C – Cultivate Conscientiousness, Commitment, and Competence

Cultivating Conscientiousness, Commitment, and Competence is about taking ownership of our role in making things happen. To cultivate according to the Oxford dictionary is to “try to acquire or develop a quality or skill.” Cultivate is a verb that implies action on the part of the person doing it. It’s an extension of our letter B of Building Belief in the power of our own contribution/efforts/actions. We’re owning responsibility for our results and proactively pursuing the values of conscientiousness, commitment, and competence.

Conscientiousness refers to our willingness to work responsibly towards defined goals. It involves our work ethic which we’ll cover in Chapter E on Embracing Effort. Conscientiousness is about how hard we’re willing to work towards our goals. It is one component of the Big Five Personality profile. In this context, conscientiousness is seen as “dutiful achievement.” Those high in conscientiousness feel duty and obligation. They believe in order and discipline. They don’t value being idle and relaxing but working and contributing. They like feelings of accomplishment associated with getting things done. They value routines, order, discipline, following processes, hard work, and persistence. Those that exhibit conscientiousness aren’t easily distracted. Their focus drives persistence.

Conscientiousness is a predictor of several positive qualities. Those that are conscientious tend to have better health outcomes. This trait correlates positively with lower blood pressure, maintaining healthy bodyweight, and those with regular exercise routines. Additionally, conscientiousness correlates positively with longevity. In The Longevity Project, researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin write, “Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood. The young adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail oriented, and responsible lived the longest.” Additionally, those exhibiting higher levels of conscientiousness tend to be those that have higher levels of income as well as occupy leadership positions.

Cultivating commitment is about Heightening Hunger which we’re addressing in Chapter H. Commitment is about trading today for tomorrow. It’s about a long-term perspective. It’s deleting distraction in favor of developing dedication. On a continuum with apathy at one end and obsession the other, commitment sits closer to the obsession side. Our commitment is our answer to the question of how bad do you want it? Those with high conscientiousness can also have high levels of commitment. Together, conscientiousness coupled with commitment create potent persistence. Commitment can compliment conscientiousness. Competence can compliment both commitment and conscientiousness creating a constructive cascading cycle. If there’s an essential element, commitment may be it. Commitment has the capability to amplify either or both other elements. With increased commitment, one can reinforce conscientiousness which catapults the creation of competence.

Those with commitment have chosen to be where they are. They are enrolled and engaged in an effort. Commitment isn’t compulsory. It can’t be coerced. It’s a choice of the participant to play. There may be many reasons to be committed but behind the strongest forms is individual autonomy. Commitment reflects this is right where I want to be. The committed choose to work. They see their participation as a “get to.” Their willingness to give effort is much higher than those that do something because they feel like they must be there. Those that feel forced see participation as a grind done grudgingly.

Competence is the product of coupling conscientiousness and commitment. It’s the fruit of our labor or what we earn with our effort. It’s being motivated by mastery and merit. It’s what we cover in Chapter M. Our competence is our capability. It’s what we can do. Competence is being able to perform a task properly. To be competent is to know how to do something. When we’re seeking to be selected for a job, a spot on a team, or for something else, we’re aiming to illustrate our competence. We’re trying to put forward information that will help decision makers answer the question does this person have the skills to get the job done for which we’re looking?

The type of competence we’re seeking can be found in the descriptors we use when watching high performers. Broadcasters describing Olympic performers, for example, use words like, purposeful, precise, controlled, smooth, graceful, stirring, powerful, or disciplined. This is the type of capability we’re seeking to develop. This can be contrasted with how we describe beginners using words like, clumsy, awkward, sloppy, and undisciplined.

Are there common characteristics of competence that apply to most jobs? Are there things which are always in demand which reflect well on those that can do them? Not every aspect of competence is job specific. There are several components of competence we can consider universal independent of role. We’ll touch on three of these traits that are and will remain in demand. Whether an entry level worker or a seasoned executive, whether in sales or a business owner, these three capacities remain desirable. They are being able to prioritize, pursue a process, and being pliable. Collectively, we refer to them as the Three Pillars of Competence: Prioritize, Process, and Pliable.  We invite you to consider that these three traits are timeless and continue to be cherished.

The ability to prioritize is reflected in one’s awareness to determine What’s Important Now (WIN). Those that can make this assessment for themselves on an ongoing basis require minimal supervision and direction. Yes, this depends on clarity of direction offered by leadership, but being able to determine this independently is the mark of those with initiative. Employees that can determine what to do are desired. Demonstrating initiative which supports an ability to work independently without constant direction is a skill that bosses love to see. Where they see others demonstrating the ability to prioritize and act, bosses become grateful that they know the business will move forward even without their constant involvement.

Related to prioritizing, the second pillar of competence that is never out of style is process. Are you able to plan your day and make progress even where specific direction isn’t given? If a specific objective isn’t always clear, do you understand your responsibilities such that you can consistently contribute? Are you able to break your efforts, for example, into four-time windows in each day? Are you able to manage new business development first thing, followed by two blocks of customer service, with a final push allocated to strategy development? Do you have a process for managing your personal performance? Employers love those that can patiently plod forward in pursuit of progress through a process. Process is about routines. Do you have habits which set you up to perform well? Having routines that produce reliable results is about getting things done.

The third pillar of competence involves being able to roll with the punches. Flux and change are today’s constant and being pliable in the face of this is an absolute asset. It includes diluting more drama than one delivers personally. It’s about working first to fit in instead of to stand out. It’s a commitment to the cause over seeking to separate from the crowd. To be pliable is to be adaptable. How do you manage change? Are you able to shift on the fly and adapt to changing conditions?  The word pliability is sometimes used in a sporting context. It reflects flexibility, suppleness, and springiness. You may recall being introduced to the “athletic position” in a gym class or in a sport. It is where you stand with feet forward about shoulder width apart. Your ankles are flexed, knees bent, and upper body leaning forward such that your shoulders are over your knees. Your hands and arms are reaching forward not quite fully outstretched. Your head is balanced over your shoulders with eyes alertly looking forward. It is sometimes referred to as the “ready position.” We’re urged to keep our weight balanced over the balls of our feet. We’re also told to move gently up and down in this position to keep a bounce in our bones. We’re slightly coiled or “loaded”. From here, we are best able to move in any direction. It provides us the best chance to respond to incoming activity. In the athletic position we are positively pliable. We’re best able to dart to the left, to the right, forwards in advance, or backwards in retreat. We can attack from here. We can defend from here. The pliability offered from the athletic position is its strength. This pillar of competence in work contexts is similar. We’re trying to put ourselves in the best position to perform. This is what pliability is all about.

The three pillars of competence are generic or plug and play concepts that are applicable anywhere. These domains of competence provide power fueling your personal productivity. Knowing how to determine what to do, having established routines for performing, and moving forward within an ever-changing environment involving others smoothly are essential elements of any workplace.

When we’re cultivating conscientiousness and commitment, we’re giving ourselves a chance to create competence. Cultivating conscientiousness, commitment, and competence helps us get better at the game of life. We become stronger, faster, smarter. We become capable of contributing more. Cultivating conscientiousness, commitment, and competence increases our value to the world around us allowing us to take on greater challenges and solve bigger problems.