The One Trait Your CEO Wants You to Have

I’ve received many compliments over the years in my work life, but the one I have the hardest time accepting is when someone says I’m smart. People look at my credentials, like the fact that I’m a nuclear engineer, I’ve led nine different manufacturing businesses, or that I studied at Cambridge University, and assume that it takes intelligence to do these things. I completely disagree. The one quality I have and that I want to see most from my employees is persistence.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Persistent people exhibit fierce resolve. Acclaimed business writer, Jim Collins, uncovered this important characteristic of the best leaders and wrote about it in his landmark HBR article Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. He found these people had an internal drive, a mantra, a mission that drove them to continue to pursue their goals regardless of circumstances.   As I have written in an earlier article, persistent people demonstrate an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.

Of all the traits an employee can have, I believe persistence is, by far, the most important. Here’s why I love working with persistent people.

Persistent people are resilient. Failures and setbacks seem to only fuel their efforts. They power through adversity, working through obstacles step-by-step without losing enthusiasm. They bounce back quickly from bad news and rejection by refusing to let negative emotions derail their efforts.

Persistent people adapt and learn. They believe every outcome, positive or negative, is a chance to learn and get better. They understand “failing fast” is important because it provides instant feedback to make course corrections. They view problems as opportunities not obstacles.

Persistent people have perspective. They see adversity as only temporary. They know that, with hard work, success is just around the corner. They also see the big picture. However tough their situation is, they know it could be a lot worse.

Persistent people are patient. While most people are surprised by failures, persistent people see it as part of the process. They expect some setbacks will occur and are not frustrated by them. They keep moving forward despite the circumstances.

Persistent people find ways to recharge. They surround themselves with co-workers, friends and family who support them through their journey. This gives them outlets to work out their concerns and frustrations to strengthen themselves for the long fight.  They can push harder knowing they have a support system backing them up.

Persistent people are naturally optimistic. They persist for long periods of time because they believe a positive outcome will come from their hard work. They remain confident in their ability to overcome obstacles and challenges.

Persistent people are hard to beat.  When faced with difficulties, they don’t sulk or get depressed, they act. When they get hit, they punch back twice as hard and they don’t quit. They are difficult to compete against. As Babe Ruth famously said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

Persistent people are reliable and dependable. They are people of action. They get things done. Even when overwhelmed, they find ways to power through. You can rely on them to deliver.

Persistent people are stable. They understand mental, physical, and spiritual toughness are essential for long term success. They take care of themselves so they can lean into their problems and not get blown away by every challenge they face.

Having persistent employees, who never quit, is a huge asset for any company. CEOs are looking for those special people who can step up and deliver results regardless of the adverse circumstances. They are looking for optimistic leaders who don’t let problems or setbacks derail their efforts, people who power through adversity with an optimistic mindset.

As a CEO, I look for people with a history of persistence. I look for the engineer who worked two jobs and went to night school for six years to graduate, the veteran who served two combat tours, or the plant manager who worked their way up from the shop floor. They are the people who are going to make a difference in my company.

What do you think? Is persistence the most important employee attribute? Are there others that are more significant? What makes persistent people so valuable? Can you build a resilient company culture by hiring and promoting persistent employees? Let me know your thoughts below.

Learn more in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

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