Are You a Specialty Employee?

In my most recent blog, “Your Career and My Dad’s Sweet Corn,” I suggested that MBAs, whether current or graduated, need to find ways to be regarded by their employer as a specialty employee—just as many think of the My Dad’s Sweet Corn brand as a specialty product. An employee mentally classified by the employer as a specialty employee will have so many skills and so much knowledge and experience, coupled with a winning personality, that the employer simply can’t—and won’t—lose you. So you get paid more, get choicer assignments, get more variety in your work and move ahead faster.

In this post, I would like to flesh out those “specialty” features so that you might have a yardstick against which to measure your actual performance. There are literally thousands of books and articles written by both academic researchers and management practitioners that report the results of both anecdotal and very large studies on the key qualities of “fast trackers.” There are hundreds of individual traits listed in these publications. But when tallying which traits are most frequently mentioned, the “10 Percent/90 Percent Rule” holds true: 10 percent of the total traits are listed in 90 percent of the studies. Here are the “fast tracker” (aka specialty) traits from two of my favorite books on the subject.

The first list is from High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders, by Dr. Morgan W. McCall, Jr. McCall was research director at the highly acclaimed Center for Creative Leadership which served as his database, and he is now a professor of management at USC.

1. You continually seek opportunities to learn and do new things.
2. You act with integrity and are known as a “truth teller”; you take responsibility for your own actions.
3. You adapt to cultural differences whether in a domestic or foreign assignment.
4. You seek broad business knowledge and want to understand how the company “fits together.”
5. You are committed to making a positive difference in whatever role you find yourself and can put the organization above yourself if need be.
6. You bring out the best in people, whether individually or working in teams.
7. You are insightful and able to see things from new angles and perspectives.
8. You have the courage to take reasonable risks and go against the status quo.
9. You seek and use feedback to better your own performance.
10. You learn from inevitable mistakes and don’t make the same mistake twice.
11. You are open to and able to handle criticism—and avoid being overly defensive.

The second list is from Winning by Jack Welch, Ph.D. Welch is the retired Chairman and CEO of General Electric Company and, during his 20-year run at the top, built GE into a diversified, multi-national, industry dominating, extremely profitable company as much known for its talent as its products. Additionally, Fortune 500 CEOs regularly rated Welch as their most admired CEO.

1. Integrity. Telling the truth. Being authentic.
2. Continual learner. High degree of intellectual curiosity.
3. Maturity. Able to stand the heat. Confident but not arrogant.
4. Positive energy. Thrives on action and relishes change. Contagious enthusiasm.
5. Able to energize others. Optimistic, great communicator, concerned about others’ well-being.
6. Edge—the ability to make tough “go” or “no-go” decisions in a decisive manner.
7. Execution—can push through all the inevitable problems and obstacles in any project.
8. Passion. Exhibits authentic excitement about the job and the people doing it.
9. Is able to “see around corners.” Has a “sixth sense” of what is coming, usually gained from experiences, often unhappy ones.
10. Hires, develops and keeps great people. Maintains deep “bench strength.”
11. Is resilient and able to bounce back from the inevitable set-backs.

Let’s talk about what wasn’t on the list, most notably smarts and “smarts.” While it is essential that any person wanting to move ahead in an organization, especially a large, blue chip company, have a fair degree of IQ “smarts” (GPA, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.), one doesn’t have to be “Mensa smart” to succeed. When you look at the above factors, it becomes clear most are of the EQ (Emotional Intelligence) type—the “soft side” of managing. In fact, almost all studies of competencies factors found in successful managers show that 80-90 percent are of the EQ type.

Did you assess your day-to-day job performance against the above criteria? How did you do? Even if you are not yet a manager or business owner, these qualities can be developed as an individual contributor. If there are some holes, you may want to get and devour the above books. How do you acquire EQ competencies? Just being aware of what they are is a good place to start. Try Dr. Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking book, Working With Emotional Intelligence. And maybe we’ll dig deeper in a future blog.

-Dr. Charles WaldoProfessor of Marketing
Dr. Waldo is a guest blogger for the AU MBA Program


The AU MBA program is a traditional MBA program designed for the working professional. Classes meet in the evening and mostly one night each week. Most students complete the program in less than 23 months. The MBA program is offered on the Anderson campus and in several locations in the Indianapolis area. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) nationally accredits the Anderson University MBA program, and Anderson University is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Posted in Back to Class 2011, Guest Blogger

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