Personal Improvement

6 Traits of Indispensable Employees

The steady contribution of an excellent staffer exceeds an occasional flash of a dysfunctional genius.
6 Traits of Indispensable Employees
Image credit: Thomas Barwick | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO and Co-founder of Nav
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There are few things more frustrating than a brilliant employee who is totally incapable of putting together a string of uninterrupted wins. Their successes are like lightning -- spectacular but infrequent. The brighter the flash, the darker the lulls between.

I’ll take steady excellence over occasional genius any day. But steady excellence isn’t something you achieve quickly; it comes as a result of deliberate effort, a diverse skill set patiently acquired.

I’ve hired a lot of people in my time, and the ones who stand out as consistent achievers usually have six qualities in common.

1.) Overall discipline.

Your habits at home will show up in the workplace. I’ve read of people who could drink like a fish every night and still put in a set number of focused, productive hours the next day, but in most cases such behavior eventually caught up to them. Their personal, off-hours weaknesses weakened their work.

Related: Discipline Is What Leads to Success

It’s hard to imagine that you can live out of control at home and then turn it off like a switch when you step into the office. It’s a fundamental contradiction, and those aren’t sustainable. A serious addiction to idleness, television, or mindless internet browsing during your private hours can’t help but hurt your performance when you’re on the clock.

2.) Self-deprivation.

The strongest people I know are masters of doing things they don’t want to do. It takes toughness and courage, because it means depriving themselves of things they do want to do.

This habit will positively affect every area of your existence, your career, too. American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that “The heights by great [ones] reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.”

Related: Do Youngsters Believe in 'Delayed Gratification'?

Those who can work when they’d rather be cozy in bed have almost limitless potential.

3.) Personal study and growth.

If you really want to grow as an employee, devote a significant portion of your spare time to reading. Read business books, history, philosophy, science -- anything that will challenge you with new perspectives and insights and profoundly increase your knowledge of the world.

Occasionally, you’ll experience an aha moment that totally reshapes how you think, but usually it’s a slow process in which you grow smarter without realizing it. This practice will shape who you are, how you think, and how you interact with others. It’ll allow you to contribute at ever-increasing levels both on- and off-the-job.

4.) Continuous improvement.

Employees who strike me as being truly exceptional have at least one trait in common: They’re obsessed with growing better and better in their role; obsessed with getting their department better and better; obsessed with seeing the company do better and better; it’s as natural to them as breathing.

Related: The 20/60/20 Rule: How to Handle Misaligned Employees

They recognize that perpetual progress is the key to staying on top. You’ve probably heard a quote by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel: “Only the paranoid survive.” I believe this to the point that it’s my personal mantra. I force myself to behave as if an agent provocateur has infiltrated my company with the intent of taking it down.

The only way I can win against this mysterious foe is to control my behavior. I can’t change what I don’t know, so I focus like a maniac on what I do know. I hope to never let the sun set without having made some substantial progress toward the improvement of Nav. Make this a component of who you are and how you think, too.

5.) Developing others.

It’s not enough, however, for you to focus maniacally on yourself and your own quest for self-improvement. Consistent achievers develop those around them. Folks who feel threatened when an ambitious colleague picks up a new skill or responsibility are worse than weak. They’re a drain on the organization, and their zero-sum outlook is joyless and ultimately destructive.

A company isn’t like a pizza with a limited amount of slices and everybody fighting for a piece. A coworker’s success isn’t the equivalent of yet another missing slice, which will force you to struggle even harder to get you share. Rather, their success enlarges the pizza itself -- it improves the prospects of the group as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong -- an ambitious, talented colleague should certainly motivate the heck out of you. Just don’t be threatened by it, and do everything you can to lift yourself by lifting others.

6.) Emotional stability.

If you work hard at everything else on this list, this trait will take care of itself. It should go without saying, but inviting drama into the office is a no-no. Turning your department into a soap opera in which you play the leading role is poisonous behavior that does more to damage a company’s prospects than a competitor could even dream of.

Don’t get involved in personal conflicts, office politics, weird agendas, or kingdom building. Developing a reputation as a steady, low maintenance personality will open doors for you. You’ll be presented with opportunities unavailable to narcissists, for the simple reason that narcissists spoil everything they touch. Be the sort of employee that you would like to work with, and you’ll find that others are eager to work with you.

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