What Does An “A” Player Look Like In This New Working World?

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the employment numbers transform over the last several months. Hiring, open jobs, eliminated jobs, where you work, how you work, who you work for, what you’re doing – every aspect of the working world has gone through a shift. It’s worth taking a look at Daniel Zho’s Twitter feed for some of the more insightful and interesting data points if you’re looking for a deep dive.

Most dramatically, we’ve gone from a “seller’s market” in January, where finding the perfect person was a significant part of the process to a “buyer’s market” where the “I just need a job.” statement is said far too frequently. I, in fact, heard it from a client just yesterday.

What I also heard, much to my chagrin, yesterday was that terrible expression, “I’m looking for an A-player.” Today I’m not going to go on a rant about how that expression should be banned. Oh, and while we’re at it, can we also ban the request, “Can I pick your brain for a moment?” I re-educated the person I was speaking with, and it motivated me, along with the other events of the past week, to look at what, in this new normal, characteristics an A-Player should have.

So, here’s my list of A-Player characteristics that I’ll be seeking out in future team members

  1. Resourcefulness – we’re all learning to create things with limited resources.
  2. Active Listener – with the new work-from-anywhere virtual calls, your ability to actively listen is more critical than ever.
  3. Diverse perspectives or the courage to seek them – no one is an expert in tomorrow. You have to start asking.
  4. The perfect balance of confidence and humility – you gotta believe in what you’re doing, but there’s no need to be a jerk about it.
  5. Ability to personalize communications – all communication is about the person you are speaking TO and not what you have to say. You need to make it easy for them, not for you.
  6. Creative thinking – every rule is up for grabs now. Thinking about how you can create something new is far more valuable than just being perfect.
  7. Growth mindset a fixed mindset in a world of so much change is going to make things tough for everyone.
  8. Future-focused – I’m taking some wild guesses about the future. Like you, I’m never 100% certain. But am I thinking about today, tomorrow and a year from now with everything I do? Absolutely.
  9. Collaborative – building, working, communicating is a team activity.
  10. Visionary – this is the time. In ambiguous and ever-evolving circumstances, having a vision for a better future is a super-power to get us through the difficult parts.

Do you agree with all of these? Would you add any more? Do you think this is a magical person who doesn’t exist, or can you see yourself in these descriptions? I’m guessing there’s a little of both.

But let’s get back to that A-Player comment. To be an A-Player, I’m told, you’re not just good at all these things you’re the best. And to be the best, you have to have the most experience with these things. Right?

And now why I’m writing this article. While yes, I do think these are the characteristics we should be identifying in people who can lead us into the future, and we all have the potential to show we have them. But if we’re asking who has the most experience? Who is the best? Who, then, are the A-Players?

I’ve already met many of them.

Let me give you a little context. I get to work with brilliant people every day. They come from all corners of the world – India, Singapore, Germany, France, China, Canada, Mexico, and yes, of course, the US. I also get to work with people from all sorts of industries – media, technology, data science, software, military, finance, legal, hr, marketing, sales. Yes, recently, I worked with a first, a Methodist minister. These amazing people are all ages and all nationalities. The only thing that is the same is they’re figuring out how to navigate the working world, and that’s where I step in to help. I’m ridiculously fortunate to have such experiences.

So when I look at all these people, these fantastic people who are brilliant in their own right do any of them stand out as being “the best” in all the characteristics I listed? Yes.

Black women.

Why? Because to have made it to where they are, they’ve already had to be the best just to compete. They’ve also told me endless stories of how they’ve had to be the best at everything just to be part of the game. These women blow my mind every time I meet them.

And yet they are often invisible. As I was editing this draft, I learned that while the jobs report last week showed a gain in jobs, black women saw a loss “The economy gained 2.5 million jobs in May—and it seems those jobs are not going to black women.”

Wait? What?

I’d like to let you see what I see. It’s my opinion that black women are better for your company and they’re the potential A-Players you’ve been looking searching for. And no, it’s not because “diversity in your leadership team improves the bottom line,” it’s because they have more experience in all the skills I outlined above.

Let me show you what I see when I watch these women. Here are the tangible examples of how black women are consistently the best at these particular skills.

  1. Resourcefulness – it is a requirement when you don’t experience privilege. Right?
  2. Active Listener – their voice is often not heard or even given the floor, so when they do have a moment, they make the most of it. And to do that, they need to have heard everything.
  3. Diverse perspectives or the courage to seek them – do I really need to explain this one?
  4. The perfect balance of confidence and humility is that they know to be not too confident when they speak – for maybe our ego will be bruised – they know not to be too humble either for then we might not respect.
  5. Ability to personalize communications – these women know how to Code-switch – and no, not the technical kind. They do it for us. So we don’t have to change.
  6. Creative thinking – have you seen the article about the unwritten rules a mother gave to her son?
  7. Growth mindset – these women are drivers of change, as young girls, in their community, from the day they knew how. It’s why they are where they are. It’s how they breathe.
  8. Future-focused – try discussing the idea of generational wealth with these women. They’re working for not only today but for their family’s future. This future focus shows up everywhere.
  9. Collaborative – not one of these women will say they got to where they are by themselves. What’s consistent is that they’re also reaching back to pull others up.
  10. Visionary – racism is part of the DNA of this country. It’s heartbreaking, and yet they persist in hoping for a better future for all of us. I can’t think of anything more visionary than that. Can you?

We hire people based on their ability to solve problems in the future. This means, as a hiring manager, you should be valuing both their experience AND their potential, their past accomplishments, and their potential impact.

Are you looking at both their past and their potential when you’re making decisions about hiring? You should if you want the best.

And if black women are the best at these ten core competencies, shouldn’t they be winning ALL the leadership roles in your company even if they’re missing a skill or two?

Are you evaluating their potential as much as their experience? Are you just looking at their resume (their past) and making assumptions about their potential based on your experience?

And just a reminder, it’s significantly easier to recognize someone’s potential who looks like you and sounds like you. You know I’m right. And I know my own hands aren’t clean when it comes to decisions in my past. I own this too, which is also why I’ve written this post. But now you know, now I know, we can all do better, right?

So before I go, I want to honor the amazing black women who’ve allowed me to be part of their journey if only for a moment – Cristina, Ebony, Adimika, Shannon, Monica, Maud, Alires, Yvette, and Syrinthia – you inspire the heck out of me. My hope is others will see what I get to see and what I know, because you’re all brilliant in your unique way. 

And finally, my ask.

If you’ve read my work at all, you already know that I’ll say, “Every decision made about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in.”

We are in the rooms, making decisions about who to hire, who to include in the team, who will get the opportunity. So if you want an A-Player, well you know now who you should choose. Yes, a black woman or her daughter or her son. It’s that simple.



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