Here’s What Makes a Truly Exceptional Employee

You know the type: the ones who always get recommended for a promotion, are excellent to work with, and generally raise the bar at your office. Sure, they’re likely great team players with laser focus and attention to detail, but there’s more to it. Here’s what truly exceptional employees do — and what you should do, too.

be a good employee
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1. Keep it professional.
You cannot imagine the amount of unprofessional behavior I’ve witnessed in offices from otherwise solid employees. It may sound obvious, but for the love of all that’s good in the world: Put your phone away in meetings. If any of your work relationships turn personal, keep it out of the office. Show up on time, and if you’re going to be late, send a concise email. If you have a big meeting, don’t wear shorts to work — even in the summer (unless you work at the most casual place ever with no rules. In that case, go crazy and text while you’re at it).

2. Stay goal oriented.
It’s fine to feel comfortable in your position, but don’t get complacent. Good employees are always thinking ahead. For example, if your project is humming along nicely, anticipate any roadblocks that could pop up in the next few months. Same goes for your own career: Think ahead and aim high. You should be able to answer the question “Where do you want to be in six months?” without pausing to formulate an answer.

If you’re unsure, get a sense of your next step by asking yourself: Do I want the job one rung above mine? Do I want to manage more people? Do I want to do more of what I’m doing now, or change my responsibilites? Am I angling for more power and visibility, or am I happier as part of a team?

3. Communicate well and listen even better.
Instead of passive-aggressive notes or avoiding confrontation at all costs, make a point to communicate clearly with your coworkers and superiors. Have an issue? Talk about it honestly and respectfully. Expect something from a teammate? Make that expectation clear from the start. Going to miss a deadline? Send an email as soon as possible, and provide your revised delivery date.

But even more important: Listen. Listen when your boss gives you directions (and follow them). Listen when your teammates share ideas, and ask questions until you fully comprehend them. Just listen.

4. Take criticism and responsibility.
On the subject of listening, your ability to take criticism is key. Instead of deflecting or shifting the blame, be receptive to the idea that you may need to make some changes. Making a mistake isn’t the mark of a bad employee — failing to adapt is. Along those lines, be willing to take responsibility instead of passing the buck, even if you’re not 100 percent to blame for a screw-up. It shows strength of character and tells your boss you have leadership potential.

5. Be a problem solver.
This one, too, might seem obvious, but you can’t imagine how many people think of themselves as problem solvers when they’re actually big complainers. Simply pointing out a problem isn’t doing anyone any favors. You have to come up with solutions.

6. In general, be positive.
You don’t have to be best friends (or even sort-of friends) with your colleagues. But you do all have to spend at least 40 hours a week together. A sense of humor and general positive outlook make you the kind of coworker people want to keep around. If you’re shy and don’t want to socialize, don’t panic. Simply smiling and asking, “How are you?” when you arrive at the office can go a long way.

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