Signs You’re A Unicorn Employee

An anomaly in the business world, hone in on the signs you're a unicorn employee and success will follow.

What are the signs you’re a unicorn employee? Or could you spot one amidst the long humdrum line in the labor force? Once in a while, someone will present himself out of the dark recesses of the office, a mythical creature brought in by luck or providence. Don’t bother to find this person. He or she will most likely find you, and with him or her, all the innovation and clarity needed to bring your company to the next level. The unicorn employee will not only refine your business model. He will redefine it, and even break it all together. This could be you, or someone close to you. When you spot one, don’t be afraid to learn as much as you can. An encounter with a beautiful anomaly needs to be studied and emulated. Excited to know of the signs you’re a unicorn employee?

Unlike Simon Sinek who believed that the magic question to business is your "Why?" Ryan Holmes, the CEO of Hootsuite, among many others, may believe that it’s actually the "Who?" The Who will take challenges given, untethered by position or limitations. He or she will simply slay. Here are the other qualities that Holmes believes will make you a rarity in the work force.

Do What Needs to Be Done

Much of the labor force these days cannot delineate between work and play. Many people mistakenly focus on being the big personality in the office, the one who’s the most fun at Christmas parties, the one people talk to endlessly by the water cooler But amidst the high fives and bro hugs, Holmes always emphasizes that the most basic sign you’re a unicorn employee is that you produce results. He says, “I (too) am a huge proponent of having fun at work and believe it’s crucial to success. However I can’t stress how important it is for people on the job to be able to get shit done.”

Many employers, including Microsoft, believe in the unequal distribution of input and output among their employees as stated in the Pareto principle, that only 20% of the employee base produce 80% of the output. If you’re showing signs you’re a unicorn employee, you may well be part of the 20% who actually gets something done.

Have the Grit to Get What You Want

A unicorn employee isn’t a superstar. Whereas a superstar is defined as someone who comes on really strong in the beginning but whose light fades away once the going gets tough, a unicorn employee, on the other hand, has the intangible “grit” to endure even when the climb is difficult. You show signs you’re a unicorn employee when you don’t give up on the first few hitches that come your way, when the constant praises of your boss have long waned. A unicorn employee will persist amidst failures, and even then, will stubbornly never admit failure.

To a unicorn employee, there is always more to be done. There are more problems to be solved. There are more business records to break. In a way, this rarity thrives on challenges. This is a helpful and healthy perspective especially when the company is going through hypergrowth. You need someone whose very nature will not drop the ball.

Know Your Own Value

These signs you’re a unicorn employee may be misinterpreted as arrogant or condescending. On the contrary, Holmes insists that these employees are intrinsically respectful of their fellow workers and their work environment. A unicorn employee is not a diva. This is what makes him or her such an anomaly. Because while they know their value in the workforce, they also realize that they cannot achieve greatness alone.

Humility may be an underrated virtue (excuse the irony) but even Holmes values it so much that he placed it as one of Hootsuite’s core values: “Lead with humility.” and “Respect the individual.”

Look Near and Far

Another uncommon trait that a unicorn employee has is the ability to look at the big picture, then zone in to the small details, when necessary. Some will consider this a skill that can be honed, while others will consider this as a talent. Whichever the case, because of the stellar performance of unicorn employees, they are often entrusted with huge responsibilities, even representing the company in major deals, where meticulousness and fine print reading is necessary. Even amidst doing this, one part of him or her still doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and understands that while small crucial steps are necessary, it is only a part in a definitive value chain.

Never Say It’s Not in Your Job Description

What are the last concrete signs you’re a unicorn employee, you ask? Well, as mentioned in the beginning, unicorn employees will come out of nowhere. They will not be hindered by their respective departments, titles, positions, and job descriptions. They will go forth where they feel they will add value, and contribute unabashedly and fully not to impress but because it fulfills them.

Skills can be learned, and leadership can be transferred. A unicorn employee will thrive wherever he or she is put. So if you’re interested in other areas of expertise, and you feel like it can become part of your high value activities, then don’t hesitate to extend assistance. Unicorn employees certainly won’t.

It’s never too late to own any of these attributes. Whether you show some or all signs you’re a unicorn employee, teach what you learned and share it with others. Who knows? You may be building a herd of unicorn employees soon. Start by sharing this article, and see if you can attract your tribe.

Leila Parker
Leila Parker

Newly graduated Industrial-Organizational Psychologist. I'm a cyclist who works, thinks and writes about workplace culture, behavior and self-motivation.

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Signs You’re A Unicorn Employee