The 10 qualities of truly principled people

Glass chess pieces on a board

There are 10 qualities common to the most principled people. Which of them do you demonstrate consistently?

Last year US ethicist Bruce Weinstein visited Australia to deliver a talk on the principles of ethical intelligence.

It was incredibly timed: His visit coincided with the falls from grace of politician Bronwyn Bishop, for inappropriate use of Parliamentary travel allowances, and Clive Palmer, also then an MP but making headlines for all the wrong reasons for his disputes with his business partners in various mining ventures.

During his talk, Weinstein outlined 10 crucial qualities that make a human being — specifically an employee — one of “the good ones” (which, it just so happens, was the name of his latest book).

Here are the qualities.

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

Weinstein argues that living by these ten principles consistently will not only prevent embarrassing career disasters but improve one’s chances of financial and personal success. I’d love to be able to say I ticked every box.

According to Weinstein, if you want to make a lot of money, “living according to these concepts is the only way to do it”. You don’t have to choose between being a high-net-worth individual on the one hand or being a person of high character on the other. In the long run, they’re the same.

Accountability and courage

Employers would do well to seek out the ten qualities in prospective employees if they want their companies to soar. In The Good Ones Weinstein talks about people who are not only good at their jobs but who are accountable and stand up for fairness.

“This is a big issue for people who are worth a lot of money, or whose companies are worth a lot of money,” he says.

Job descriptions often focus on knowledge and skills to the exclusion of character but “you can be the best accountant at business school or the smartest IT person, but if you’re fundamentally dishonest and willing to cheat — or if you don’t mind taking advantage of taxpayer money to fly in a helicopter for $5000 — then ultimately it will result in your financial ruin.”

The helicopter reference was, obviously, referring to Mrs Bishop’s expenses scandal. What was curious in the Bishop case, Weinstein says, is that people around her must have known what she was doing before it became public.

“Why didn’t they say anything about it to her?” he asked.

Courage, another of his high-quality characteristics, means standing up to wrongful behaviour.

“If you see that your boss is misappropriating public funds, why not say: ‘Look, this is going to come back to haunt you. It’s in your own interest not to do this. Please think about this differently.’

“Good leaders — in business or politics or anywhere — welcome criticism because that’s how you get better. That’s how you avoid missteps like this.”

That’s assuming you take the advice, of course.

Smart business strategy

Weinstein admits it’s not easy to live up to his list all the time.

“We kind of wax and wane, being honest in some contexts and not honest in others, and sometimes we are not always as accountable as we should be,” he said.

But high-character people demonstrate they are at least consistently committed to the list.

In closing, Weinstein quotes the ethics of Greek philosopher Aristotle, which focus not on conduct but character. ‘It’s not a question of what should I do but who should I be’ he says. ‘I really like looking at the world through that lens now.’

This high-character model isn’t “goodie-two-shoes” stuff — it’s a smart business strategy.

Over many decades I have seen too many people in the mining business try to manipulate the system, mine the market and basically misrepresent things for nothing other than their own benefit, with little regard for the smaller shareholders they purport to represent.

This is possibly a function of the small end of the market requiring people to possess immense entrepreneurial spirit just to survive, that sometimes they just don’t have the energy left over to focus on any of the concepts described above. This, though, is probably handing them an easy cop-out. The truth is, if there is any question that something might not be the right thing to do, then it is probably not the right thing to do — so don’t do it!

Admiration for mining’s most ethical operators

The people I admire most are the ones who have been in this industry a long time, have built something not once, but multiple times, always brought others along for the ride, shared the successes fairly and looked after others. They succeeded, perhaps not with the spectacular peaks, but also usually never with the eventual spectacular fall from grace when they inevitably get found out.

The mining industry is big in terms of the sums of money involved, but it is small in terms of the numbers of people involved. Do the wrong thing and it is usually very public and the industry quite unforgiving.

If you’re an ethical person in the mining industry, you know who you are — because you can sleep at night.

If you’re an ethical employee or leader and you’re looking for your next opportunity in the mining industry, get in touch with Mining People International.

Steve Heather FRCSA
Managing Director & Principal Executive Search 
Mining People International
Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]