Last weekend, I joined the Women’s Congressional Staff Association at their Summer Leadership Conference. During our panel discussion, someone asked us what separates a good staffer from an exceptional staffer. It’s an excellent question, and I thought it would make an excellent topic for a Hill Life post.
The best answer to the question came from Pepper Pennington-Natonski, Rep. Webster’s Chief of Staff. She made the point that an exceptional staffer is someone who can perform tasks competently with minimal supervision. As she pointed out, as a COS, she doesn’t have a lot of time to answer questions or repeatedly give a staffer direction on how to complete an assignment. Being able to hand off a project to another staffer and know that it will get done, and get done right is a big part of what makes a staffer indispensable.
I agree completely that one of the most important qualities in a staffer is the ability to work well solo. But I also think that being accountable and able to accept constructive criticism are probably the most important qualities that a junior staffer can possess. Because when you’re on the lower rungs of the ladder the ability to accept responsibility for your mistakes and learn from the criticism that your superiors give you is how you make the jump to legislative aide, press secretary and beyond. Too many young staffers want to argue with their boss or give excuses for why things went wrong when just taking your licks and promising to be more diligent in the future is often the best course of action.
Even if you don’t work on the Hill, I want to hear what you think. What quality distinguishes a good employee from a great one?