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10 Qualities of High Character


When employee behavior is less than exemplary, there is a quantifiable cost to businesses. Despite this, most companies do not pay proper attention to behavior when hiring or promoting people. In The Good Ones, Bruce Weinstein explores honorable behavior, or character, at work, which is demonstrated by people’s actions over time. Employers may find it difficult to assess the character of job candidates, but tests, work simulations, references, and interviews can help them better ascertain the type of people they are dealing with. Weinstein examines 10 qualities people with high character possess and how these characteristics have profound implications for business conduct today. Contact us

HONESTY Honesty is by far the most important quality of high-character employees and prism philosophy always highlight it. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled people may be, if they are fundamentally dishonest, they are detrimental to the organization. Honest employees tell the truth. They refuse to fudge data, stand up to dishonest vendors, and tell the truth prudently in a way that is not critical of others. They also understand that there are consequences to dishonesty that often continue throughout their lives. Dishonesty in a company that thrives on public trust is a serious threat to the life of that company.

To determine if a job applicant is honest, an interviewer may wish to ask questions about difficult work situations, such as whether to tell an unpleasant truth, report a questionable practice, or follow ethically ambiguous instructions from superiors. Smart employers are not looking for perfect answers, but explanations of how the consequences of a dishonorable act affected the candidate and others involved.


Accountable employees do four things consistently:

  1. Keep their promises.

  2. Consider the consequences of their actions.

  3. Take responsibility for their mistakes.

  4. Make amends for their mistakes.

A strong work ethic is a component of accountability. Many people assume that having a strong work ethic simply means that they work harder. However, a person who works nonstop is a workaholic; he or she is defined by and obsessed about work. In reality, those with a strong work ethic keep their promises to employers. They work hard, but maintain a good work-life balance.

Employees who are not accountable for their actions are quickly exposed when they do not deliver on their promises. Employers who fail to hold their employees accountable should know that they are costing the business money.

Accountability at work can be hard to come by if the organizational culture does not value it. It can also be difficult to attain when there is a tendency to overpromise without considering whether or not the end results are even possible.


In business, the term “care” is generally applied to the business-client relationship. But high-character employees care about all of their relationships, both in and out of the workplace. They also care about themselves.

Care is defined as having a deep concern for people’s well-being. Care without action, however, is meaningless. Caring employees are servants, in the sense that they focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. Servant-leaders share power and put the needs of others first.

People who do not care about the work they do are not engaged in it. An engaged employee has an emotional connection to his or her work and an ethical commitment to taking it seriously. Being engaged at work also means going beyond the pursuit of a person’s individual career to help the organization achieve its goals.

Employee engagement is linked to higher profits, productivity, and quality; lower turnover; less absenteeism and theft; and fewer safety incidents. The higher the engagement, the better everything gets.

Bad-mouthing others may be a popular activity at work, but “good-mouthing” helps people feel good and then do better at work as a result. Studies show that people who feel good at work are 12 percent more productive than those who do not. Caring employees make it a habit of telling others the good things that the people around them are doing.

Employees who are well cared for by their employers are also good for business. When a company encourages time off, provides good benefit packages, and offers other options like flexible schedules or time to help care for a sick family member, its employees are much more likely to work hard.

High-character employees are also very careful about what they post online, even to their private social media accounts. They understand that they represent their companies even when they are not at work. Anything posted online reflects not only on the person but on the company.


A person who speaks out against injustice and other moral concerns, both at work and beyond, displays courage. Courageous employees have the strength of character to say and do things that might be difficult, such as:

*Tell managers what they need to know.

*Fight for their clients and business.

*Take unpleasant but necessary action.

*Ask for help.

Employees who lack courage put themselves and their companies at risk. Covering up even small mistakes can cause them to snowball into much greater problems over time.

Fear often keeps people from displaying courage, such as fear of being fired, fear of bodily harm, fear of damaging a relationship, fear of humiliation, and fear that nothing good will result. While it can be difficult to overcome these fears, high-character employees always do.


To be fair is to give others their due. Employees with high character are able to recognize injustice and speak about it, respectfully and without anger. They are aware of unfair decisions regarding hiring, raises, and promotions, and desire to make things right.

Unconscious bias is a common obstacle to fairness. Sometimes people may not realize their own biases, which can affect everyday work activities. Self-interest is another obstacle. People may be reluctant seek out what is fair if it may negatively affect their own situations.

When organizations value fair employees, they reduce or even eliminate unfair business practices and the legal and financial problems that result.


Gratitude is not merely a nicety of doing business, but an important character trait worth looking for in employees. Grateful employees benefit clients, colleagues, and the overall business.

Grateful people recognize that there are many assets in their lives that they depend on others for. They also realize that expressing gratitude makes others feel better, which also makes them feel better, and feeling better leads to higher productivity.

On the other hand, ingratitude can be detrimental. In 2012, an American Psychological Association survey revealed that over 50 percent of the people surveyed were looking for new jobs because they did not feel appreciated by their employers. Gratitude is most beneficial when it flows in both directions: from managers to team members and back again.

Gratitude, like other traits in high-character employees, can be difficult to come by. Some people might find it difficult to express because it makes them feel vulnerable. Cultural differences may also get in the way; different cultures may express gratitude in different ways, and it may also hold different meanings. Even companies within the same culture may have different expectations regarding gratitude.


Smart businesses seek out people with humility. One common definition of humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”; yet humility should be viewed as an accurate view of one’s importance. It is based on reality rather than a distortion.

Because humility and gratitude are closely related, people often express their humility through gratitude — for example by publicly thanking those that have helped them along the way. By acknowledging that they had help, people show that they are both humble and grateful.

Accepting criticism requires both humility and courage. People need to be able to step back and remove just enough ego to see where their shortcomings are and where they can improve. This type of humility can lead to great working relationships because it shows employers that the employees are teachable.

Humble employees are quick to acknowledge all those involved in a project. They always recognized the contributions of others, no matter how large or small. Not only can expressing gratitude make a team feel good, it also motivates them. Employees who routinely share credit with others are more successful than those who are primarily out for themselves.

A lack of humility in the workplace has consequences. People often damage their own reputations by acting in ways that are less than humble. For example, they may get passed over for jobs if they have a sense of entitlement. Such people also tend to have difficulty accepting constructive criticism, which keeps them from receiving the help they may need to do their best work.

Being humble can be a challenge, as Western culture does not always value this quality, nor do most people truly understand it. It is often viewed as a sign of weakness. To make matters even worse, many successful people are “jerks,” and others may believe that type of management style is integral to success.


Hiring loyal people and creating a culture that sustains this loyalty provide a strong return on investment. Businesses whose employees are deeply satisfied have lower turnover, better safety records, superior job applicants, and stronger marketplace performance than do other businesses.

Loyal employees have strong emotional ties to their employers. They are devoted, but not blindly devoted. They also represent their employers honorably, conducting themselves properly even during after-work hours and on social media. Loyal, high-character employees recognize that they are de facto representatives of their employers at all times. They also stand by their organizations, up to a point.

Loyalty is a two-way street. Employees used to remain with their employers for their entire careers, but that was when it was commonplace for employers to provide guaranteed long-term employment, healthcare, and pensions. Many employers today do not hold up their end of the bargain, so neither do employees.

Sometimes disloyalty is beneficial to an employee, particularly financially. If a company is giving only one-percent raises each year, then it may be wiser for the employee to look elsewhere for a job, for example for one with a higher starting salary. By changing jobs every few years, an employee’s lifetime earnings can go up 10 percent or more.


High-character employees continue with their missions until they prevail. They are not dissuaded or diverted by external forces. There are four primary elements of patience:

1. Acceptance: Some things can be changed and others cannot. Patient people accept the things that cannot be changed and do not try to impose their will when they know it will be a waste of time.

2. Flexibility: Sometimes obstacles get in the way of a person’s chosen path. If that person is flexible, he or she can quickly adapt, change course, and continue moving forward. Without flexibility, the person will remain stuck.

3. Persistence: Despite facing doubt or failure, a person with persistence never gives up, which is a key component of success.

4. Delaying gratification: Studies have shown that children who were willing to delay gratification grew up to have higher SAT scores, lower body mass, longer and healthier relationships, and greater success in both their professional and personal lives.

Anger is the most troubling emotion because of the damage it can cause. In the workplace, it is better to be discreet about anger rather than flying off the handle. When people act out at work, they can ruin their careers and destroy valuable relationships. Patience and restraint are vital to dealing with anger at work.

Patient employees often have a calming effect on those around them, while impatient employees often have a pattern of behavior that makes others very guarded around them. Obstacles to patience include:

*The demand for fast, quantifiable results.

*The rewards of impatience; it sometimes gets people what they want.

*The role of technology. With the fast pace of email and other technological advances, people expect fast, if not immediate, responses.


Presence is more than just being physically present. A person who is present at work but attending to personal business is not really giving his or her attention to the tasks at hand.

This does not mean that an employee cannot ever look at Facebook or have a personal conversation. Sometimes creativity thrives in those free moments. Plus, sometimes people just need a break. But there is a big difference between checking social media once or twice a day and referring to it throughout the day.

Presence means being committed to doing one’s work by focusing on a single task for a reasonable period of time. “Reasonable” may vary depending on the task and the stakes involved. Focus is at the heart of presence, and separates those who are truly present, mentally and physically, from those who are not.

Listening well is one of the most important components of being present. Managers who do not listen well tend to have employees who are not happy. When managers do not listen, they seem removed from reality, less in touch with their employees, and more difficult to communicate with.

Humility can be a critical part of listening. Circumstances sometimes dictate that managers need to abandon their personal management styles in order to meet their employees’ needs. However, sometimes managers listen too much and end up feeling like they are drowning in details and problems. Listening too much can result in a loss of self.

Self-awareness is another critical component to presence. When people are conscious about their actions, behaviors, emotions, and words, they are able to maintain more control over them. That control leads to being fully present in each and every moment.

Present employees are generally more pleasant to be around than are distracted employees. When people are having conversations with others while simultaneously checking their notes, emails, or smartphones, they are indicating that they do not care. More serious is a worker who has too many tasks to complete and cannot do any of them as well as they need to be done. Presence and productivity are inextricably bound together.

Major obstacles to presence are technology, overload and fatigue, and oppressive bosses. Each of these is formidable but not insurmountable. Only when employees are aware of how each of these obstacles affect presence can solutions be found.


Character may not always be taken into proper consideration in the business world; however, it is indispensable. Employers should be able to recognize, observe, and evaluate it in current and prospective employees. Those who embody all 10 qualities are highly desirable. They are far more likely to make better decisions for themselves and for their companies.

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