Anyone can turn him or herself into an outstanding member of any workplace team.

Share story

You may believe that being “exceptional” at work means you must possess an “it” factor. You need to be brilliant, say, or charming. You need to have gone to the right school, know the right people, and been brought up in a family that taught you from Day One that you could be anything you wanted to be.

In other words, being exceptional is one of those things you either are, or are not.

Au contraire. Anyone can turn him or herself into an outstanding member of any workplace team. In fact, the funny thing about being an exceptional employee is that more people don’t do it.

You just need to break it down into its component parts. What do employers who are seeking out that exceptional employee want?

First, they identify the people who think beyond their job descriptions. Being exceptional means never saying, “That’s not my responsibility.” In fact, exceptional employees rarely must be told what needs to be done. They look around, identify unmet needs and jump right in to start meeting them.

And when things go wrong? Well, exceptional employees accept responsibility. They own up to their mistakes and take steps to rectify them. They certainly don’t try to pin the blame on others. They’ve figured out that the ability to gracefully accept criticism is a sign of professionalism.

Exceptional employees also never appear to seek out or need praise. When they do get rewarded, they’re happy about it, of course. But they’re not ruled by their egos. They are guided by their commitment to doing a good job, not by their desire for recognition.

All this is just another way of saying that exceptional employees tend to be pretty mature human beings. They can tolerate conflict, delay gratification, remain calm in the midst of chaos and are willing to speak up when others don’t or can’t. An exceptional employee will go ahead and ask that seemingly “stupid” question and even, when it’s necessary, challenge authority when it turns abusive.

While this may sound like a pretty tall order, relax. You don’t need to be and do all these things all day, every day. You only need to exhibit that you are aiming for and making progress in that direction.