Three habits of highly effective employees

Yesterday I extolled the virtues of the highly ineffective employee. Today, let's talk about what it takes to succeed -- and not just get by -- in the workplace.

Flexibility: Do you know an employee who, every time he is told about a new goal or task, wastes a good hour grumbling about how it won't work? Can you imagine how frustrating that is for a manager who is trying to guide strategy for his department or company?

One lesson I've learned having worked for a couple of successful start-ups in my lifetime is that you have to take chances to grow; this requires you to put aside any trivial misgivings you may have and just try to make things happen. If that new initiative does fail, you want to be known as the employee who tried to make things work. There's no glory in being known as the employee who knew it wouldn't work from the beginning.

Self-motivation: Many employees measure their success in a company by the ratings or words in their yearly review. If their review indicates they need to take on more projects or increase their workload, self-motivated employees don't need to be told -- they just do it because some internal gauge tells them to step in when something needs to be done. You'll seldom hear a self-motivated employee say, "That's not part of my job description."

Initiative: I admit that it's difficult to exercise initiative in some environments. There are bosses who want to control every aspect of work. This creates a workforce that is so scared of repercussions that employees learn to be comfortable "in the box." But those employees will never be rewarded for doing just what they're told.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a manager of a different group in my company for whom I'd volunteered to do a project. He gave me the basic instructions and told me his vision of the end product. When I produced the product without having to hound him at every interval for answers to problems I figured out on my own, he said I was a "closer," meaning that I was the type of person who could see a project through to its end.

Let's say someone asks you to put together a model car. You're given the raw materials and are shown a picture of what the car should look like in the end. If you have to call that person every step of the way to verify an action, you're kind of negating the value for him. He's not saving time if he has to babysit you. Make yourself valuable by developing your own instincts and following through on them.