Above the Fray

above the fray
Tom O'Connor
Author of the Protect-Biz® risk management planning process. CEO of Salt Marsh Solutions, Inc. of Georgia. Chief Risk Officer at 777 Gloucester, LLC.
Tom O'Connor
Tom O'Connor

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Above the Fray

Some time ago I was part of a competitive gathering of senior managers sharpening our presentations to market our unique abilities. An ability to develop people was at the top of everyone’s list. And yet, no one was able to articulate much behind this seemingly ubiquitous value. This memory is one of the reasons why I chose the title “ Above the Fray .” For, repeating the same old clichés and generalizations will not advance this important discussion.

It is usually a good idea to establish a level-set when so many individuals of different backgrounds come together. One way to accomplish this is to suggest a definition or an objective that can serve as a reference point to start the discussion. So, I pose the question to the reader, “What is the objective of employee development?” I’ll offer one possibility – to instill and build upon ethics and traits that can lead to increased contribution and fulfillment.

Notice that I deliberately avoided the word “skills.” Ethics and traits are more enduring than skills. And, they are also more adaptable to new situations. While skills are demanded by the daily tumble of tasks and activities, ethics and traits are above the fray. When it comes to developing people in a meaningful way, I think of the Parable of the Three Stonecutters – one was certainly above the fray when he said he was building a cathedral. Staying above the fray will demonstrate our long-term view of the asset we are helping to shape.

Many years ago I was hired by a high-tech firm with a simple hiring philosophy – find people who have consistently risen above their peers in whatever they have done – such a track record speaks volumes for skills, attitude, and work ethic. It speaks volumes for their ability to conquer new challenges and continue to rise above the fray.

The ability to develop employees demands a foundation of credibility and the elements that contribute to it. Of these, I include sincerity, objectivity, and consistency. Developing employees should not be a short-term measure to solve an immediate problem. While short-term problems may present opportunities to season and temper the mold we are creating, the process has a longer view in mind.

Consistency is a critical element of credibility. The importance of certain ethics and traits should remain constant. To do otherwise reflects a knee-jerk approach that undermines a credible vision and steady confidence in the difference between the important and the immediate. As for specific ethics and traits, I like the following, but I encourage everyone to hone their own list:

  • Initiative
  • Resourcefulness
  • Service oriented
  • Commitment to quality
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Creativity
  • Team player
  • Leadership
  • Financial responsibility
  • Role model

If I were focused on skills, I would have included: Word, Excel, setting and adjusting the Acme Roadrunner Trap, or PeopleSoft HCM 9.1 – but I didn’t. These are not above the fray.

While periodic discussions of the employee’s contribution and future goals must certainly address the level of skills and tasks, we should not forget to devote attention to the longer-term, – their demonstration and growth in terms of the ethics and traits that are critical for long-term success, the characteristics that are above the fray.


Tom O’Connor, CEO

Salt Marsh Solutions, Inc. of Georgia

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