#3.2 Preparing to be a High Performer: Great Work Ethic

A great work ethic is one of the must-haves for qualifying as a high-performing employee. Without it, success is miles away.


What stands in the way of having a stronger work ethic? That’s a good question to ask yourself. The answer will be different for each one of us, and by identifying the obstacles to you, you stand a chance at overcoming them. And once you’ve mastered your personal hurdles, you will have made a step toward being a high performer.

For some, the many distractions of life are simply too overwhelming to ignore. In an age in which there are more things vying for our time than ever before, it takes strong discipline to tune out anything that pulls our focus from getting done the job that’s expected of us. It’s easy enough to say, “I’ll just check Facebook quickly”—it can be much more difficult to actually limit yourself to those five minutes. Or, “I’ll quickly text my buddy about tonight”—turns into an exchange that distracts you and lasts much longer than it should have. You must learn what can wait and what can’t wait; you have a job to perform.

To be a true professional one must be able to fight distractions. Here are a few suggested strategies to consider adding to your toolbox in hopes of combating unwanted disruptions:
• Making a daily to-do list and sticking to accomplishing each one of them.
• Keeping an orderly desk. I heard it said that once you touch something, you should only set it down once you know its proper place. I admit, I’m not so good with this one.
• Keeping an orderly inbox.
• Being able to close an off-topic discussion with that talkative individual, “I need to get back to it, lots to do today”.
• While at work, avoiding reading personnel email, texts, or visiting external webpages.


Another obstacle is poor time management outside the office. While this can have many effects—anything from being stressed at work because you can’t remember if you mailed your bills to having to make time during the workday for personal calls you didn’t get done at home—one of the biggest problems with poor time management at home is not leaving yourself enough time to get the expert-recommended eight hours of sleep a night. A recent study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that work production decreases the more sleep-deprived someone is. A rested employee is a higher performing employee, making sleep an unexpected secret weapons of many high performers. Why not get control of your schedule and allow yourself to capitalize on a full night’s rest?

What are the attributes that make up an excellent work ethic? Here are a few of biggies.

  1. Diligence: Staying on top of tasks and goals. Maintaining focus on making consistent progress forward. Doing what it takes to get the job done. Never losing sight of the endgame and priorities.
  2. Initiative: Doing what needs to be done without prompting. Being proactive, figuring it out, and getting it done. Not waiting to be told what needs to be done if it’s something you can figure out on your own.
  3. Drive: Being motivated, passionate, and bringing energy to the tasks at hand. The antithesis is having an “I don’t care” attitude.
  4. Alertness: Being 100% in every moment. Not daydreaming and being lackadaisical.
  5. Determination: Having a can-do attitude. Digging in when the going gets tough. Overcoming adversity. Stepping into challenges. Facing and resolving conflict. Not backing down and/or avoiding a challenge or conflict.
  6. Commitment: Regardless of the circumstances and costs, staying in it to win it. Not quitting or giving up.
  7. Sacrifice: Being willing to trade off what you really would like to do in that moment for what needs to be done. It’s not always doing what you want to do.
  8. Toughness and Grit: Delivering results at times takes long hours of focus and investment. Sacrifice isn’t fun. You must have a toughness and grit to dig in deeper and propel yourself forward when that little voice calls out to quit. It’s not being thin-skinned and quick to throw in the towel. See more on this in the Grit blog.
  9. Humility: Taking it on the chin when needing to move forward. Completing the unrewarding and unfulfilling work with a grateful attitude. It’s having a “yes, ma’am” or “yes, sir” approach. It’s not making a big deal out of everything, avoiding coming off as ungrateful and a whiner/complainer.

If you own these attributes in your work, you will find yourself being noticed for having a strong work ethic, and you’ll be that much closer to being a high-performing employee.

True Story: I’ve seen these attributes work during my career. While I was at NASA, I walked and breathed everything from diligence to determination to sacrifice when I added night school to my already busy schedule. I managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and an MS in Technical Management, and I ascribe my success to my work ethic. And the result wasn’t just a degree: the biggest benefit of my success in the master’s program was a networking opportunity that led to the chance to join one of the most elite groups at NASA, the spacewalking group.

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