10 CEOs Answer The Question, What Are The Most Underrated Skills Most Employees Lack?

Thanks to the CEOs on Quora who took the time to answer this question.

1/10. Keep track of yourself

The corollary to being reliable is to make sure you manage yourself.

If you can manage all your tasks and deliverables without reminders, you will be treated like the golden child.

If your boss or colleagues never need to remind you about a project, deliverable, an answer to an email, etc., they will be able to take a load off their mind and be allowed to focus on other areas. And they will appreciate not having to have the uncomfortable conversation with you ("where is that item that was due yesterday?").

This takes a lot of hard work and organization, but most people can do it. You don't need a PhD (or even a college degree) to be on top of everything. You just need to be organized and prioritize its importance. Of course, while most people CAN do this, most people DON'T do this -- so doing it will be a huge differentiator for you.

Auren Hoffman

2/10. One, single skill separates "good" employees from those that are breathtaking: The ability to solve hard problems without clear answers. Problems like "how do we hire better people?", "what features are crucial for this version of our product?", or "who should we sell to and how can we effectively connect with them?"

That skill breaks down into three, related skills:

1. The ability to figure out what to do - hard problems, by their definition, are both large, and nebulous. There are a lot of potential next steps. Superstar employees figure out what comes first.

2. Writing effective goals - many people have great ideas that will likely solve those hard problems well. They fall down, however, on execution. The best way to move from ideas to action, is by forming a plan and setting specific goals with deadlines that are measurable. If there's no "due date" and you can't check it off, it's not a good goal.

3. Organizing a group and getting it done - Other replies revolve around getting work done. Even if an employee has tremendous, personal work ethic, they won't solve the truly hard problems without getting the help of others. The problems are just too big. The ability to organize and lead a team to execute large scale plans rounds out the golden triangle of skills that the best people have.

Eric Scott

Continue to the next page for advice from 8 more CEOs!

3/10. From a start-up CEO perspective, the #1 skill you should develop is ownership.

Most employees just can't be owners. This may not matter at Adobe, or Google, or wherever.

But up until you have 500 employees or so, the CEO is looking for owners. People that don't just play a role, but truly own something, that make 100% sure it comes in ahead of time and ahead of expectations -- with as little drama as possible.

Ship your feature ahead of time, and make it delightfully better than expected. Better yet, ship a feature everyone else said was too hard to build, that couldn't be done. Hit your sales plan well ahead of time, while still making time to help others and show them how to do it as well. Hit your lead commit ahead of time. Don't just balance the books, but exceed the collections goal, every month. Whatever it is.

This isn't the same as "taking the initiative", it's a superset of that. It's delivering. And it's very, very easy to do in a start-up actually. Vs. almost impossible in a BigCo. Just over deliver on everything you're given to do. And not just your part -- the whole project you are working on. See where others are falling behind, and help them. Folks around you will naturally gravitate toward that. You'll become a natural leader, over time.

That is the greatest gift to a start-up CEO any employee, at any level, can provide.

And one way or another, over time, your career will skyrocket.

Jason M. Lemkin

4/10. Fortunately, I joined the retail industry at a time when salesmanship was still a critical skill which underpinned the success of all retail enterprises at that time. So I learned salesmanship skills from some of the best in the business.

But over the ensuing 40 years since I first received that training, I have noticed a marked decline in this skill, not just in sales people ... but in everyone.

It seems that as we have become more reliant on hits, clicks and conversion rates, we have lost the ability to persuade people to buy things, to accept or agree to a position or to deliver a persuasive presentation that creates interest in a new idea, product or method i.e. salesmanship.

In our current industrial affluent age where the agony of choice is debilitating people, the skills of salesmanship can be the difference between success and failure.

I don't care who you are or what you do, you need to know how to sell. For starters, to sell yourself, then to persuade others to your point of view, to win people over to support your cause or to manufacture consent for your planned course of actions. All these outcomes require salesmanship and most employees have forgotten the art or have never been taught it.

Now while I am not a fan of the some of the tactics used by multi-level marketing companies, I have to say that their salesmanship training is as close to my old-school training as I have seen anywhere in the modern global information age. So as for finding someone who could teach this skill to others, I would suggest someone with a background operating multi-level marketing companies might be a good place to start or those familiar with the old-time Dale Carnegie sales training courses.

Peter Baskerville

Continue to the next page for advice from 6 more CEOs.

5/10. Keeping lists rather than memorizing.

It should be habit forming. It should be addicting to complete things. It should definitely take up no more than 1 minute when interacting with their lists.

All of these activities should be done in less than a minute:

Open, add an item, close.

Open, pick an item to do, close, go do it.

Open, cross off an item, pick another item, close, go do it.

Lists help:

Improve accountability.

Reduce mental stress due to memorizing.

Allow people to focus on the task at hand.

Allow managers to quickly gauge workload.

Allow them to quickly recall what they've been doing all day.

Visually organize priorities for the day.

By establishing an effective and efficient work habit, people can enter what David Allen calls, "Productive Engagement".

As a result of keeping lists, a person can devote their time to do the core work they were hired to do.

No one is hired to memorize what they need to do.

People are hired to do what needs to be done.

The more mental capacity allocated to actually doing the work, all the better for everyone involved.

James Liu

6/10. Email management

The thing that has amazed me for a long time is how poor many people are in managing their email Inboxes. I have known people who leave everything in their Inbox, never delete anything. After a couple of years, it becomes useless. You can search for the email but unless you remember the exact context or time or sender, etc. you cant find anything

I also know people who create thousands of folders, they cant find the things they are looking for either.

The rule of thumb that I follow is that you should be able to find an email without searching within 30 seconds. If you can do this, you are on the right track.

Zahid Ghadialy

Continue to the next page for advice from 4 more CEOs.

7/10. The ability to write well. I am horrified, and have been for years, at the extent to which college graduates are apparently unable to write a clear, grammatically correct sentence.

David S. Rose


Our company screens candidates and acts as the trusted second opinion for millions of dollars of worth of salaried jobs each year ~ and there is one behavioural trait that, more than any of the other 200+ we screen for, is vastly under-rated but enormously appreciated by CEOs worldwide: an elegant sense of humor.

The ability of an employee to see and express the humorous side of a matter or an issue can favorably turn around tense meetings, can clarify puzzling situations, can defuse workplace conflicts, can make life more tolerable and often more fun for others in the company or on the teams.

However, we may occasionally screen out the sarcastic sort of thinking that some mistake for humor because sarcasm is merely passive-aggression and tactlessness that even in successful leaders is a limiting flaw.

An elegant humor indicates the ability to analyze and evaluate circumstances and facts ahead of most others, and then to cast the situation in a novel, penetrating, and truthful light.

If a job candidate can readily call upon humor as a workable tool, she or he is considered by us and our clients as a valuable standout ~ provided, of course, the other traits we find mesh well with the job description.

These candidates are usually listed near or at the top of the consideration lists, and they quite often make the grade.

Barnard Law Collier

Are you ready to hear from the last two CEOs? Continue for more!

9/10. Years ago an early mentor-like individual introduced Great-Cool-Kickass (GCK) to me, and I've used those values when hiring and/or evaluating employees during my last 6 startups.

Great - would be the toolset you bring to the office...Like, if you're a carpenter, how good you are with a hammer...

Cool - would be mostly around social intelligence...Like, is this an interesting individual that cares about stuff around her? Does she get excited about stuff?

Kickass - Does she get stuff done? Can she handle obstacles on her own? Is she creative in her problem solving or does she get stuck again and again looking for guidance and advice? At early stage startup's the (K) value is the key.

I keep a small xls for each key member of my team. It's updated from my first point of contact (like the job interview) and it has the GCK value listed at 1-5.

I never hire anyone with a Kickass or Coolness value lower than 4, but I am honestly flexible on the Greatness value. I could go down to 3 or even 2 if it's not a very skill orientated area.

So, to answer your question, it seems like a lot of CEO's tend to focus on the Greatness (skills, exams, papers etc) of potential employees while I've found that you can build and teach those values over time. However, good old kickassness is hard to find. Individuals that gets sh!t done, and make things happen are rare.

To me that is an underrated skill...

Ditlev Bredahl

10/10. It's been said several times in many great answers, but I want to reiterate the importance of good communication in the workplace (both speaking and listening) and offer some tips for improving this skill.

Be Succinct

Time is especially valuable in the workplace. Articulate your point(s) in the most uncomplicated manner. This will help avoid confusion.

When on the receiving end, use your comprehension skills to quickly turn information into clear, memorable points (if they've not done that for you).

Practice this skill simply by reading and writing. Writing your thoughts before you speak forces a condensed version to prevent run-on sentences and paragraphs of redundancy. Reading will improve your comprehension skills.

Jonathan Tredway

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You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, or so the saying goes.

The same can be said for your interactions with cops, most of whom are perfectly happy to let minor infractions slide––When was the last time you were actually ticketed for jaywalking?––provided you're not a total Karen should you interact them.

Your local police officer likely doesn't care about jaywalking or the fact that you went five miles over the speed limit unless you give him a reason to, as we learned when Redditor Takdel asked police officers: "What stupid law have you enforced just because someone was an a-hole?"

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