Most leaders can identify great employees. They're dependable. Proactive. Hard-working. Able to shift seamlessly from leading to following.
Yet they also bring a broad range of less tangible, but no less important, skills to the table--which means most performance evaluations don't identify many of the attributes exceptional employees possess.
To make things worse, some performance evaluations can actually penalize employees for displaying the qualities that make the biggest difference--especially to the people around them.
Here are a few examples.
1. They make relatively few important decisions.
Jeff Bezos has said, "You get paid to make high-quality decisions."
Yet often the best person to make a decision isn't the person in charge. Most of the time, the best person is the employee closest to the issue.
Great employees are decisive, but often in a different way: They decide they aren't the right person to make a decision, and then decide who is the right person.
Not because they want to avoid making certain decisions, but because they know they shouldn't make certain decisions.
2. They discipline employees relatively infrequently.
It's easy to write people up. It's easy to turn a teachable moment into a lesson learned. It's a lot harder to let people learn their own lessons--even though the lessons we learn on our own are the lessons we remember forever.
Great leaders, both formal and informal, don't scold or dictate; they help find a better way, not a disciplinary way. They know that the punishment often distracts from the lesson hopefully learned.
And that what matters is the growth, not the documentation.
3. They appear to care more about employee goals than company goals.
Good leaders can inspire their employees to achieve company goals.
The best leaders make their employees feel that what they do will benefit them as much as it does the company. (After all, for whom will you work harder: a company or yourself?)
Whether they get professional development, an opportunity to grow, a chance to shine, or a chance to flex their favorite business muscles, employees who feel a sense of personal purpose almost always outperform employees who feel a sense of company purpose.
Ultimately, what matters are the results--not the motivation that fuels those results.
4. They lead through perspiration, not inspiration.
Outgoing, charismatic, confident people tend to be seen as leaders. People who work on the business, not in the business, are seen as leaders.
But seeming like a leader doesn't make someone a leader--especially in the eyes of their teams. Research shows that while employees may appreciate occasional inspiration from their leaders, what they really appreciate is effectiveness: A boss who keeps everyone organized. On task. Focused on goals. Quick to respond.
And a boss who is quick to step in and help out wherever necessary.
As the researchers write, "If your boss could do your job, you're more likely to be happy at work."
Great bosses have people skills and technical skills. While your employees will work for whomever you put in a leadership position, given the choice, they would choose the person who helps them get things done.
Which is exactly what you need, too.
5. They don't always know the answer.
I've been in plenty of meetings where employee competence was measured by a grasp of facts, figures, and data. Can't answer a deep-dive question about yesterday's production? You clearly don't have a firm grip on your department's operations--even though that sort of command-and-control approach says nothing about your effectiveness.
One of the ways Google evaluates managers involves micromanagement: Getting involved in details that should be handled at other levels. Their best leaders score extremely low on micromanagement, and for good reason.
Employee engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence. People care the most when they feel they have the responsibility and authority not just to do what they are told, but to do what is right.
And when their boss calls to ask a question, they can answer ... and are trusted to answer.
The ability to answer questions about what happened in the past is helpful. But what really matters is the ability to answer questions about what is happening to improve the future.