Surviving automation: The 7 attributes of lifelong employability

Want to be irreplaceable? Dr. Mark Goulston details the soft skills you need to ensure your employability in any workplace.
This is a photo of Mark Goulston, M.D.
Mark Goulston, M.D.

You’re young, new to the workforce, looking forward to a successful career and most importantly, you are teachable, trainable and coachable.

If so, this blog’s for you.

I don’t know what it is about human nature, but people rightly or wrongly focus more on negative than positive behaviors in other people.

Maybe it’s because when things are running smoothly we are lulled into a kind of comfortable complacency, but when something negative happens, all our alarms go off as if we’re now waiting for the second shoe to drop.

Whatever the reason, this aspect of noticing the negative more than the positive isn’t going to go away.

What does that mean to your having lifelong employability?

It means first, don’t do things that tick off your boss and second, do the opposite of those things and you’ll be more successful.

Here are 7 things that often frustrate a boss:

  1. Incompetence — Not knowing what you are doing and therefore making mistakes that not only mess up your results but everyone else’s.
  2. Stupidity — When you don’t get what your boss is saying and make them have to repeat it several times (even when the problem might be that they are unclear).
  3. Passive and fearful — Not speaking up when you don’t understand something and instead, smiling and then getting it wrong.
  4. Sloppy — Careless errors in work, work product, and emails that reflect poorly on you and your boss and department.
  5. Disorganized — Especially when you’re absent and someone else has to fill in for you and can’t get through your chaotic way of doing things.
  6. Rigid — Instead of being able to pivot and adapt to changes around you, you instead dig in your heels practicing the insanity of continuing to do things the same way and expecting that to lead to different results.
  7. Uncooperative — It’s not bad enough that you’re rigid, but when you need to cooperate and collaborate with others, those others find you to be difficult.

If you don’t agree with the above, imagine that you were your boss and you as their subordinate demonstrated some or all of those attributes, would you want to give yourself a promotion or raise at the next performance review?

Okay, enough of the negativity. I just did that to get your attention.

So, if the above attributes are what might truly bug your boss, doesn’t it seem that the opposite would greatly please them?

In my experience as a consultant and coach that helps develop talent, those opposite behaviors will not only please your boss, they can make it unlikely that you’ll be replaced by someone else or automation technology.

The 7 Attributes of Lifelong Employability

  1. Competent — You’re highly skilled at the tasks you are assigned.
  2. Smart — Once told to do something, you’re a quick and accurate study and even understand why it matters without being told why.
  3. Confident and fearless — You don’t think of yourself as stupid and when you’re unclear about something are able to speak up and ask for further explanation.
  4. Obsessive about details — You measure (at least) twice and cut once and actually thrive on details and quickly catch and fix anything that is off without needing other people to tell you.
  5. Organized — You also prefer to be organized so that you can always get back to the place you stopped and furthermore can easily teach or have someone else teach others to fill in for you when necessary.
  6. Adaptive — You have a multifaceted personality so that you are able to adapt to change even though another part of you likes details and being organized. In fact, being organized actually helps you to be more flexible because you’re not wasting time trying to find where you left off.
  7. Cooperative — You’re a great team player and have the flexibility to be independent and self-reliant when you need to be and cooperative and collaborative when those are called for.

I know that it may seem that a number of the above qualities are opposites and mutually exclusive. And that may be true if you’re more than ten years in the workforce. However, if you’re young you can develop all of them.

One of the ways to get started is to reach out to your boss and friends and family that want the best for you.

Proactively say to them, “I’d like your help with something. I am committing myself to develop all of the following traits (then list the seven above) because I believe that if I do, I will be setting myself up for a long and successful career. Might we sit down for 60 minutes so that I might get from you what observable behaviors you would want to see to tell me that I possess those traits?”

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Then follow with, “I will also want to check in with you every month for you to give me input about how I am doing and how I can improve further. I’m hoping you will do this with me because if I am successful in developing those qualities, I will be someone you will enjoy working with instead of being someone that frustrates you. And finally, if you help me with this, I would greatly appreciate it if you can tell me what I can do for you to return the favor.”

Perhaps your greatest reward from doing the above is not just career longevity but the admiration and respect you will gain from your boss and family and friends, because few people make such an effort at improving themselves.

Join the Conversation: Share your thoughts on Dr. Goulston’s latest article on our Facebook page.

Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

Connect with Dr. Goulston through FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn. His books are available on Amazon. Check out his videos on YouTube or take advantage of free resources available at

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