Using Attributes to Build the Optimal Team in Your Business

07/19/2021 | Susie Engelau & Brad Justus

A team built on skills will be great… when everything goes as planned, that is, which rarely happens. And that’s when attributes become important.

While skills are learned, attributes are traits we’re born with. They can be modified with effort and practice but you either have an attribute or you don’t. Attributes are always running in the background and come out in highly challenging situations.

The notion of attributes caught our attention as something that can help the business owner build the optimal team.  We talk about hiring for skills and values but should we, and can we, hire for attributes too? Can we develop the attributes of a team member?

If behavior is informed by our attributes, and it is, then we think there can be some value in considering attributes for improving team performance.

Twenty-year Navy SEAL and Purdue grad Rich Diviney was tasked to identify why some SEALs succeed and others do not. His book, “The Attributes – 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance” can help any organization reach optimal performance. Diviney breaks the 25 Attributes into 6 categories –

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1.  Grit
2.  Mental Accuity
3.  Drive
4.  Leadership
5.  Teamability
6.  The Outliers


The Grit attributes:  Courage, Perseverance, Adaptability and Resilience

Grit is the ability and willingness to step outside your comfort zone. It’s about carrying on and pushing through, sometimes only in tiny increments, no matter how difficult or miserable the challenge.

The Mental Accuity Attributes:  Situational Awareness, Compartmentalization, Task Switching, and Learnability

 Mental Acuity is a measure of how sharp the mind is. It has little to do with education, or even raw intelligence; it is not a matter of how well-read or quick-witted you are. Rather, it’s the ability to effectively absorb and understand information, to concentrate, focus, and remember.

The Drive Attributes:  Self-efficacy, Open Mindedness, Discipline, Cunning and Narcissism

Drive is the behavior of staying focused on and pursuing goals. While Grit is about the short term, Drive is concerned with longer-term objectives – aspirations that require time and diligence to achieve. Drive typically requires functional levels in at least two of the underlying attributes. For example, if one is only high on discipline, you might have meticulously thought-out plans that never get acted upon. Cunning by itself tends to present as maliciousness. Narcissism shows up as arrogance. Open-mindedness by itself is probably just darn nice.

The Leadership Attributes:  Empathy, Selflessness, Authenticity, Decisiveness, and Accountability

Leaders have one thing in common; they inspire.  Leaders are able to inspire because they have high levels of most of the leadership attributes.  You don’t need to have exceptional levels of all five.

The Teamability Attributes:  Integrity, Conscientiousness, Humility and Humor

Teamability is about how well people work and play together, how deeply they connect, and how effectively they collaborate. The most important factor is trust. Trust is a belief that the other members will do their jobs, that they will support one another, and that they will maintain the cohesion of the group. Just like with leadership, you don’t get to decide if you’re a good teammate or if other people trust you. That’s up to your teammates.

The Outliers:  Patience/Impatience, Fear of Rejection/Insouciance (indifference / lack of concern), and Competitiveness/Non-Competitiveness

 Outliers are different from the first 22 attributes, where being near zero on any of them doesn’t promote optimal performance. The outlier attribute pairings are so situational that truly optimal performers can turn either side of the pair to their advantage.

Ways attributes can improve your small business

 1.  Assess yourself using the assessment tool at It’s designed to give you a snapshot of where you stand compared to other people. Recall how you behaved during times of stress or uncertainty when your attributes overpowered your skills. Ask friends and family members for their perspectives.  Leadership and Teamability especially require input from those who interact with You.

For attributes you rank high on, know that those are constantly running in the background, guiding your behavior.  You can hone them just by being deliberately aware of them. For the ones you’re low on? You can increase any of the attributes with enough time and practice.

2.  Assess your team members using the same process you used for yourself.

3.  Determine what attributes are key for people in your organization to have. Knowing your company’s core values will give you insight into your attributes, too. Our behavior is informed by our attributes, but our core values also factor in.

4.  Screen new hires for your organization’s key attributes. As in hiring for values, develop behavioral-based questions to get at whether a person possesses a certain attribute. For the attribute of perseverance, for example, you could ask, “Tell me about a time when you repeatedly ran into obstacles in trying to achieve a goal. What was the goal, what obstacles did you run into, how did you react, and what did you do?

 A team built on skills and values is critical to your business’ success. Adding attributes to the equation could take your team’s performance to a whole new level.