Do you remember your first job, the sweat after a long day’s work and getting handed your very first paycheck? There’s nothing like it! For me, it felt like the world was at my fingertips, that I could do anything if I worked at it. Maybe you’ve had similar experiences that taught you the value of hard work.
There’s a little-known secret among the best job recruiters. Talent isn’t everything. In fact, for some jobs, good work ethic is more important than the amount of talent or experience a person brings to the table. But wait, aren’t we told that talent and experience is everything? Not so, the value of good character and work ethic is indisputable. As a recruiter once told me: “You can teach a person skill, but you can’t teach them good character. The integrity piece has to be there.”
Work ethic is something that’s been around since the beginning of time. There are parables, scripture verses, cultural sayings that praise the practice of good old hard work.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison
“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Booker T. Washington
“The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.” Vince Lombardi
The Bible says it this way: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” The idea that there’s plenty of work to be done but few who are willing to do it is everywhere. What does this mean? While there may be no shortage of talent or aspiration in our culture, many people are lacking something very crucial, and that is knowing how to work hard and stick with it.
The truth is, talent doesn’t matter much if you don’t show up on time. Talent doesn’t matter much if you won’t work within a team. Talent doesn’t matter much if you lack passion and discipline to improve. Talent doesn’t matter much if you aren’t prepared for challenges or lack the humility to be coached.
Here is why we believe that while skill can be overrated, good work ethic is timeless.
Be on time. We all know this and yet many of us arrive at meetings 5 to 10 minutes late while everyone is waiting. Why do we do this? One reason is we try to get too many things done with too little time – and we find ourselves rushing everywhere. Successful leaders are not just on time, they’re early. They know the value of being reliable, consistent and dependable. On time leaders end up with greater responsibility, influence and compensation.
No one ever complained about “being prepared” to do our work. The workplace is where we demonstrate ownership of our role and responsibilities. Prepared people think ahead, ask a mentor or their coach for advice, do some research and plan things out ahead of time. The best work is done during prep work. A master artist never shows up to his easel without paint. Spend time thinking about ways to do your job better, the resources you’ll need and opportunities that offer additional training. Prep time is work time and all of it pays off in the long run.
Seeking outside insight is an essential part of improving our work. It sheds new light on areas that are difficult for us to see and gives us a fresh new perspective. This will require humility – but humility pays valuable dividends. Humility reduces our pride and need to be independent of others. We enjoy our independence, a little too much sometimes! Humility is the checks and balances that keeps arrogance at bay, which causes self-destruction in the workplace and our relationships. Seek out a coach or mentor who can check in with you on a bi-weekly basis to examine your plans and life balance. For most people, this idea feels a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s a healthy first step toward doing better work. Be coachable. Seek out other people’s advice. Ask lots of questions to gain feedback and be open to new ways of approaching your work. You will increase your insight and wisdom!
The messages we are communicating through our body language and voice inflection is stronger than anything we say out loud. Part of good work ethic is having enough self-awareness to understand how we impact others. A strong handshake, eye contact, a professional demeanor and a smile will do wonders for your reputation. It’s a simple and straightforward way of communicating respect for others that’s too often overlooked. Positive body language and interest in helping others shows you have emotional intelligence. Interacting positively with others, being kind and understanding the need to engage and socialize at work is crucial. According to an article by Forbes, “The human brain prefers happy faces, and we can spot a smile at 300 feet – the length of a football field.” We don’t always have to be smiling, but I think we underestimate the impact it can have on someone else’s day.
Passion is another key ingredient for achieving great work. We will eventually abandon what doesn’t excite us or keep us engaged for something that fulfills our deepest sense of purpose. Employers are on the lookout for those who exhibit a genuine excitement for what they do. Passion means investing the maximum amount of effort to get a job done because we care about the outcome. Part of finding passion at work is working in a way that utilizes your strengths. Discover your unique gifts and then ensure the work you are doing allows you to use them. One of my favorite quotes is this one from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.” Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Good work ethic isn’t just about putting in the hours, but seeing the full picture of what hard work really means: being on time, prepared, coachable, positive and passionate for the valuable work you do.
You were made to achieve greatness in your work – have fun!