The 6 Essential Characteristics of a Good Employee

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Do you want employers to recognize your potential? What are the best characteristics of a good employee?

Moving up the corporate ladder requires qualities and skills that anyone can adopt. Just a few qualities that will make you stand out are organization skills, excellent communication, and a growth mindset.

If you want to be the best of the best at work, show that you display these six characteristics of a good employee.

What Makes an Employee Stand Out?

Whether you’re looking for a job or want your manager to recognize your hard work, exhibiting exceptional characteristics is a nice habit to get into. These qualities will set you on the path toward success in your career.

Once you start to demonstrate these characteristics of a good employee, your manager will see endless potential in you.

1. Effective Communication

In Simply Said, Jay Sullivan provides a blueprint for effective business communication to help you become a good employee. He believes top-notch communication skills are essential to success in any field—you can only get clients, colleagues, and audiences to buy into your ideas if you’re able to communicate them.

Whether you’re talking one-on-one with a client or presenting to an audience of hundreds, your goal is to make it easy for the other party to understand your point. 

Here are Sullivan’s tips for delivering a strong, memorable message that won’t be open to misinterpretation:

  1. Mind your voice
  2. Use eye contact to connect with your audience
  3. Communicate openness and confidence with your body
  4. Listen well
  5. Answer questions with ease

Another characteristic of a good employee is the ability to communicate well through emails. Sullivan offers the following tips for crafting stronger emails:

  • Avoid vague subject lines by giving enough context for what the email is about.
  • Know who to name. If you’re writing to three people or fewer, name everyone in your opening greeting.
  • Make it easy for the other person. Focus on your reader by clearly stating requests and deadlines and responding promptly—even if it’s just to acknowledge the email and say you’ll get back to them later.

2. Good Team Player

Good employees not only communicate well with others, but are all-around good team players. Humble, hungry, and smart are key characteristics of good employees who are also team players.

While the virtues sound simple, developing and living them is more complicated. Many people have one or more of the qualities, but fewer possess all three. A team member who lacks just one quality can hold back or derail a team. Here’s a closer look at these qualities from Patrick M. Lencioni’s book The Ideal Team Player:

  1. Humble: Great team players focus on the success of the team rather than personal interests. They lack overbearing egos or an obsession with status. They don’t try to get attention and readily give credit to others. 
  2. Hungry: People who are hungry are driven to seek more work and responsibility. They’re always looking ahead to the next step or opportunity. They’re committed to the work and willing to go above and beyond—for instance, working outside regular hours—when necessary.
  3. Smart: These people have common sense when it comes to dealing with people. They ask questions and listen attentively. They are aware of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions on others, and they act appropriately for the circumstances.

The three virtues may seem simple in and of themselves, but their combination in a team player makes that person unique and uniquely effective. If a team member is substantially lacking in even one area, they can hold back or detail the team.

The three virtues aren’t inherent or permanent characteristics of a good employee. They’re developed through work and life experiences, choices, training, and coaching.

3. Organization Skills

No one likes an employee with a messy desk or schedule. As a core part of the company, you need to represent it with a tidy and impressive appearance—this starts from within.

Your organization system needs to reflect what works best for you, and that will take time and some trial and error to figure out. Most importantly though, you have to consider your co-workers and clients when shifting your schedule and finding a good organizational system. You never want to disturb their own schedule or confuse their own system. Here are some ways to get organized, through a system detailed in David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

  1. Reference materials: Your general-reference file holds information that is critically important and vastly diverse. In order for your reference information to be useful, your organization must be simple and easily navigable. A few ways to do this is through filing and hiring contact managers.
  2. Projects lists: Your Projects list is purely an index of your projects—it shouldn’t include the plans or details for any of your projects. Keep your projects organized in categories—delegated projects, personal or professional projects, and other projects sharing themes (such as presentations).
  3. Calendar: Put only time- and date-specific items on your calendar. Other calendar-specific items include reminders for launching projects, events you’re considering attending, and decisions you’re not ready to make now.
  4. Next Actions: these are actions that you can knock out in a few minutes when you have the time. Consider organizing these actions into these categories in a notebook or agenda: calls to make, computer tasks, errands, home chores, and read/review reports.

4. Receive and Apply Feedback Well

An important characteristic of a good employee is the ability to receive and apply feedback on a professional level. This means not taking feedback personally and working hard to improve on your mistakes.

Feedback tells you how other people see you. People who consistently take feedback better are more successful in their lives and work. Being open to feedback allows for learning and growth. Being resistant to it allows problems to fester and escalate, and can ultimately destroy relationships at work. 

There are three types of feedback:

  1. Evaluation is assessment. It tells you where you stand concerning expectations and to other people. It aligns expectations between two people and clarifies consequences.
  2. Coaching is advice. It is feedback aimed at helping you improve, learn, grow, or change, either to meet new challenges or to correct an existing problem. 
  3. Appreciation is recognition, motivation, and thanks. It lets you know that your efforts are noticed, making you feel worthwhile.

It’s important when seeking feedback that you’re clear about what you’re looking for: evaluation, coaching, or appreciation. This will prevent confusion or frustration if you receive a different type of feedback than you’re expecting. 

According to Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in Thanks for the Feedback, five techniques can help you incorporate feedback into your life:

  1. Focus on one thing: Sometimes feedback has several strands and encompasses a wide area. Focus on just one specific aspect of it first.
  2. Look for options: Make sure you understand the other person’s true concerns and determine what your options are for addressing them. 
  3. Test with small experiments: Try out advice on a small scale before committing to a larger change. 
  4. Get properly motivated: Increase the benefits of positive changes by adding rewards. Increase the costs of not changing by adding more consequences. Keep in mind that when making changes, things will get harder before they get easier.  
  5. Make the other person feel valued: Be open to her advice and she will likely later be open to your advice. 

5. A Growth Mindset

Some people tend to believe that they’re born with the intelligence they have and that people don’t get any smarter with work. “I’ve just never been any good at math and I never will be.” This is the fixed mindset you should avoid. A fixed mindset makes you seem arrogant and unwilling to learn from your mistakes, and no manager wants an employee like this.

As stated in Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive, a characteristic of a good employee is having a growth mindset—a belief that your intelligence and abilities are not fixed, and that you have the potential to get better at whatever you want to.

People with different mindsets treat challenges differently:

  • Fixed mindset people interpret failures as just confirming evidence that they’re not good at something. Growth mindset people interpret failures as feedback to use to get better.
  • Fixed mindset people see effort as a negative sign that you’re not good at something—that’s why you need to struggle. Growth mindset people see effort as the way to get better.
  • Fixed mindset people tend to set performance goals for themselves, like grades or promotions. Growth mindset people tend to set goals centered around progress and learning, with rewards coming as a natural consequence of mastery.

Education studies have shown that adopting the growth mindset in students leads to greater perseverance through difficulty and more creativity in novel challenges. The same can be said for employees. Managers want workers who have the potential to grow in the company, and having a growth mindset is the way to do that.

As Carol S. Dweck’s book Mindset claims, the ability to grow may be a more important indicator for future achievement than current success:

  • When NASA solicited applications for astronauts, it looked for people who came back and learned from failures, rather than those with a string of successes. 
  • As CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch chose executives based on their capacity to develop.
  • Famed ballet teacher Marina Semyonova chose to work with students who took criticism as motivation to improve.

By definition, you can’t predict potential, if it’s understood as the capacity to develop over time with effort and training. It’s impossible to be certain of how far anyone can go with effort and training. But having a growth mindset shows that you’re at least willing to change and improve, which is better than refusing to learn.

6. Leadership Potential

The last characteristic of a good employee is that they show leadership potential. Leadership isn’t created by a fancy title, a famous name, or organizational authority. It comes from fostering and maintaining your skills. Ordinary people show outstanding leadership every day, and everyone has the potential to be an effective leader. 

Further, The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner says that leadership isn’t an innate quality that a few people have and others don’t. Though many people ask, “Are leaders born or made?” the better question is, “How can I become a better leader tomorrow than I am today?”

Good leaders have an outsized influence on their team’s motivation, effort levels, and willingness to take personal initiative. As you continue to develop your leadership skills as an employee, keep these things in mind:

  • Leadership role models are local—and this means you: When people are asked to name the person who represents true leadership to them, they most often name someone close to them: a family member, a teacher, a religious leader, or a manager, not a celebrity or well-known corporate star. As a manager, parent, teacher, or coach, you’re setting an example, and others are paying attention. 
  • Leadership takes practice: Good leadership is a specific set of characteristics that good employees learn and strengthen through practice. The biggest obstacle to becoming a better leader is an unwillingness to learn these skills. But as with any skill, mastering it requires training and effort, and more than anything, learning to be a good leader means going above and beyond what’s required of you.
  • Leadership can have setbacks: Being an outstanding leader won’t protect you entirely from the vagaries of economic cycles. It’s possible that despite your good leadership, you’ll encounter setbacks, such as losing your job. But showing potential for leadership will make such setbacks less likely, and it will help you navigate them better so that you emerge from them.
  • You must lead yourself first: Before you can effectively lead others, you must have a clear understanding of yourself. Leadership growth is essentially a process of self-development. 

Final Words

Learning these good employee characteristics will make you a more valuable member of the workplace. Just remember that nothing is impossible to achieve, and eventually, your employer will see just how important you are to their company.

What are some other characteristics of a good employee? Let us know in the comments below!

The 6 Essential Characteristics of a Good Employee

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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