Mining leadership: The 10 qualities of truly principled people

As mining industry leaders, we should be hiring for high character, not just skills and experience. Here’s why.

What’s listed on the selection criteria for job advertisements with your company?

Chances are it’s a combination of skills and experience, of qualifications and educational prerequisites. It’s a list of things that you believe are going to ensure you attract applicants who are capable of doing the job.

What you probably haven’t got listed on there are qualities that relate to a potential candidate’s character. Things like honesty, fairness and patience.

Yet, according to US-based ethics expert Bruce Weinstein, character and performance are very strongly linked. He says “high character” people are high performers. They’re engaged. They keep their word. They can be trusted. They deliver. They don’t take shortcuts. They do the right thing.

Weinstein knows what he’s talking about. His whole business model is helping organisations hire and promote people of high character. In his book The Good Ones Weinstein argues that “companies that place a premium on the character of job applicants and employees are positioned to succeed in ways that their competitors cannot”.

The 10 character qualities every employee needs

So, what are the character qualities Weinstein argues business leaders need to look for in potential employees and candidates for promotion?

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

Weinstein argues we should all live by these 10 principles consistently, as they 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, but who among us can say they represent all these qualities, all the time?

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.

In The Good Ones, Weinstein goes on to explain why each trait is beneficial. Honesty tops the list, and perhaps that’s no surprise.

“No matter how knowledgeable or skilled a person may be, if he or she is fundamentally dishonest or doesn’t value honesty, that person is detrimental and possibly even dangerous,” he says.

Accountability and courage

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 then ultimately it will result in your financial ruin”.

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’,” Weinstein says.

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

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 says.

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”.

“I really like looking at the world through that lens now,” Weinstein says.

This high-character model isn’t goody-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 number 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.

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]