Character traits are inner qualities that help you rise above the competition.
Whether selling a product to a consumer or selling yourself to an employer, it is clearly the intangible of character that accomplishes the job. In his book, Secrets of Question Based Selling,” Thomas A. Freese says that it is a myth that success is built on relationships and trust. Actually, while relationships and trust are valuable, it takes too long to build a true relationship to make that the selling focal point. People respond to intangibles: credibility, value, perceived competence, integrity, being a thought leader. Through these the salesman gets the sale.
The same basic concept holds true when it comes time to land a job. Employers respond to character intangibles: honesty, diligence, creativity, flexibility, credibility and integrity are significant aspects of an employee’s character. So much so, that Google, one of the world’s most successful companies, says that test scores and GPA’s are “worthless as criteria for hiring” successful employees. So what does Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, look at to make a good pick? Intangibles of character. Here’s his top five.
While good grades don’t hurt, and math, computing and coding skills are a must for at least 50% of Google employees, “the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.” One’s learning ability can be seen by insights into life, by knowing how the world works.
Identifying leadership as the second key intangible character trait, Bock defines the concept of leadership carefully. “What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
Two further steps complement Bock’s description of leadership: humility and ownership. What does Bock have in mind when he couples humility with ownership? He wants people who will take responsibility as one person on a team of responsible people. He says, “What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
If these two character traits seem to be in conflict with each other it is because they are. That’s what makes the pairing so difficult and the finding of both in one human so rare. Those who misunderstand humility often fail to boldly take ownership. Those who design to have ownership often hold it as though they alone were capable of it.
“Without humility, you are unable to learn.” Very bright people are so successful that they have less opportunity to fail and less opportunity to learn from failure. Instead, they “commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.” Bock clarifies the issue strategically.
Expertise is the final character quality. Why is it rated lowest? Because those who consider themselves to be experts in a given field often have quit learning. They have attained the pinnacle of their career mountain and are no longer curious or interested in a better way of doing things. “This is the best way! I’m the expert.” The defensive expert is not an uncommon matching of attributes. Because I’m the expert, we must do it my way. Or I’ll get upset.
Which is why Bock reminds that “in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” Soft skills are intangible internal character traits.
Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times provided the online basis for the above thoughts. Careful to encourage education, Friedman still concludes from the interview with Bock, “Too many colleges don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s an extended adolescence.”
To learn intangibles you must go to the school that has been around longer than any University, American, British, European or otherwise: the School of Hard Knocks. That’s a rather colloquial way of expressing it. But when you think about it, intangible character is learned by living and responding to life with wisdom.