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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 22, 2019

The Most Under-Appreciated, Under-Valued, Under-Recognized, Under-Rewarded Character Trait……Ever. And It’s the Character Trait of Winners. 

Julie Q. Brush

There are the usual suspects that dominate the job descriptions and candidate dissections:

“Team Player”, “Intelligent”, “Business Acumen”, “Excellent Academic Credentials”, “Enthusiastic” “Able To Work In A Fast Paced Environment” “Good Personality” “Strong Experience…[in This Practice Area or That]”

The qualities above are highly valued in the professional world and important to career success for a legal professional – no question about it. But in my 20+ years as a legal recruiter and as a practicing attorney, there is one quality/trait that I have yet to see specifically articulated, screened for or highlighted in a job description. A trait that is perhaps the most important for an employee or colleague or boss or business partner or for that matter, any person to possess. So what is it?


No, it’s not a flashy trait. It’s not “brilliant” or high EQ. It’s not sexy. It’s not mysterious. In fact to many, it’s kind of boring. But it’s the character trait of winners. And when you dig down deep into what it means to be reliable, its impact on success and how you feel when working with such a person, you begin to appreciate the magnitude of this trait…and realize that it ain’t so easy to find in the professional world.

So what does it actually mean to be reliable? Below are the key links in the reliability chain:

  • Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Consistently produce good work product.
  • Turn in your work on time.
  • On time for meetings, calls, presentations, events…everything.
  • Consistently demonstrate good judgment.
  • Can be counted on to go the extra mile – either when called upon or at your own choosing.
  • Consistently work hard.
  • Willing to fill in for others when needed.
  • Ask questions when you need clarity.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Stick to your core values.
  • Tell the truth.

None of the items above should be that difficult to do, but more and more individuals are falling short in several of these areas. And instead of creating accountability, the common path (and path of least resistance) in the professional environment…is to lower the bar. This perpetuates a lower quality standard; and contributes to bad hires and a degraded organization/department. It also creates heightened stress and frustration among colleagues and co-workers. Think about it – how stressful is it when you feel you can’t rely on someone? And for those who have had the privilege of working with a reliable colleague, how much better is/was your professional life? It’s like the difference between the symphony warm up and the actual performance.

So the next time you’re making a hire or assessing a promotion or demotion; or strategizing on your own professional development, pull “reliability” to the forefront and make it a top priority. For the hiring manager, let your team know it’s a top decision marker, emphasize it in the job description, ask interview questions to ferret out answers that demonstrate reliability and watch for the all-critical “tells” during your interview process. When conducting reference checks, ask whether the candidate is reliable and then ask for examples. It’s a question that is rarely if ever asked so I’m quite certain you’ll receive a telling response. And finally, don’t settle! I know you need to fill your job yesterday. But if you feel there are elements of reliability missing from a candidate, you’re way better off waiting for a better fit than making the wrong hire…because the pain will come eventually, and it will be disruptive. For the legal professional seeking improvement, use the list above to help guide you with your development and to enable success for those around you. Set goals and see how you measure up weekly/monthly/quarterly.

People aren’t born reliable individuals. It’s also not guaranteed with an Ivy League degree or straight As, a brand name employer…or upper-class upbringing. The best personalities and strongest networks can’t guarantee it either. Reliability develops over time and starts at early age through modeling from our parents. But even those without the early exposure can develop and deeply engrain it through effort, practice and will. And executives who haven’t thought much about reliability as a measuring stick, can now place it on their radar and give it the attention that’s needed for better hires and higher quality team members. So shine a brighter light on “reliability” and make it a bigger part of your world today. Over time, you’ll see how it raises the bar to create a better professional and profession.

And that’s something you can count on.

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