"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary people. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary person." ~Elbert Hubbard

"You don't get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour." ~ J.Rohn

Many times we know that we want to strive for something, but we aren’t exactly clear on how we are going to get there. “Excellence” is a classic example of a goal that is somewhat … well … vague. So when we start talking about being an excellent or ideal employee, or having ideal employees, what exactly do we mean?

It turns out we mean a lot of things, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the workplace has become more complicated, the demands on the employee have increased. This has raised the value (and rarity) of employees who can thrive in this environment. So whether you are a leader or a front line employee on the sales floor, what traits do you need to have or cultivate to take your career to the next level? Start with the below:

Action Oriented – Nothing is accomplished without action. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being hyper-constructive when you are thinking, planning, preparing, waiting for more information and other “paralysis by analysis” components. Ideal employees always have a bias towards acting on information. Yes, they gather it and analyze it, but they are also quick to put it to work.

Natural Learner – Intelligence isn’t enough anymore. The world is changing quickly and ideal employees demonstrate the ability to learn a variety of subjects. This ability to learn gives them greater flexibility in gaining skillsets and changing duties to adapt to needs as they arise.

Ambitious – Having an employee who meets expectations is all well and good, but what you are really looking for is an employee with the drive to reach for lofty personal and professional goals. It is these goals that maintain their focus on work and lead to exceeding expectations, not just meeting them. Every boss cherishes that employee who surprises them with how they go above and beyond what others expected to be done.

Autonomous – It’s always best to be working with self-motivated individuals. It isn’t just that they are given a task and run with it, it’s that they take more ownership over all facets of their work. This means that they come up with innovations and ideas, they do the quality assurance work and they support themselves. This also frees their boss to focus his/her attention on other matters.

Positive – Studies have shown that people who have positive outlooks are more productive and receive more promotions than their negative counterparts. The ability to enthusiastically tackle new endeavors and to see potential instead of calamity is a hallmark of great leadership and a great employee. To be able to change, innovate and improve, you must be able to take risks. Negative people see the downside in the situation and resist action, positive people on the other hand see the potential and charge forward.

Confident – They may not know how they are going to do a task, they may not be sure it can be done, but they do know that they will find a way if it can be done. Confident individuals accept more challenges which improves their skillsets and experience. They also move quicker through the decision making process which speeds up all of their work.

Honest – When you ask somebody a question, you expect the truth. If you have to go through another round of questioning to prove they are being truthful you are wasting time. Also, from a leadership perspective, if you can’t get honest information you aren’t getting the right information, and that increases the likelihood of a poor decision.

Detail Oriented – Ideal employees don’t get lost in the details, but they understand that details make up the foundation of larger things. Getting the details right is what separates OK products and services from great products and services.

Humble – Humility opens you up to the idea that you don’t have all of the answers, you might make mistakes, and that everyone has a contribution to make in the organization. These ideas help you create more dialogue so that your information is better, learn from your mistakes to increase your growth, and foster a team environment where the organization leverages everyone’s strengths.

Hard Working – It goes without saying that an ideal employee works hard, but I figured the list wouldn’t be complete without it. Sometimes employees need to give that little “extra” to meet the needs of the organization. Ideal employees step up when needed and work as hard as possible to meet the goals set for them.

Proactive – If you can deal with things ahead of time you free up time and resources later. Great employees are always looking ahead to discover opportunities or to spot problems on the horizon. They then take action on these two things right away to maximize their positive impact and minimize their negative impact.

Team player – An ideal employee in the job market today must have the ability to magnify value on a team. The essence of teamwork is an increase in productivity for everyone involved. 2+2+2=7 for example. If you detract from the value of the group, then you are not only not an ideal employee, but likely to not be an employee much longer.

Creative – We aren’t talking about artistic ability here; we are talking about creative problem solving. A great employee will find creative solutions to customer issues, operational problems, changes, opportunities and other issues the organization faces. As the world gets more complicated, the solutions unfortunately get more complicated as well which requires a more creative approach.

Excellent Communicator– The ability to clearly communicate in not only verbal, but in the written form as well, is a trait any ideal employee should possess. It isn’t just being able to clearly explain your point or idea, it’s also about being able to open dialogue and bring parties together.

Empathy – A great employee understands other co-workers, customers and their boss on an emotional level. Through this understanding of their feelings they can tailor their communication, recognize issues that arise, and deal with the human element of the organization.

While very few of us can claim to have all of these listed traits in our repertoire, the list does clearly what we should be working towards. Ideal employees are few and far between, but their value is becoming greater and greater as the organizational environments we all work in evolve.

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