What is work ethic?

Ethic means, according to the dictionary, a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct. It is derived from the Greek word 'ethos' which means nature or disposition.

We have been taught and have heard about the value and importance of having a high work ethic. Work hard in order to succeed.

What is important for us to understand is that all actions and behaviour are determined by our thinking. This thinking involves our emotions, our planning, our dreaming and envisioning of the desired future, our learning, reflection and the mental habits that we form.

We view work as limited to what we do with our hands or limbs.

The most important work we do as human beings is that of thinking. It is important, therefore, to have a high thinking ethic. It is this thinking which directs the work we do with our bodies.

I find that this is something that is not generally well understood. In the same way that we use tools and develop methods to make our physical work productive and efficient so too should we have tools and methods for our thinking work depending on the type of thinking we want to do.

In our relationships we focus on what we need to do in order to build, sustain and improve these relationships. The thinking, we leave to adverts, movies, romance novels, social media trends and to magazine editors.

It is the same with our households and, generally our lives.

And this is the thing about a work ethic. It is a continuous state of being. It denotes consistency embedded in our natural way of being.

We need to cultivate this thinking ethic in our lives, so that the work we do with our hands is directed by good work done with our minds. Otherwise, we may find ourselves working hard at the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

If you are not sure where to begin, here is a good place. Think about your life or any aspect of it. It may be your entire life's purpose (what do you want your life to be like and about), your relationship with a certain person or group of people, your dominating emotions, your health, your home, your community or any other thing that enters your mind.

Thinking is mainly done by asking and answering questions.
These are what, why, how, when, whom, where and what if?

An example of a good thinking exercise is what is called reflection. Taking stock.
Where am I? How am I doing? How do I feel about how I am doing/ where I am? How did I get here? Where/ how would I rather be (doing)? Why is that important? How do I move from where I am to where I would rather be?

Thinking is a skill that is gained through learning, guidance and practice. I know we all think thoughts. This is not a question on intelligence. It is a question about improving the quality of our thoughts and our decisions so that we may improve our lives.

As a business and leadership coach I find that few leaders give time and attention to this important work. We keep busy with meetings and getting things done; one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is to think - alone and with others. The decisions that leaders make impact too many lives for them to be made in rushed in-between moments of time.

Leaders need to create and priotize time to think in order to understand the people they lead, to understand the times and context in which they lead, to understand their own biases and strengths, to understand the challenges and opportunities they face.

Leaders need to make time to identify and explore the options available to them before they make decisions. Leaders need to think deeply about where they are going and how each daily decision brings them closer to that imagined and desired future.

The most important differentiator in the quality and ability of leaders is their thinking ethic.

Words by Sazi Ndwandwa



Explorer. Time Traveller.

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