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6 Characteristics Leaders Look for In Their Employees

We’ve heard it before, and we will hear it again: soft skills really are important. Emotional intelligence and communication skills are paramount in the decisions hiring managers make to engage a given candidate, or not. But once you’ve got the job, what kinds of things can you do to cause a boss to look on you with more favor?

 What can you do to cause a leader to value and esteem you, and continue to give you opportunities for growth within the organization? What can you do to impress your leader? We’ve got a few ideas.


1. Do your job.

That might sound a bit trite and perhaps too simplistic, but there is definitely power in doing the job you’ve been hired to do. Do it well. Do it, perhaps, better than anyone has done it before. Do it with joy and without complaint. Become an expert in your domain. Become known as someone who can be trusted and counted on to get the work done. Simply doing the job you’ve been given can take you further than it might seem it would.


2. Ditch the drama.

aerial-view-doctor-writing-patient-daily-report-checklist - re-touch 1Again, this might sound a bit harsh, but our intention here is to succinctly state the desire of most leaders’ hearts… and that is to minimize drama rather than create it. As an employee, focus on the positive. Focus on minimizing complaining. Focus on avoiding comparisons of your situation to someone else’s. Honestly, if you are focused on doing your job well, you will probably find you don’t have time for drama.

Minor caveat here – I am not, under any circumstance, minimizing the importance of advocating for social justice at work. I am not minimizing the importance of standing up against injustice, harassment, or any of the other grievous offenses that can happen in the workplace. I am not minimizing the importance of the steps everyone can, and should, feel empowered to take to help rectify any given situation. In this case I am talking about the everyday drama that seems to get some folks unnecessarily worked up...things like who has a better parking spot or if so-and-so took an extra five minutes at their lunch break...that can become a drag on the rest of us.


3. Collaborate.

I was struck by an article I came across recently that differentiated “cooperation” from “collaboration”. Cooperation is when individuals work side-by-side, operating in a parallel manor, potentially, just tolerating each other along the way. Collaboration, however, is when individuals work together as a team, each working to solve one, vital piece of the puzzle, while fostering a sense of community, inclusion, and mutually beneficial opportunities. As a leader, I love it when my employees feel empowered to ask for help if they need it. I delight equally in the moments when my employees offer to help each other.Fist bumb - team work - laptops

4. Put the organization first.

Let me preface this by saying I am not advocating we burn the midnight oil or work ourselves to the bone to the exclusion of our own health in the eternal pursuit of what the company wants. We’ve talked before about the toll this can take (and offered a few tips for finding balance).

I am advocating you seek a healthy balance between your work and your life, but while you’re at work, you make decisions that are consistently in the best interest of the organization. If the organization’s policy on reimbursing mileage, covering work time, or use of company assets leaves a little ‘gray’ don’t take advantage of the ‘gray’ for your own personal gain. Put the needs of the company first and protect the assets and finances of the organization. At the end of the day, this will serve you as well, since without the company coffers, we employees don’t have paychecks.


5. Flex your communication.

As you become a better and stronger communicator, it is essential to understand that the same communication style does not work in all situations and with all audiences. To delight your boss, adjust your communication style appropriately.back-view-sporty-black-guy-posing-flexing-both-biceps

  • Be brief and to the point when communicating with those who need brevity.
  • Be comfortable giving a clear backstory for those who need to hear the full context before responding.
  • Be prepared to give advance notice to those who need time to consider their answer before coming to a conclusion.
  • Make time to stop, listen, and build relationships with those who like to tell stories and build personal connections.
  • Become practiced at listening and demonstrating care and compassion for those who prize those characteristics.
  • Be adept at adjusting your tone, language, topics of conversation, or overall communication approach depending on the situation at hand.

As a leader, when I know you can do all these things, I am also more aware of promotion possibilities and stretch assignments for you. I am more likely to give you those opportunities if I have confidence that you can adjust your communication appropriately.


6. No surprises.

As leaders, we do our best to insulate our team members, protecting them from outside forces. We do our best to manage the daily volume of work and try to ensure things continue to move forward. That becomes really hard for us when there are surprises.

  • If you are aware you are not going to make a deadline that has been set for you or with you, please tell us, as far in advance as you can, so we can get you the help you need or adjust the other work on your plate.
  • If you are aware of something going wrong, tell us, even though it’s bad news. We can’t fix it if we don’t know about it.
  • If you have plans to leave because you are unhappy, dissatisfied, or you’ve found another opportunity, don’t wait until the last minute to tell us. Be courteous and prepare us for that transition so we can keep the rest of the team moving through that change. Of course, we will be sad to see you go, but surprise often brings out anger, which can overpower our sadness.

aerial-view-doctor-writing-patient-daily-report-checklist - re-touch 2While these 6 characteristics are pretty universal, depending on the role you are in, there may be others your leader prizes in you.

  • If you are responsible for innovating and problem solving, then a sense of urgency will be important.
  • If you are responsible for customer service or customer relationships, then compassion, candor, and a gentle word will be important.
  • If you are responsible for confidential financial data, then discretion will be important.

This is certainly not an end-all be-all list of characteristics, but I offer it as some things to consider as you try to make yourself more valuable to your leader.

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About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.

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