Conscientiousness: Meaning, Application and Opportunity
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A Practice Five Reflection.
Conscientiousness is one of those universally recognised attributes that most leaders look for in an employee. It is known as one of the “Big Five dimension traits”. In that format, persons with a low score on conscientiousness are characterised as “ impulsive, careless, negligent, late and disorganised”, whereas persons who score highly on this dimension are observed to be “ hardworking, dependable, well organised, and punctual”. It is easy to see why leaders, managers and employers are keen to employ workers who fit the latter description as opposed to the former.
When PRACTICE FIVE was conceptualised, CONSCIENTIOUSNESS was an obvious inclusion into the framework. In many ways, it is included simply because of the ideas in the preceding paragraph. However, the reasoning behind its inclusion runs deeper than that, and any practitioner, in any field in which they seek to excel, will be looking to grasp the gravity and functionality of these concepts to ensure their optimal performance. CONSCIENTIOUSNESS invites a context of responsibility, reflection and an internal locus of control; all of which contribute radically to successful outcomes. Moreover, the wealth of the concept lies here in a deeper understanding of the word itself.
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS, as a word and then as a concept, comes from the same Latin origins as “conscience” and “conscious”.
- wishing to do what is right
- relating to a person’s conscience.
“Conscience” means “ a person’s moral sense of what is right and wrong”.
- aware of and responding to one’s surroundings
- having knowledge of something
- deliberate and intentional.
All three words come from the Latin conscios “knowing with others and oneself”, and conscire “to be privy to”.
(COED, 2006: 303).
In short, a practitioner who is conscientious relies on his or her own conscience, responds to their surroundings and what is required, and through self-reflection is privy to and knows what the right thing to do is.
A conscientious practitioner does not solely rely on being given directions from her or his managers. They look to understand the context for him or her self, to make use of relevant information and to do what is right and correct to do in the situation at hand. This invokes an image of a practitioner who has an internal locus of control, who has accepted responsibility for his or her own performance, and who regularly reflects on how to match their current skills and capacities with the demands of their position.
Leaders and managers would be well advised to employ staff members who already possess this trait. However, that is not always available. Or worse, the culture of a team or organisation, if it has become dysfunctional, can erode the conscientiousness of hard-working staff via poor feedback systems and entrenched cynicism.
What is required is a consistent context of clearly communicated productive cultural expectations, which are acknowledged and rewarded when fulfilled. That process rewards conscientiousness and its application. PRACTICE FIVE provides a complete framework of productive concepts and behaviours that optimise individual performance and organisational culture. Conscientiousness, when acknowledged and rewarded, feeds into initiative and vision.
The conscientious practitioner who is sincerely encouraged in her or his working context by a productive context provides the organisation with the opportunity of developing a future leader, who will combine responsibility with initiative.
Furthermore, utilising the PRACTICE FIVE framework, those practitioners engaged in leadership positions can revisit CONSCIENTIOUSNESS anew. Having worked through the FIVE component of leadership (Feedback, Integrity, Vision and Excellence), the leader goes back to review her or his leadership practice through the PRACTICE lens (Performance, Relational, Adaptability, Contextual, Transparency, Initiative, Conscientiousness and Expertise).
A leader who is committed to improving her or his expertise in leadership, will now be redefining conscientiousness in a leadership capacity: he or she will follow-through on commitments, manage her or his team outcomes to meet agreed timeframes, demonstrate their investment in the organisation’s vision, be regularly looking to develop their team members further, to provide opportunities for skills development and to foster cooperative problem solving. Here, conscientiousness is applied to furthering the development of others and fostering a productive culture.
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS is much more than a buzzword. It is an enduring trait that leads to reliable performance. Thoughtfully applied, acknowledged and rewarded, it leads to exceptional results.
Paul B. Gibney Ph.D.
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