The first fulfilled a function that has gone severely out of fashion: she was a terrific interstitial worker, filling in the gaps between departments, between specialties, between projects. With an uncanny ability to spot the cracks through which information, details and responsibility disappeared, she fixed things before they went wrong. She would also tell me when I was making a dumb decision. Everyone knows it’s stupid to surround yourself with yes men and sycophants. But the trick is to find people who believe in the mission but remain critically aware. She did that all the time.
The second had Zeitgeist. I never figured out how she did this, but she had a true sense of what was going on in the world: street sense. She could work in any medium, on any kind of project, and her work was always in tune with the times — cool and credible. Apart from her ability to work like a Trojan, she never stopped looking and thinking, and she never became cynical. Every day, every project was a fresh opportunity to learn and to shine. She was the only person I’ve ever known with endless creative resilience.
The third just had quality. He wasn’t an innovator, and in a flashy, egotistical industry (television), he didn’t make a splash. What he did have was a burning desire for serious work and a real respect for the people he worked with. As a result, good people loved working with him. I knew I could always trust him to aim high and never cut corners. He built relationships with his team that lasted for years, because he cared about everyone’s success.
Did they work for me — or did I work for them? I couldn’t say. I’d argue that no business can succeed without people like this. What other qualities do you think are essential to great employees?
Margaret Heffernan – CEO, Speaker and Writer
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