5 Counterintuitive Ways to Stand Out at Work

A young man approached me about 9 months ago and wanted some career advice. His first job out of college was surprisingly hard and the people he worked with were surprisingly ... um, imperfect.

He was surprised that work wasn't easy.

So it goes for many young people entering the workforce today.  A 2010 American Management Association survey found that 42% of new workers lacked the basic skills needed to excel in today's workplace: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  Sometimes, these are called the "4 C's" of the new workworld. 

As I manage both new and seasoned workers every day, I find that there are actually some counterintuitive ways that a person can stand out and really be recognized in the right way.   

Here they are:

1. They volunteer for difficult tasks.   Yes, they actually don't mind doing something difficult for the sake of the organization.  No tough task is permanent and great workers realize this.  

2. They admit when they make a mistake.   We all make mistakes.  I had to call my boss recently because I had miscommunicated on something, big time.  The only thing to do was admit it, fall on my sword and move on.  I actually see it as a sign of pride when someone never makes a mistake- no one is that good.

3. They take feedback and don't get defensive.   There's nothing worse, nothing, than an employee who gets defensive and combative when you try to provide feedback.  Why?  Because defensiveness reveals a lack of self awareness and that leads to someone losing thier job.

4. Their email inbox gets emptied regularly.  You'd be surprised how few people actually get to zero on a regular basis.  (see what the experts say about email here)

5. They work extra hours without complaint.   Bosses don't want to hesitate when something difficult (a project, event, etc.) requires more time than usual.  The team member who doesn't mind putting in a little extra time is a gift to any boss.  

You'll note that I didn't mention anything about passion and nothing about amazingly great ideas.  Nothing about having the latest gadget to make you more productive.  Those are important too but these five steps represent a foundation.  Like your house, a foundation isn't that sexy but without it, you're in trouble.  

 These are just five steps and there are probably many more.  Which counterintuitive things would you add to the list for workplace success?

Photo courtesy of fdp