Noted Industrial/Organizational Psychologist Jack H. McQuaig, founder of the McQuaig Institute of Executive Development, was famous for asking the question “What are the factors that differentiate high performers?” His study of high performance individuals and teams led him to the discovery of six characteristics that are the foundation of outstanding performance. Those six characteristics are:

  • Attitudes & Beliefs
  • Self-Motivation 
  • Stability & Persistence 
  • Maturity & Judgment 
  • Aptitudes/Capacity To Learn 
  • Temperament/Behaviour Patterns

The Attitudes and Beliefs that drive high performance go well beyond their textbook definitions. A belief is an internal feeling that something is true, even though that belief may be unproven or irrational. An attitude is the way a person expresses or applies their beliefs and values, and is expressed through words and behaviour. What Jack found in high performers was that they normally show a positive and optimistic approach to any given situation. These people look for the best in others and have shown commitment and loyalty in previous situations. Typically they are confident in own abilities and they consistently demonstrate high personal standards. Hiring for attitude means that you’ve got to ask the right questions to help uncover these key characteristics. Stay tuned for more on that topic at a later date.

Self-Motivation refers to people that have attached previous work assignments with energy and have demonstrated that they are a hard worker. These are people that go beyond what was expected as they carry out their job duties. You’d recognize them because it doesn’t seem like work to them. They bring a passion not just about work but to the activities they get involved with. People around them feed off of their enthusiasm. In its simplest form, self-motivation is the force that drives you to do things. It’s a key life skill that presents as being organised, with good time -management skills, self-esteem and confidence. Self-motivation is the ability to do what needs to be done without being prompted by others or the willingness to take a fresh approach. It is what pushes you on to complete something when you feel like giving up.

People with Stability and Persistence have shown the capacity to not only complete tasks but to maintain morale and effort in the face of obstacles, adversity and resistance. High performers have shown consistent interests, goals and activities over time and don’t shy away from adversity. Former President Calvin Coolidge is quoted as saying “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

High performers show evidence of Maturity and Judgement by demonstrating sound judgment and more often than not, taking a common sense approach. In addition to showing self-control, they are willing to forgo short-term rewards for longer term benefits. Ultimately they are willing to take personal responsibility and are realistic about their personal strengths and weaknesses. Some would describe the latter as being self-aware. I read a great article in Inc. called 7 Signs You're Not as Self-Aware as You Think that summed it up nicely. “Failure to face reality can destroy your career and your company.”

One of the major stumbling blocks to high performance that I’ve seen in organizations is the failure to pay attention to Aptitudes and the Capacity to Learn when they add or promote talent within the organization. High performers have demonstrated the ability to learn new skills and tasks quickly and to not only absorb information and ideas readily, but apply that new found knowledge. High performers have a proven ability to solve complex problems. The complexity of the problems may vary with the level of the organization that the person but operating within their span of control they are often the “go to” person. With a history of achievements, high performers also show significant progress.

The Temperament or Behaviour Pattern for a high performer really depends on the given role they fill within the organization. What’s important is that the person has the correct behaviours required for the job. One thing we know for certain is that when the behaviours don’t match it requires saps energy from the performance equation. When the fit is there it doesn't feel like work and the person in the role has that much more energy to give to the organization. Download a complimentary copy of our White Paper "How To Attract & Hire the Right Fit Every Time" here.


12/09/2013 10:42am

I most enjoyed your blog Bob on the 6 characteristics of top performers. Great refresher and reminder of ideal behaviour. We miss you at MBOT. Kindest regards and blessings!

02/05/2014 1:26pm

This topic has taught me alot.

Thank you.


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