What makes an employee remarkable is not just skill, although skill is important. And not just experience, although experience can be important.
What matters most is attitude: motivation, temperament, emotional intelligence, a willingness to lead and follow, a willingness to be coached. Without those qualities, skill and knowledge are worthless--because they won't be put to use.
So how can you tell if a new employee may have what it takes to be exceptional?
Take it from a guy who knows a little about exceptional people and exceptional teamwork: Jeff Boss, a 13-year SEAL veteran whose top awards include four Bronze Stars with Valor and two Purple Hearts. He now works for the McChrystal Group, a business performance optimization firm.
Here's Boss's take on what a newcomer to a SEAL Team--or any team--should do:
1. Show your teammates you are willing and able to learn.
Ask to be shown how even if--especially if--you already think you know how. Volunteer for responsibility before responsibility is delegated. Then...
2. Volunteer for every new task.
And if there are no new tasks, think of ways to make current tasks better. No matter what, don't wait to be told what to do. Leaders are proactive, and proactive people don't wait to be told what to do--they're already doing it.
3. Anticipate the needs of coworkers, and the team, and the department.
Helping others demonstrates you care about teamwork. Volunteering to train and mentor new employees demonstrates leadership interest and aptitude.
Think about your role in a macro to micro, big to small way: The mission and purpose of the team always comes first; the individual always comes last.
Self-interest--your needs--should always be the smallest area of focus.
4. Demonstrate competence in your job.
Even if your job is taking out the trash or making coffee, do it to the best of your ability, be on time, and never complain.
5. Offer help to anyone and everyone who needs it (or doesn't need it).
Even the simple act of saying, "Jeff, I'm not doing anything right now. Do you need help with anything?" demonstrates a "we" and not a "me" mindset.
Why Attitude Matters Most
People drive results. Skills can be learned. Competence can be developed. Great companies can become badass companies, but only by focusing on the one thing that makes the world go round: relationships.
From day one at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, if you are not a person who current leaders see as a future team leader there is no reason to keep you. Team members must be promotable and developable; otherwise they have nothing to contribute and no place to advance.
Great people build great cultures. Great cultures build righteousness, accountability, trust, and openness; toxic cultures breed selfishness, pessimism, and finger pointing.
People are attracted to people and companies because of how those people or places are perceived. I was initially attracted to the SEAL Teams for the action: The thought of jumping out of planes and sneaking around while carrying a gun seemed like a great idea at the time.
But once I got into SEAL training and eventually the Teams I realized there was more to the job than just the cool stuff I saw on TV. I was now part of something bigger than myself. I realized there were like-minded individuals who shared a special purpose, and that the camaraderie that accompanied this uniqueness was and is unrivaled.
I also realized in SEAL training it was the people who made the SEAL teams unique. Nowhere else on earth do you find people who willingly accept misery with such disregard and humor. Once I became immersed in the lifestyle of constant training, learning, and competition, I knew I would come out the other side better than when I entered and that when I did choose to leave the service, I would have something unique to give back to my family, society, and anyone willing to listen.
There is a saying in the Teams that you earn your trident every day: You continually strive for improvement, never rest on your laurels, and if you let up, you fail.
That's the same attitude great new employees bring to the job and will maintain for their entire career--as long as you provide that sense of shared purpose, camaraderie, and culture.
Adapted with permission from a draft of Boss's book "Tier 1 Performance: A Navy SEAL's Perspective on Leadership, Humility, and Organizational Fitness." If you're a publisher, jump on it--it's great. (And no, I didn't help write it. Unfortunately.)