The four essential qualities in a coworker

We each look for different qualities in our coworkers – ambition, creativity, expertise, a sense of humor – but there are four which are vital. These are qualities which you can’t train if they are absent. You can reinforce and encourage their development but without them, you are better not having the person on your team.

Trust is organic. It cannot be made, but has to grow slowly day by day, year by year. Trust is built through successful collaboration, shared experiences, alignment and joint risk-taking. If you don’t trust a member of your team, they shouldn’t be part of your organization. They will burn cycles, create politics, let you down and cause tension. Just like anything organic, trust needs to be nurtured and it can suddenly be broken. Trust can be slowly eroded over time through a pattern of bad experiences or it can snap in a painful instant. Once that happens, the only solution is to part company and quickly. An organization is not a marriage – it cannot tolerate the years it takes to rebuild broken trust. Trust is the foundation in which any relationship must be based.

You can’t teach trust but you can nurture it. And you can act when it’s broken.

Let’s face it, some people just have terrible judgment. Time and again they make the wrong call. You need people in your team who will consistently make the right decision. And by right I mean a True North decision, not one backed by false, after-the-fact logic. We each have a moral compass, which may be rooted in a specific religion or not. Some people make poor decisions since they have not taken the time to tune into that moral compass, or they have let it become demagnetized making them behave anti-socially.

Good judgment is not the same as never making a mistake. We all do that. It’s about doing what is right at those crucial times when an easier but less ethical path lies ahead. It’s about having the correct radar to sense when to act or to stop a particular activity we feel is wrong. And it’s about have the courage to act on that sensation even when we don’t know what the outcome might be. Often in those situations it seems the outcome is likely to be negative (at least short-term).

You can’t teach people good judgment. But you can recognize it when you see it.

Integrity isn’t just about being honest, although that is important. It’s about acting in accordance with our principles. It’s about being a whole person (ie integral), one which is well-rounded, mature and considered. People who act with integrity are consistent, reliable, and grounded. You may have met people who give you an uncomfortable vibe. There is an aspect of their personality which somehow seems at odds with the rest of them. It may be sub-conscious that they have a particular characteristic which is misaligned. Or it may be deliberate, which is worse. We don’t expect vicars to be deviants for instance. They lack integrity since they don’t live by their principles.

You can’t train integrity. But you know when it’s absent.

It’s important we take pride in our work. That is an internal recognition for accomplishments and meeting of personal goals. Humility is the act of being able to validate our own performance and not to be reliant on external praise. Of course recognition is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t be our goal. Humble people don’t need that validation from others. In fact, they are happy for the team to take recognition. Humility is about service to others.

The opposite is arrogance. You don’t want prideful, self-promoting people on your team since they destroy team dynamics. They claim the accomplishments of others, their immature lust for recognition belittles the efforts those around them. Eventually the team will either stop trying or leave. The paradox of humility is that in pursuing goals which may yield no external recognition beyond our own self-accomplishment, and in letting others take credit, bigger milestones are often met and more praise is given.

You can’t give people humility. But you can praise the humble.

There are many characteristics which are important to be successful. In my view, the cornerstones are trust, judgment, integrity and humility. Do you agree?


I write about digital communications and personal performance. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at @morganm or subscribe to this blog here.