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High-Character Employees Are the Key to Your Success

//High-Character Employees Are the Key to Your Success

High-Character Employees Are the Key to Your Success


By: Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.

“Companies hire for competence and fire for character,” a CEO lamented on 60 Minutes.  That’s not unfortunate. It is a financial and legal catastrophe in the making, but that disaster is within your means to prevent.

I spent several years studying job descriptions and interviewing C-suite executives around the world, and I discovered an ugly truth about global corporate life: too many companies are obsessively focused on what job candidates need to know or do, and those companies too often overlook another crucial component of success: high character.

There are ten qualities associated with high-character employees:

  1. Honesty
  2. Accountability
  3. Care
  4. Courage
  5. Fairness
  6. Gratitude
  7. Humility
  8. Loyalty
  9. Patience
  10. Presence

Let’s take a closer look at three of them.


Honesty is by far the most important quality of high-character employees.  It doesn’t matter how much your COO knows about operations or how skilled your senior VP of compliance is in writing policies if he or she is dishonest.  A single dishonest employee, or even a single dishonest act, can be a financial, legal, and PR nightmare for your company.

One way to evaluate a job candidate’s honesty is by saying, “Tell me about a time when you could have lied to a supervisor but chose to tell the truth.” A direct report once told me about an upsetting mistake she made, which required me to apologize to a client.  She could have blamed someone else, but she took responsibility, and I greatly respected her for that.

Many people who have heard the more detailed version I present in my ethics keynotes have told me they are­­­ inspired by what she did.


Accountable employees do four things consistently:

  • They keep their promises.
  • They consider the consequences of their actions.
  • They take responsibility for their mistakes.
  • They make amends for those mistakes.

Kelly Blazek, a respected member of the Cleveland business community, received a LinkedIn invitation from a recent college graduate named Diana Mekota.  Blazek was perturbed by a request from someone she didn’t know and wrote an insulting response, which she probably figured would be the end of the matter.  But Mekota shared the message with her friends, and it went viral, causing a media firestorm. “It takes a years to build your online reputation and only one slip-up on social media to destroy it,” noted journalism professor Stefanie Moore in response to the story.

Since accountability involves taking ownership of one’s mistakes, a useful way of discerning this quality in job interviews is, “Describe a situation in which you took responsibility for a mistake you made. What were the consequences to you for doing so?” A meaningful response is not, “I don’t make mistakes,” but something along the lines of, “I failed to delegate some crucial tasks once, so now I make sure to ask for help when I need it.”


This may seem like an outlier, but grateful employees are generally happier, healthier, more productive, and have a positive impact on colleagues, according to research by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California at Davis and others.

It is harder to discern gratitude than the previous two qualities, but elsewhere I present portions of interviews with two job candidates, and I show that the way a person talks about the role that other people have played in his or her success reveals a lot about how grateful he or she is.

I explore all ten qualities in greater depth and discuss how to evaluate them in my book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees.

As the stories from business leaders across the U.S. and beyond reveal, high character is the key to success, and you cannot afford to overlook it when it comes to hiring and promoting the people who will represent your company—and you.

About the Author

Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy ®, works with organizations that want to do the right thing every time and that know the key to their success is the high character of their employees Download a summary of his presentations here.