How to be a star performer: 4 things to get good at

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One of the best ways to get what you want is to be an extraordinary performer at work. Stars get more training, more mentoring, better projects and greater flexibility. Fortunately, you don’t need the perfect job situation in order to be a star, because most star qualities come from you — from taking your basically good skills and bringing them up a notch.

Most people have the ability to be a star, according to Robert Kelly, professor at Carnegie Mellon, and author of How to Be a Star at Work, because “most people genuinely want to be more productive, do their best, and live up to their potential, but they don’t know how to do it.”

The traits that make stars different from everyone else are the strategies they use to do their own work and to work well with other people. Star strategies allow people to be highly effective, yet highly productive at the same time, so that stars can fulfill their potential at work and in their personal lives. (Yes, stars have time for both.)

It isn’t so much what you’re born with as how you use it. And the traits of star performers are traits you can teach yourself. Here are the four areas that Kelly identifies:

1. Initiative
Stars exceed expectations. Just doing your job is not enough. Stars do their own job well and then perform well in areas that exceed the job description. Generally star initiative includes helping people, taking risks and seeing a project through to the end — all in arenas that go beyond their job duties.

2. Networking
Stars don’t think of networking as something to do once a day at 3pm. For stars, it’s a constant. Nothing is a complete waste of time because you can always meet someone, talk to someone, or help someone. That last piece is important — stars know that networking is as much giving as taking. And there is an inherent humility in this way of life; stars know they can’t get what they want by acting alone.

3. Self knowledge
Knowing how to do your job is expected. You need to know how to manage your relationships, your long-term goals, and your personal development. This is not a one-time goal, this is a life commitment to very regular self-assessment. And this is a commitment to soliciting and accepting outside input, because it’s impossible to know for sure how you appear to others.

4. Kindness
Average workers see the world from their point of view. Stars have exceptional empathy and act on it: They are good followers because they know it’s important to help leaders be the best they can be, too; stars can give the right message to the right audience; and they can get an accurate big picture by looking and listening to the people around them.

The interesting thing about star performance at work is that it actually demands that you be the person you want to be anyway. Being a good person, seeking self-knowledge, and taking responsibility for where you’re going are probably key pieces of your core belief system. So you truly do not need to stray from your idea of a good life in order to be wildly successful in your career.

But Kelly is quick to point out that star performers are not people hanging out in lazy-boy chairs relying on their stellar IQ or remarkable social skills. Star performers work hard to live up to the values they believe in.

People who can be their true selves at work will be the outstanding leaders, says Rob Goffee, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School and author of Why Should Anyone Be Lead by You: What It Takes to Be an Authentic Leader. Many of you will find yourselves in a position to lead others. The most successful of you will find the right balance between authenticity and adaptability: No small feat.

To become your best self — a star, a great leader, a fulfilled worker — you need to know yourself and your goals very well. Start now. It’s a lifelong process, and done honestly, it’s the process that makes almost any job intrinsically challenging and interesting.

13 replies
  1. BKR Nair
    BKR Nair says:

    I woke up today and stumbled across this article. The entire article, especially the last paragraph, is very inspiring. cheers.

  2. Garo Sinanian
    Garo Sinanian says:

    really good article. thank you.
    you have a small typo
    3. Self knowledge
    Knowing how to do your job is expected. You need to know how to manage your relationships, you long-term goals
    SHOULD be your long-term goals I think.
    Once again, thanks for this well written article.
    * * * * *
    That’s an interesting edit because it changes the meaning of the sentence in an intersting way. I actually meant there to be an implied “and” there. This would be a great grammar discussion for seventh graders. How putting in a comma or a conjunction changes the meaning of what you say.

    Anyway, I don’t think relationships can be goals. They are ongoing. No end point.

  3. YSI
    YSI says:

    A very positive message which I encourage for adoption throughout the work place. I hope you write a follow up piece with suggestions on how a “star-in-the-making” should handle the inevitable: when the supervisor resents and undermines this would-be star’s accomplishments. This reality is immensely upsetting people whose managers are tremendously insecure and masters at passive-aggression.

  4. Anton Chuvakin
    Anton Chuvakin says:


    So, what’s the story with all the “famous” (whether overall or in a particular industry) who are a-holes?

    I have not noticed any particular uptick in kindness among the stars. Can it be explained somehow?

  5. miley cyrus
    miley cyrus says:

    hi everyone i am hannah montana i am a star i will say for you how to be a star if you be a star it will be so hard you have to wait months until you write a song and practice and everyone just see you they will come to you and there is lots of voice and that but ok be a star guys and have fun but becarful ok love hannah montana miley cyres

  6. halee
    halee says:

    i like your shows i watch them all the time and i would like for you to make me a star and preform on shows that are really good for a ten year old girl like me and i go to phelps elementry school and i am in the fourth grade in mrs.orras classroom and some times i go to mrs.staggs classroom for reading and math and science and i like for you to my house and i live with my mamaw and please have one of those long black cars and please let me bring my boyfrind and my frends with me and two out of the same fith grade and all my friends out of both fourth grade classroom and leave only two there and please let me bring my little sister with me and bring only one out of her classroom and take everyone that is in the car to diseny world.

  7. Moses Agbulu
    Moses Agbulu says:

    A great piece for any mind that longs to excel in what ever field. The principle here is simple and praticable. Thanx for the substance.

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