Employers look for two things when hiring or promoting people: knowledge and skill. They rarely, if ever, consider character. Yet character is the key to extraordinary business success. The Good Ones by Bruce Weinstein presents 10 crucial qualities of high-character employees, qualities that enhance employee satisfaction, client relationships and the bottom line.
Using stories from managers and employees across the U.S. and beyond, ethics expert Bruce Weinstein reveals how honesty, courage, loyalty and patience have helped organizations maintain an edge over the competition.
1. Honesty. All of the 10 qualities are hallmarks of high-character employees, but honesty is the most important one. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled a person may be, if he or she is fundamentally dishonest or doesn’t value honesty, that person is detrimental and possibly even dangerous.
Honesty is above all a feeling, a disposition, an orientation toward the truth. Honest employees cannot tolerate lying, fudging data, misrepresenting themselves or their companies, or other conduct that displays contempt for the truth. Falsehood in all its forms is a poison to an honest person. A company’s power, influence and integrity are a direct function of the honesty of its employees. Obstacles to honesty include success through dishonesty, lying to save money and lying to save trouble.
2. Accountability. Accountable employees do four things consistently:
- They keep their promises.
- They consider the consequences of their actions.
- They take responsibility for their mistakes.
- They make amends for those mistakes.
3. Care. Care, like honesty, is first and foremost a strong feeling or passion. Where honesty means having a passion for truth, care means having a deep concern for people’s well-being and flourishing. The passion for making a difference in people’s lives has a profound implication in the business world.
In this context, caring is almost always discussed with reference to other people. But if you are a caring person, consider the following syllogism: Care is the application of your passion for helping people. You are a person.Therefore, care means applying your passion to yourself as well as to others.
A caring employee is, above all else, a servant, not in the way that suggests exploitation, obsequiousness or a harsh imbalance of power. Caring employees serve their organizations, their clients and their team members while taking care of themselves, too.
4. Courage. Courageous employees have the strength of character to say and do things that need to be done. In most cases, this courage has nothing to do with physical strength. Courageous employees are willing to
- tell managers things they need to know, even though they might not want to know them
- fight for their clients and business
- do unpleasant but necessary things
- ask for help
Obstacles to courage include fear of being fired, fear of bodily harm, fear of damaging a relationship, fear of humiliation and fear that nothing good will result.
5. Fairness. To be fair is to give to others their due. Fairness is sometimes discussed in terms of justice. Fair employees have a commitment to justice, especially economic justice (paying employees fairly), social justice (ensuring that the rights of employees, such as freedom from discrimination, are respected) and procedural justice (resolving disputes).
6. Gratitude. Gratitude isn’t merely a nicety of doing business. It’s a powerful character trait, and although it’s hard to discern, it’s worth looking for in prospective and current employees. Through their generosity of spirit, grateful employees benefit clients, colleagues and the business itself. They’re more satisfied, more productive and nicer to be around. It’s time to recognize how important gratitude is in the life of an organization and to the people who practice it.
7. Humility. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what humility is. The Oxford Dictionaries website defines humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” No wonder, then, that some people have a low view of humility itself.
But humility shouldn’t be regarded as a low view of one’s importance. It is, rather, an accurate view of it. It’s a view of oneself that is based on reality rather than the distortion that occurs when we look at ourselves uncritically or through the fog of our own ego. We can all do without coworkers who take the credit when a project is successful. On the face of it, this behavior simply seems rude. It’s not polite to blow your own horn, we’re taught. Let others praise you. Keep your victories to yourself.
The problem, however, isn’t that such coworkers are impolite: It’s that they’re mistaken. We don’t accomplish great things all by ourselves. We have help every step of the way. Some of that help is behind the scenes, but it is help nevertheless.
If humility is a crucial quality of high character employees, what happens when it is in short supply? Some of the consequences may include damage to one’s reputation, being passed over for jobs and having difficulty accepting criticism.
8. Loyalty. Hiring loyal people and creating a culture that sustains this loyalty provides a strong return on investment. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, businesses whose employees are deeply satisfied (a key indicator of loyalty) have lower turnover, better safety records, superior job applicants and stronger marketplace performance than other businesses do. Let’s take a look at each of the characteristics that define loyal employees.
- Loyal employees have strong emotional ties to their employers: Loyal employees are devoted to their employers, but that devotion has and should have limits. Loyalty is devotion, but not blind devotion.
- Loyal employees represent their employers honorably: A second way that high character employees evince loyalty to their organizations is through their conduct outside work. A member of an organization is a de-facto representative of that group on and o the job. Loyal, high-character employees recognize this, even if their employer does not or cannot explicitly state it.
- Loyal employees stand by their organizations... up to a point: Loyalty to an organization need not mean making a lifetime commitment to it. It can simply be an alignment of one’s behavior with the organization’s values for however long one is employed. Sometimes loyalty must give way to other concerns, such as protecting clients from harm and opposing illegal or unethical activities by an employer.
9. Patience. High-character employees keep pushing on with their mission until they prevail. They don’t allow themselves to be diverted from their path by external forces, and their persistence pays off . Here are the four elements of patience:
- Acceptance: There are some things we can change and some things we can’t. To be patient is to know the difference and to act (or not act) on it.
- Flexibility: An essential element of patience for Cara Lemieux, a former network news producer and digital communications strategist, is flexibility. Becoming more flexible in her personal life has helped Cara become more flexible in her professional role. This sometimes means taking over for colleagues who have to tend to their own personal lives.
- Persistence: In the Journal of Finance, Steven N. Kaplan, Mark M. Klebanov and Morten Sorensen reported that in their study of over 300 CEOs of financial investment firms, the most successful ones were also the most persistent.“Persistent leaders don’t give up,” Kaplan writes. “They stick with assignments until they are done.”
- Delaying Gratification: High-character employees are adept at restraining the impulses we all have for immediate satisfaction. They recognize that sometimes our impulses have to be subordinated to a higher good.
10. Presence. Given the reality of today’s world, as well as our need for breaks from time to time, I propose the following definition of presence in the workplace: Presence is being committed to doing one’s work by focusing on a single task for a reasonable period of time. A “reasonable” period varies according to the task at hand and the stakes involved in completing that task.
You probably don’t want the surgeon performing your cardiac bypass to be checking her smartphone. On the other hand, if the job isn’t a life-or-death matter, it’s humane to allow an occasional respite from the steady stream of work. At the heart of presence is focus, the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. Employees who are focused devote themselves to a single activity in a given period, resulting in more efficient work with fewer mistakes
The 10 character traits are qualities that smart organizations value in their job candidates, employees and managers. Doing so won’t guarantee that the people who work for a company will always make the best decisions, but it increases the likelihood that they will. It’s time to place character front and center in our thinking about business in the 21st century.