Why Ethics and Attitude are the Most Effective Tools You’ll Ever Use on the Job (and, maybe, in life)

This article was featured in The Georgia Contractor’s latest issue.  Click Here to read the issue in its entirety.

My exposure to construction over the past several years has been life changing.

Part of this exposure, for me, was accidental. The remainder was, and continues to be, 100% of my own volition. Given my penchant for reading and writing -combined with a strong preference for the enjoyment of these activities to occur within climate-controlled environments- the construction industry was not what I had in mind for myself when I arrived at a career crossroads some years ago. Yet, here I find myself, still involved in the industry, still learning about it, and still hungry to grow within it.

My first official construction project was not large, nor was it my own; but my attitude won me an opportunity to work on a covered tool shed project with an experienced builder. It provided me with a chance to learn, a chance to earn, and a sense of accomplishment that I could enjoy both individually, and as part of a team. I also assembled a veritable lexicon of construction tool terminology and industry jargon, nursed many sore muscles (many muscles, indeed), made a few mistakes; but, most importantly, went home intact each day. The following summer, because of my work ethic, that same builder gave me another opportunity to work on a couple of additional small projects. (I’m guessing my attitude wasn’t too terrible, the previous year). These experiences, while limited in their scope, helped to shape my outlook on life, my personal philosophy on hard work, and to discover a deeper understanding of safety, both in an occupational sense and a personal sense.

Now, while construction is where my passion lies, I’m not naïve to the fact that someone reading this might have zero interest pursuing a career in the construction industry. Or, may already be progressing along a promising career path. This message is for you, too.


It all starts with the person in the mirror.

When we consider that most projects require some set of tools to get a job accomplished, it’s easy to forget that not all tools brought to the job, are ones that we can physically hold in our hands. In fact, two of the most important tools we will ever have in our personal and professional lives reside not in equipment belts or supply rooms, but in our heads; and, also, in our hearts. As a human race we develop these tools differently and at different rates. Directed, influenced, and in many ways, sculpted by our own life experiences, the attitudes we exhibit in our interactions with people -guided by an internal ethical and moral ‘compass’- have tremendous potential to set life changing events into motion, both positive and negative in nature. Metaphorically speaking, for many, life moves alongside this developmental spectrum with an unlimited bandwidth. Since personal and professional growth are never guaranteed to occur on identical or parallel schedules, many find in life that they must mature personally before they can advance professionally. The rate and degree of that developmental progress is unique to each person, almost like a behavioral (and emotional) fingerprint. 

What does ethics really mean to me?

Ethics are essentially principles by which we operate or live. They are necessary for many environments to maintain harmony and equity. They represent the written (and sometimes, unwritten, yet universally recognized) rules which govern our behaviors in situations where we are required to interact either courteously or professionally, with and around other people. A strong foundation in ethics can promote and accelerate career advancement; and, can also bode well for job security. It can also promote the longevity of healthy, productive, and mutually beneficial relationships. Living by a code of personal integrity, showing respect for elders (parents, educators, workplace veterans, military veterans), adherence to safety rules, regulations and procedures, these are all ways in which we demonstrate our personal code of ethics.

These examples of simply being a decent human, require no expense of personal energy or finances.   

Ethics are also lessons taught in homes, schools, and businesses around the world. It is truly a universal subject.    

We begin taking lessons on ethics early in life, often before we recognize it’s happening. You can take academic courses on business ethics, legal ethics and the like, well into adulthood; but it is parents who typically lay the groundwork. Some provide their children with a solid ethical foundation, where others are less capable of doing so. The safety net, we hope, are families; and, equally important, the educational systems through which we learn how to function in the world around us. Public schools, private colleges and universities, technical schools and vocational academies, don’t just teach subjects and skills. They teach ethics, too.  In conjunction with -but, unfortunately, sometimes in lieu of- the parents, educators can help carry that torch, keeping that beacon of hope for the future of society shining brightly.

On a personal level, many of us got our first lessons in professional work ethic around the household. I can personally recall -with little fondness, I might add- a magnitude of ethics lessons from my childhood, commonly referred to today, as household chores. This theme continued for me throughout adolescence and into young adulthood, with schoolteachers and professors building upon that ethical inventory through a seemingly endless barrage of projects and homework assignments. Does any of this sound familiar?

Have you ever missed the bus or arrived late to school or work because of oversleeping? Missed out on an opportunity because of procrastination? Sometimes, we can even teach ourselves lessons in work ethic (including the critical importance of time management).     

There may be a more mysterious reason than we all realize, behind why the words attitude, aptitude, and altitude, are separated by just one letter in the alphabet. It is often thought that by making small, deliberate changes, one can eventually affect a world of difference. The angle of your career (or life) trajectory could change dramatically with a subtle adjustment in your attitude, or a small improvement to your work ethic. Maybe you need to study a new topic or learn a new skill to earn a promotion; or re-read a book section before taking a make-or-break exam. Just remember that next step along your path to success might not reveal itself before your attitude and ethics illuminate the road ahead. It may not be readily apparent; but you’ve been preparing for that next goal in your life for years, already.

So, what are you waiting for???

By: Ryan Boling, Director of Training, HB NEXT


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