The Power of Conscientiousness

It’s less showy, less newsworthy, much less praised than creativity, innovation, and risk-taking. But conscientiousness is a critical element in building productivity and success in your work and your life.

As Hillary Clinton has said: “Showing up is not all of life – but it counts for a lot.”

Of course, just making an appearance is not enough; you also need to be conscientious enough to push forward on important tasks and projects, consistently enough to get them done.

Fortunately, “slow and steady wins the race” is what conscientiousness is all about.

Here are some ways to be more conscientious:

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

One key to building conscientiousness is learning to avoid distractions, detours, and dead ends. To do this, it’s important to keep a steady focus on your major target: where are you trying to go and how you will know when you get there.

Your major target might involve reaching a specific performance goal (like meeting your quota, increasing your profitability, or winning a championship), or adhering to a set of operating principles (like honesty, integrity, or doing what’s best for all your stakeholders).

Conscientious people always want to know what they are trying to accomplish.

Map Out the Situation

Conscientious people recognize that complexities of work and life can easily obscure the best path forward. That’s why they routinely make an early effort to map, as fully as possible, the situation in which they are operating.

At a minimum, your map should detail:

  • Who are the players?
  • What forces are at work?
  • What is the allowable time-frame?
  • What is the target?
  • What are the criteria for judging success?
  • Who are the judges?

A comprehensive map of the situation helps you identify any obstacles that may lie ahead, as well as places where you can most easily make progress. An accurate map also provides a basis for anticipating future events and creating a viable plan of action.

Do the Job Fully

Rather than pick the low-hanging fruit, conscientious people usually work hard to pick all the fruit. They are willing to hammer away at a difficult problem for a fairly long time, until it finally yields to their efforts and allows for useful progress.

They recognize the importance of putting in enough time and energy to complete every bit of the task or project at hand.

Establish Your Reliability

Conscientiousness involves not just showing up once or twice, but consistently spending significant amounts of time and effort “on scene,” working hard on specific elements of the situation and leading by example.

Reliability also involves meaning what you say and keeping your commitments, so others working on the same task or project can place their full trust in you, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

Work Toward the Team’s Best Interests

Others working with you may have their personal agendas. Some of them may rotate on or off the team during the life of the task or project. However, those who are conscientious will make hitting the desired target their number one – or at least a very high – priority.

Conscientious people will also be more willing to sacrifice their own personal agendas and self-interests to deliver what’s best for the team – which most often will include delivering better results on the task or project at hand.

Commit to Completion

Perhaps most important, conscientious people commit themselves to the goal. Despite any obstacles, setbacks, and resources in short supply, they work steadily toward completion of the task or project at hand.

Simply put: they are unlikely to quit.

If you think about your own work and life history from this perspective, you’ll likely recognize some key people who made major contributions to the success of various tasks, projects, and goals by virtue of – if nothing else – their conscientiousness.

It’s not flashy, but it’s an important trait to cultivate.

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