How conscientious are you?

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Of all the values entrepreneurs like to project, conscientiousness might not top everyone’s list. Sure it’s a nice trait to have, but maybe you’d rather be known for your laser-like focus, your never-ending enthusiasm, your can-do spirit or creative problem-solving skills.

There’s nothing wrong with those descriptors. But to be perceived as conscientious is to be thought of as being thorough, careful and vigilant, and someone who behaves as their conscience dictates. It means others know they can trust you, which counts for a lot. Even when nobody’s looking, when there’s no chance of reward or punishment, conscientious people do the right thing. A conscientious person doesn’t set a goal to be perceived that way, it’s simply that they are that way. The rewards, including greater productivity, are built in. Think of it as a key leadership skill.

How does a conscientious person behave? Consider these work-related attributes that are worth emulating.

  • Embrace fairness. You learned fairness as a child: don’t cheat. As an adult running a business, you know fairness also means behaving ethically; treating others as you’d want for yourself; pursuing sustainable goals; modeling ethical standards and insisting on the same in others.
  • Explore efficiency. Recognize that people may require less time than they realize to complete a task. Setting more ambitious deadlines can force yourself and other others to solve problems more creatively. Still, allow time to make sure the accelerated work is accurate. And, allow for flexibility by re-allocating time and/or resources if something unforeseen threatens to throw a project off-course.
  • Hold your nose and do the hard stuff first. There are always items on your to-do list that you’d rather avoid. Get out of your comfort zone and give priority to the challenging items. Get them out of the way so you can move on to the items you’d prefer to address. If the task seems huge, break it down into smaller, manageable parts. If you’re really honest with yourself about it, you might find the task you’re avoiding isn’t nearly as difficult or problematic as you assumed. Put it behind you.
  • Stay organized, even if it’s not your nature. Think of organization less as an alien mindset and more as a series of tasks—the kind you probably learned when you were young: Put stuff away before it gets in your way. Maintain a clear workspace where you can find things. Make lists, and update them constantly. Take out the trash (literally and figuratively). When you stay organized, you’ll enjoy a feeling of mastery over the chaos that plagues people and organizations. When you do it consistently, it sets a good example for others to follow.
  • Make time your friend. Keep track of time throughout the day and know when you need to be somewhere. Estimate travel time realistically. Plan to arrive early. Know that punctuality signals respect for others. Meeting a potential client? Don’t be late for your appointment. At the same time, learn to roll with the punches. When you or someone in your circle encounters an unforeseeable delay, adjust without judging.
  • Think long-term. Conscientious people, perhaps partly because they’re better organized, think further down the road than others. Short-term thinking is what results when you lurch from crisis to crisis. It’s what prevents you from addressing lasting challenges that keep coming back to bite you. Long-term thinkers place less value on instant gratification and remain content to delay their payoff for a better result. They also resist the temptation of a quick buck.
  • Commit judiciously. From the department of your-word-is-your-bond, be careful with commitments you make—you’ll need to honor them consistently. Be accurate in estimating what’s being asked of you. If the terms you’re asked to accept seem like a stretch, renegotiate a later deadline, a bigger budget or more resources. Conscientious people know it’s better to turn down an unreasonable request than accept it and fail.

If you run your business with a healthy obsession for behaving conscientiously, others will follow your example—and your clients and customers will appreciate and depend on it.

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