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Five Traits of Difference Makers: The Need for Speed

Executive Resource
Discover what defines a difference maker with Speed and how the people with this trait can contribute to your organization.
March 9, 2022

In our continuing series on Five Traits of Difference Makers, I would like to explore the tangible aspects of what are sometimes intangible traits. Let’s take a deep dive into the ability to work fast and smart.

Speed: the ability to climb steep learning curves quickly, to deliver projects related to the new knowledge acquired and then to replicate that experience

Speed in Action

Observable skills that contribute to Speed:

  • Organization: The Speed superpower is organization. It’s remarkable how much more quickly someone can learn and apply new knowledge in an environment where actions are scheduled, planned, and uncluttered.
  • Risk Calculation: Moving with reckless abandon is not Speed. However, those who have Speed are not risk averse. They calculate risks, gamble accordingly, explore all angles of a problem, and always have a failure contingency.
  • Multiple Approaches: Speed manifests in flexibility of approach. They will also abandon or recalibrate their own ideas. “Pride of authorship” does not afflict them.
  • Effective Meetings: The Speedy among us don’t waste time (theirs or yours). Meetings have agendas, cadences, end points…and documentation. The best Agile Scrum Masters almost always possess Speed.

“Automating a bad business process only makes a bad business process run faster,” so I was informed by my chief technology officer during my time running a large service organization. We faced the major challenge of integrating a smaller entity into our own. Our initial assessment presented us, as often happens in such endeavors, with a clunky, patched together, legacy IT system foundational to the entity’s critical functions and processes. Our initial response: Let’s fix it! That was the wrong answer, or at least the wrong instinct.

Diving into technology solutions first was not the Speed we needed in this case: enabling (or worse, accelerating) bad business decisions is the anathema of Speed. The Speed trait is not defined by immediate action, but by thoughtful deliberation.

Think of Speed not as acting fast but learning fast. We didn’t need people to work all hours coding a new system, we needed people who were willing to climb learning curves, eliminating bottlenecks, failure points, redundancies, and—most crucially— applying that learning to improved processes that led to project success.

To find the difference makers with Speed, look for those who are quick on the uptake of new concepts, are attentive to professional development opportunities, and apply new tools and technology ahead of their peers.

You have probably heard the advice: “If you want something done, get someone who is already busy to do it.” That only works if you assign the task to someone with clarity of thought and purpose, organizational skills, knowledge acquisition, and the nimbleness to multi-task. You know, someone with Speed.

Finally, those with Speed do not typically fear failure and may run headlong into catastrophe. Oddly, you should not begrudge them the attempt; catastrophe is just another learning curve. They are more likely to be emboldened and encouraged than embarrassed and defeated. They will seek another path forward.

Speed and the Emotional Intelligence Connection: Self-Regulation

The enemy of Speed is arrogance. It’s an easy path to go from being the fastest learner on a team to then assuming you are also the smartest person in the room. Pride goeth before the fall. People with Speed think before they act (or speak!), exercise emotional restraint, and neither seek nor avoid conflict. The best learners are both open to change and willing to listen to everyone while holding their personal judgment in check. You never know from whom the next great idea will come.

Climbing learning curves and applying lessons learned, particularly across multiple priorities and sometimes even subject matters, requires a level head. The fastest people I have worked with have also tended to be the coolest.

Getting Personal

Some professionals acquire 20 years of experience by repeating the same yearly grind 20 times. They may have progressed, but they did not exhibit a talent for Speed. Mark the points in your own career where you acquired new skills, overcame challenges, completed projects and—often in this generation—perhaps even changed jobs and pursued completely different fields. Take inventory of the learning curves you have overcome. What did you do with that knowledge? If you count the instances when you applied that knowledge, replicated the experience, added another tool to your effectiveness kit, and climbed the next learning curve more rapidly, then the Speed lies within.

Leading Questions

  1. If everyone’s “busy,” who is the best person on the team to take on a new project?
  2. The next quarter will have multiple priorities and require careful collaboration among business units. What are the organizational steps we need to take to increase our odds of success?
  3. Outdated technology is impairing our performance. Who are the best thinkers to include in a business requirements work group to get a jump on needs assessment and project management?



The Leader’s Checklist: SPEED

How often does a member of your team exhibit these attributes?

Team Member:
Anonymous Smith
 Consistently  Usually  Sometimes  Seldom  Never  Not Applicable
Ability to manage multiple projects
Organizes/plans work effectively
Accurately assesses risk
Rapid uptake of new concepts
Applying findings/lessons learned
Conducting effective meetings
Creative problem solving



For other articles in this series:

© Copyright 2022 Adam Jones

Adam Jones writes and speaks regularly on management, leadership, and strategic governance. He is the organizational assessment practice leader for Weaver and Tidwell, L.L.P.


Five Traits of Difference Makers: Speed