There’s always at least one employee who always seems to be on top of their work. Not only do they meet their deadlines with a positive attitude, these co-workers are also willing to help others, try new things and jump into foreign situations with confidence. Everyone wants to work with them and everyone wants to be them.
However, these co-workers weren’t just born with a natural ability to thrive in an office environment. In fact, it’s likely that they worked incredibly hard to reach the levels of confidence they display today. This is good news for you because it means you can also work to reach that level of success.
They Start the Day on a Positive Note
Every day is different. Just because yesterday was terrible doesn’t mean today can’t be great. Negative emotions tend to snowball when left unchecked, so taking a mental break at the end of one day and creating a new start the next morning can help a team get into a solutions-based headspace instead of focusing on the negative emotions from the previous day.
“However the day ended yesterday for your team, get each morning off to a positive start,” Bizfi founder Stephen Sheinbaum says. He offers tips like playing music in the morning (with rotating DJs) to wake people up or starting with an office breakfast or activity to engage employees in a positive way. This process doesn’t prevent negative feelings or negate problems, but it does force employees to start every day fresh.
They Work With People Who Challenge Them
Athletes know that competing against a strong rival helps them perform better and motivates them to push harder. Daniel McGinn, author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, took this a step further and applied it to the workplace. He found the people you sit next to at work have a significant impact on your performance.
If you surround yourself with friends and slackers, then you’re more likely to relax throughout the day. However, if you sit next to someone who is highly driven — or even better, someone you consider a “frenemy” — then you could find yourself working harder to keep up or prove yourself. Successful people actively seek out challenging environments in order to improve their own performance.
They Specialize and Focus on Their Strengths
Lewis Schiff, the author of Business Brilliant, encourages entrepreneurs to focus. You may be tempted to branch out and work on everything, but the people who are most successful become experts in one particular element.
To determine if you are focused in your skillset, Schiff encourages readers to answer three questions:
Do you know what you are exceptionally good at that makes you money?
Write down areas where you’re exceptional. How many did you write down?
Do you work to get better at things you're not exceptional at?
Schiff has found that exceptional people answer no to this last question. Instead, they delegate tasks and work with others who make up for those weaknesses. By focusing on what you’re good at, you can be the best at one thing instead of average at a few things.
They Don’t Overload Themselves With Work
Entrepreneur Jessica Thiefels writes that successful people know when to say no. Like the entrepreneurs who specialize in particular tasks, successful employees know when they’re taking on too much and can ask for help or changes to their workloads.
This isn’t always easy; however, there is a set formula you can follow whenever you have to turn something down. According to Paula Rizzo, who founded the productivity site List Producer, follow these four steps:
Let your team member or manager know immediately when you can’t do something so they have time to find an alternative.
Be honest and explain exactly why you can’t do it.
Suggest an alternative or provide a solution that can still help them complete the work.
Ask for a raincheck and offer to help them in the future when you have more time.
Pressure to perform can make some people accept everything, but successful employees will take what they can and do their best work, instead of spreading the bare minimum of resources across too many tasks.
They Listen to Others and Apply Feedback
With email, chat apps, conference calls and texts, people are communicating almost constantly. However, few are listening. This simple trait is becoming an in-demand skill as more people struggle to feel heard.
“Listening is a pretty basic skill, but sometimes listening gets confused with waiting for the other person to stop talking,” Abby Roskind writes at the Career Contessa. “When you’re paying attention to the voice in your head, you can’t possibly be hearing the other person out.”
One way you can practice listening is by soliciting feedback and applying it to your work process.
“Next time someone comments on your work practices keep an open mind and take time to process it,” Josefina Romano writes at Dean's Professional Services. “Do your best to improve what you can and become a better professional for you and your teammates.”
Depending on your own personal work style, there are a few ways you can do this:
Record feedback in a personal document and brainstorm ways to practice it.
Set a habit or behavioral goal each week and work to improve it.
Find a co-worker who can keep you accountable as you try to apply the feedback.
If you listen to feedback and do nothing about it then you might as well have not been listening at all.
They Take Initiative to Support Their Co-workers
Top-notch employees are there when you’re scrambling to balance your packed workload. From picking up a simple task like printing and stapling reports to more advanced challenges like leading conference calls, employees who take initiative are highly valued in the workplace.
“Be aware of your surroundings, the bigger picture of your job function, and the needs of your company/employer, and you’ll be able to find ways to fill in the holes nobody else can fill,” Erika Kauffman of 5W Public Relations says.
You don’t have to go out of your way or overload your plate, you simply have to find needs and work to solve them. In some ways, employees who take initiative play more of a supportive role in their departments.
“Organizational success hinges on the contributions from all team members – so collaboration, communication, and support are key,” Lexie Murdough writes at WilsonCTS. Supportive employees answer questions and carry the load when they see others need help.
They Are Open-Minded to Other Ideas
“In being open-minded you find value in all kinds of different people, events, and circumstances,” psychologist Sherrie Campbell writes. “You demonstrate a willingness to embrace an array of possibilities, opportunities, thoughts, views, suggestions, and experiences outside of your normal repertoire.”
Open-minded employees are typically better able to navigate organizational changes and are willing to consider the opinions of others — regardless of their position in the company.
This skill might not come easily to those set in their ways and who hesitate to try new approaches. To solve this, HR specialist Enrique Rubio created a list of ideas that readers can try to expand their open-mindedness:
Diagnose problems collectively by inviting different people to brainstorm. This will introduce you to new ideas you might like.
Surround yourself with a diverse workplace with people of different backgrounds, ages, and skillsets.
Identify assumptions and prejudices you have and learn to reject them.
If you focus on one of these ideas for a few weeks at a time you can learn to stop negative or limited thinking and open your mind to new ideas.
They Practice Critical Thinking
Employee engagement expert Jill Christensen writes that critical thinking is one of the most important skills employers look for. She says some the abilities that come with critical thinking are:
Evaluating different arguments
Identifying mistakes or inconsistencies in reasoning
Coming up with creative solutions
Predicting possible consequences of decisions
Each of these skills can stand on their own as important. For example, employees who can evaluate different arguments can also learn about the perspectives of others.
They Focus on Improving Their Knowledge and Skills
Some employees are constantly focused on the next promotion. They will do anything to advance and ignore anything that won’t directly benefit their likelihood of moving up the ladder. However, this can turn an ambitious employee into someone who is desperate for power.
“A promotion is a process, not an end goal,” business coach John G. Agno writes. “The biggest mistake you could make would be to rush through the job you have today. The two, three, or ten years in your present role are developing a critical knowledge base that will be needed a little farther down the occupational road.”
Once you do land your promotion, you will be expected to use your knowledge and lead. The more you train now in your field, the better off you will be when that challenge arises.
J.T. O'Donnell, a founder of Work It Daily, raises another point why promotion-driven employees might struggle in the coming years: The traditional workplace has changed so dramatically recently that it’s unlikely most people will be climbing a corporate ladder a few years from now.
“Step back and ‘unlearn’ everything you've ever known about building a career,” O’Donnell tells consultant William Arruda at Forbes. “Those who bury their heads in the sand and try to keep building their career the old-fashioned way will suffer.”
They Are Ethical Even When the Choice is Hard
Organizational scientist and executive coach Sunnie Giles surveyed 195 leaders across 15 countries and 30 global organizations to figure out which leadership qualities are most important from a list of 74. One trait stood above the rest as the most important in the workplace: ethics.
Almost 70 percent of respondents said the most important trait of leaders is high ethical and moral standards.
“A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game,” Giles writes. “In a safe environment employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.”
It’s not always easy to take the ethical path, but employees can trust co-workers who always do the right thing, even in the face of adversity.
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