Lost has been off the air for a while now, but getting stranded on a desert island still looms large in most people’s imaginations. If your woebegone plane happened upon some sun-kissed atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, would you live or would you die? Who do you hope would be with you? What belongings would be most useful?

As a career and workplace writer, my thoughts naturally stray to what one would have to offer in terms of skills or traits that would aid survival and assist in the group’s society-building efforts. And because being on a desert island does bear some metaphorical resemblance to life in a modern office, let’s reflect on the characteristics that would make one successful and why.

Essential #1:  Adaptability

The circumstances of life on a desert island can be different from one moment to the next. Whether you need shelter from a violent rainstorm or a first-aid remedy for a cut foot, you have to be able to role with the punches and do what you need to do to manage whatever crisis is paramount. You have to be able to sleep on the ground and eat raw fish. To a less dramatic degree, life in a rapidly evolving business world is similar.

Essential #2: Ability to Assimilate

You might not get to choose your desert compatriots, but you’ll want to do your best to fit in with the group and be one of the most likeable castaways. It’s important that you have a good sense of the civilization that’s developing on the island and support it rather than railing against it. Likewise, in today’s companies, those who are able to effectively assimilate into an already-established culture are much more successful than those who aren’t.

Essential #3: Positive Attitude

Inevitably, you will be faced with unpleasant situations while stranded, but complaining won’t get you anywhere. An optimistic and empowered voice will help the group stay on the right track and in the right frame of mind to withstand environmental stressors. Plus, it will make you – and everyone else around you – feel better.  In the business world, too, negativity will kill your career even if you’re smart and competent, but a smile will go far in terms of gaining cooperation.

Essential #4:  Focus on the Big Picture

Details like how many pieces of kindling you need to collect or what to do with the plane’s debris are important, but these minutiae should not be allowed to overshadow the group’s primary objectives, which are to eat, drink, and stay out of the elements. Castaways – and employees – who stay focused on what really matters and concentrate on acquiring skills that will allow them to meet their goals will be rewarded for their efforts.

Essential #5:  Leadership

The effective leader who emerges among the castaways will not just jump in and seize power with no context or credibility. Rather, he/she will first strive to develop meaningful relationships and will make suggestions designed to leverage every person’s skillset and experience in a way that will benefit the group as a whole. In the corporate world, great leaders also forget strong bonds and draw on the collective wisdom of the group.

What other traits are most prized in the literal or figurative jungle?

(Photo credit: Maldivian Desert Island via Shutterstock)

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