Universal Traits for an Ideal Subordinate

The Ideal Subordinate

Universal traits for an ideal subordinate can be gleaned from science. The word “subordinate” implies a social structure. Scientists have found that there are predictable ways that human beings behave in social structures based on identified social needs. Specifically, if our social needs are being met, then our brain is happy and we have access to maximum thinking capability. But, if our social needs are not being met, then our brain is not happy and diverts resources away from thinking and towards taking action to remedy the situation. Scientists have found five universal social needs that the brain can interpret as a threat to our survival in a given social structure. Of course these five social needs can also be a source of rewards that enhance our survival. This post translates these five social needs into five universal traits for an ideal subordinate.

The first of five universal traits for an ideal subordinate is performing at maximum capability. Performance is measured by the people who benefit from our work. So, performing at maximum capability means the people we work with share compliments about our work with our boss and other workers. Performance in the workplace itself is a moving target so how we work must improve over time in order to continue performing at maximum capability. An ideal subordinate also welcomes performance feedback from others, including their manager, as a gift and opportunity to learn how to improve their approach to work.

The second of five universal traits for an ideal subordinate is having no or minimal interpersonal issues in the workplace. One way to have no or minimal interpersonal issues in the workplace is to display consistent and thus, predictable behavior in the workplace towards others. For example, you are going to have an issue with a coworker who yells at you for no apparent reason. You need awareness of your emotions in the workplace and why you are experiencing those emotions in order to insure your behavior is thoughtful of others and predictable by others. You also need resilience to handle the mistakes and bad behaviors of others in a productive and professional manner without resorting to silence or violence behaviors yourself. Resilience to the mistakes and bad behaviors of others comes from a healthy brain. Scientists have shown the importance of proper diet, cardiovascular exercise, sufficient sleep, positive social interactions, emotional intelligence, and mindsets to brain health.

The third of five universal traits for an ideal subordinate is commitment to the organization’s success. An ideal subordinate is as committed to the organization’s success as they are committed to their own success. A subordinate committed to the organization’s success takes initiative to point out what is wrong or needs improvement and to recommend a better way. A subordinate committed to the organization’s success goes above and beyond their personal goals to be a part of or lead change needed at the organization.

The fourth of five universal traits for an ideal subordinate is engaging others when needed regardless of the personality or traits of the other person. The ability to engage others when needed takes theory-of-mind skill. Theory-of-mind skill is the ability to use emotional empathy and cognitive empathy to surmise how another person is feeling and what another person is thinking given the workplace situation. There are some challenges in developing emotional and cognitive empathy. For example, false consensus effect is a non-conscious bias from our brain that causes us to assume that other people feel, think, and believe the same as we do. The tendency of false consensus effect can make us blind to emotional and cognitive empathy. Further, out-group bias is the tendency to have negative views about people you view as outside of your group in a given situation. The tendency of out-group bias can decrease our capacity for emotional and cognitive empathy. Finally, stereotypes, or associations between how you categorize a person with a particular trait, also can get in the way of developing emotional and cognitive empathy.

The fifth and final universal trait of an ideal subordinate is integrity. A subordinate with integrity is vigilant about learning and obeying the organization’s rules for safety, compliance, and professionalism in the workplace. A subordinate with integrity is accountable when they disobey one of the organization’s rules even if they did not know about the rule. You can be sure that a subordinate with integrity who is surprised to learn they have disobeyed an important organizational rule will research that rule and learn about other organizational rules. An ideal subordinate will also work to change organizational rules that need to be changed.

The five universal traits of an ideal subordinate are related to our universal social needs because a workplace is a social structure. The trait of performing at maximum capability is related to the social need for status. People recognized for high performance in the workplace are the people who tend to be promoted and gain status in the workplace. Also, a subordinate who has high performance increases the status of their manager. The trait of having no or minimal interpersonal issues is related to the social need for certainty. By being aware of our own emotions, we provide certainty to others in the ways we behave. The trait of commitment to the organization’s success is related to the social need for autonomy. The more a subordinate demonstrates their commitment to the organization’s success, the more autonomy the manager grants to that subordinate in their work. The trait of engaging others when needed is about the social need for relatedness. Finally, the trait of integrity is related to the social need for fairness since integrity leads to behaving in ways that are fair to others.

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