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Cultivating conscientiousness

For a workforce that’s recently inundated with Millennials and Gen Zs, purpose and social impact are key priorities for them while choosing a workplace (Kessler, Social Quartz, 2018). They want to work for organizations with an enriching culture and are led by ethical and inspirational people. But what makes leaders ethical and inspirational for those around them? Conscientiousness is one of the Big Five personality traits that allows a person to exercise self-discipline and regulate and direct their impulses. In this article we will explore how this trait helps individuals become impactful leaders and how this trait can be cultivated.

The trait of conscientiousness involves mindfulness towards your surroundings and people, from known acquaintances to absolute strangers. It allows individuals to be aware of the long-term impact of words and actions even in mundane situations. According to a published study, individuals with greater levels of conscientiousness tend to be more empathetic towards other people (Melchers et al, Frontiers in Psychology, 2016). At the workplace, a conscientiousness employee will be conscious of the first impression with their peers, their reports and their bosses. They are driven by a strong sense of duty towards others and they use their own initiative to set goals and execute on them. (Psychologist World, 2020) This trait requires great levels of integrity, will-power and emotional regulation to be able to “walk the talk” irrespective of external validation.

While people at large see the value of being conscientious, practicing it is harder than we think. For most of us life is constantly full of difficult choices. The struggle is to do the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient or expensive or even boring. People at large are more conscious of their carbon footprint, gender equality, racial discrimination, inclusion, structural inequality etc. On the other hand, following safety rules like wearing helmets and seat belts seem pointless and unnecessary. Punctuality at every meeting is rendered useless for most when you can simply text, “Be there in 10”. Paying a small bribe almost seems efficient compared to bureaucratic processes and paper-work. In short, you can be “woke” today till you can’t. Can these actions and habits make us the ethical and inspirational leader we strive to work for? This is a tough question in front of most people today.

Conscientiousness is known to be positively correlated with all forms of workplace performance. (Neal A, Yeo G, Koy A, Xiao T, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2011). However, most people will admit that its practise is the real challenge. It has also been known to have several health benefits like higher life expectancy and greater cognitive benefits. (Patrick Hill, University of Illinois). Harvard Health Publishing shares insights on how to practise this trait and cultivate conscientiousness within us.

Focussing on specific goals that ethical and socially relevant

Rather than aspiring to be conscientious or ethical or responsible, it would be better to have goals that are specific. The former may be too vague and may get lost over time, specific goals have more success. Eg. Adhering to all self-committed timelines, ensuring cleanliness and hygiene in all workspaces, creating inclusive policies for human resources.

Breaking down your goals into daily plans and tracking them

Goals become invisible until they find a place on your daily to-do lists and calendars. Use tools like organizers, calendar apps, project management tools (Asana, Trello, Any.Do) to help you track your tasks and ensure that you achieve these.

Reminders to not “snooze” off

Cultivating conscientiousness can be tough since you need to build a habit even when it’s not comfortable. We all have weaknesses and can easily stray off course. Use reminders in your phone to ensure that you’re on track.

Social validation

Conscientiousness is a social trait. While it eventually becomes an independent habit, it aligns with your social and moral compass. Hence its is imperative to stay connected with friends and family who can encourage and reward positive behaviors and express gratitude. These will ultimately be our validation to help form conscientious habits.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Victor E. Frankl)

Author: Ms. Anurima Chatterjee, Master Trainer

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