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What Makes an Employee Exceptional?

A few months ago I raised the question – What Kind of Boss are You? The post shared information about abrasive leaders and what could be done about it. More recently I shared additional information and a self-test to examine whether one is an “abrasive” manager.  Now, as the summer heats up, let’s cool things off and shift perspective twofold – let’s think about the employee and what makes an employee exceptional.

The characteristics of an exceptional employee are wide ranging, yet come into clearer view based on an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In “10 Ways to Spot a Truly Exceptional Employee” (Forbes 2016) Bradberry explains that while leaders use the term “personality” to describe fantastic employees (as in having great personalities), when examined more closely, the focus is on behaviors tied to emotional intelligence (EQ). Further, Bradberry notes that we can enhance our EQ while our personalities may be largely fixed by the time we reach adulthood.

Thus, here’s a top ten from Bradberry for spotting an “truly exceptional” employee (the material below is Bradberry’s in summary form).  And, if you have one of these employees in your unit – then let them know it!

Willing to delay gratification – will work outside the boundaries of job descriptions and confident they will be rewarded later

Can tolerate conflict – able to maintain composure, present positions calmly and able to withstand personal attacks in pursuit of the greater goal

They focus – don’t get distracted by cranky customers, interoffice squabbles and can differentiate between real problems and background noise

They’re judiciously courageous – willing to speak up when others don’t yet they think before they speak and wisely choose the best time and place to do so.

They’re in control of their egos – never give their egos more weight than what is deserved, willing to admit when wrong and willing to do things someone else’s way

They’re never satisfied – have unparalleled convictions that things can always be better; driven to improve, without forgetting to give themselves a healthy pat on the back.

They recognize when things are broken and fix then – don’t walk past problems and see problems as issues to be fixed immediately

They’re accountable – own their work, their decisions, and all of their results; bring their mistakes to management’s attention rather than hoping no one will find out. 

They’re marketable – inside the organization, it means “likeable,”  have integrity and leadership skills, can be trusted to represent the brand well. 

They neutralize toxic behaviors – control interactions with toxic behaviors by keeping feelings in check, approach the situation rationally, consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground