Counter-Questioning is the subject of another blog. The simple answer is this is what my clients pay me to do.


Do you have these attributes?


I welcome your feedback and any questions you may have.

-Rob

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