Book Review: The Attributes

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There are several great reasons to read The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance by Rich Diviney. You’ll discover why all-star teams often fail. You’ll learn why you or someone else comes up short even though you seem to have the skills and you should be able to perform. You’ll understand why you need both training and education to be your best. But the big benefit is that you will learn a framework you can use to improve your leadership and personal development.

This book was filled with insights for me. Here’s a review, starting with my first insight and why you might not want to pursue peak performance.

Go for Optimal Performance, not Peak Performance

Peak performance sounds good, but there is a basic problem with pursuing it. To get the best possible performance you need the best possible conditions. Peak performance is an unrealistic goal when things start to go sideways on you, which is often.

Rich Diviney thinks you should go for optimal performance instead. Here’s his definition. “Optimal performance is about doing the very best that you can in the moment–whatever that moment might be.”


The book draws a clear distinction between skills and attributes. Skills, like throwing a ball, riding a bike, or cooking a steak are things you can learn. They direct behavior. Skills are relatively easy to assess, measure, and test.

Those “Hidden Drivers”

Mastering skills is only part of performance. In sports, we see lots of players who have mastered the skills but who, somehow, don’t seem to be able to perform up to their ability. In leadership, it’s common to see leaders who know how to lead but can’t turn that knowledge into behavior.

According to Diviney, “Attributes are simply the innate traits that determine how an individual will absorb, process, and respond to the world around them.” Attributes are elemental. They are major components of who we are. We can change them, but only slowly, consciously, and with great effort.

Attributes inform behavior, they don’t direct it like skills. We might have the skills to handle a particular situation, but our attributes determine how we deploy those skills. Unlike skills, attributes are difficult to measure and test.

The Attributes

The core of the book is about 25 “foundational” attributes. Diviney groups 22 of them into core groups. Grit attributes are courage, perseverance, adaptability, and resilience. Mental acuity attributes are situational awareness, compartmentalization, task switching, and learnability. Drive attributes are self-efficacy, discipline, open-mindedness, cunning, and narcissism. Key leadership attributes are empathy, selflessness, authenticity, decisiveness, and accountability. Teamability attributes are integrity, conscientiousness, humility, and humor.

I think of those as “more or less” attributes. When you think about them and how they apply to your behavior, you think of how much or little you have of each one. But if you’ve been counting, you’ll notice that they’re only 22 of the promised 25 attributes.

The other three attributes are different. I think of them as “either/or” attributes. Each seems to have two sides of the attribute. The three are patience, competitiveness, and fear of rejection.

The idea is to use your list of attributes and determine which ones are needed in a particular situation. That will help you do things such as picking the right people for leadership roles and selecting the right members for a high-performing team.

Why all-star teams often fail

If you’ve been in the workplace any time at all, you’ve witnessed a team made up of experts and top performers that failed to achieve its goals. Many times, the problem is that the team was put together based on skills alone.

Then, when the team starts working together, conflicts and disconnects begin to appear. Considering attributes can help you make better judgments about which top performers can work well together.

Training and Education

If you want to reach your full potential, you need both training and education. Training is where you get specific skills. Education is about increasing your general knowledge, clarifying your values, and gaining experience.

You need training so you have skills you can deploy effectively. You need education to recognize the situation and determine which tools are best to use.

In a nutshell

The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance by Rich Diviney introduces you to concepts you can use to make your self-development more effective. There’s also sage advice on creating high-performing teams.

Companion Reads

The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance by Rich Diviney.

The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders by Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer. Click here for my review.

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by James Mattis and Bing West. Click here for my review.

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