Sunset on the Hudson River | Photo by Bruce Weinstein

“Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who! Who do I trust? Me!” These words, the mark of a true narcissist, are shouted by the character Tony Montana in Scarface as the drug empire he has built starts to crumble. (Oliver Stone wrote the script.)  Even if you didn’t know that Montana was a liar, a thief, and a murderer, it’s clear that a statement like this can be uttered only by someone who is frightfully isolated. Speaking of his best friend and wife, he says to himself, “I don’t need him. I don’t need her. I don’t need nobody.”

Montana’s inability to care about anyone or anything beyond himself makes him a tragic figure, someone whom, paradoxically, moviegoers have been caring about intensely for the past thirty years. As I suggested in my book Ethical Intelligence, movies like this show us the dangers of caring about no one but ourselves.

In business, the term care is generally applied to the business-client relationship. It has given rise to unwieldy terms like customer care associatefor the people formerly known as sales agents. But high-character employees care not only about their clients but about every relationship they have in and beyond the workplace. Their secret weapon is that they also care about, and for, themselves.

The following questions and suggestions may be useful in job interviews and performance reviews for evaluating the candidate or employee’s commitment to care.

Why do you want this job?

Many years ago, one of the presenters at a leadership workshop I attended discussed how a successful airline decided which applicants to hire as flight attendants. If the person said things like, “I want to see the world,” or “It sounds like a lifestyle I’d enjoy,” they were not accepted. These were candidates who viewed the job in self-serving terms.

The top-ranked candidates were those who conveyed a passion for serving others. As a passenger, wouldn’t you want a flight attendant who genuinely cares about helping you make the best of what can be a stressful, unpleasant experience? Working for an airline brings lots of terrific perks, like free trips and buddy passes, but that’s what these benefits are: perks, short forperquisites, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a privilege, gain, or profit incidental to regular salary or wages.” They’re the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

High-character employees are dedicated to serving others, even if they’re not in a service industry. They serve their clients, they serve their bosses, and they serve the mission of their organizations. They’re neither selfless nor self-serving. The language that they use to describe what they do indicates a strong commitment to people, so it makes sense for managers to listen carefully when job candidates or current employees explain why they want a certain position.

Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work.

I was shopping at a Publix supermarket in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. As I was checking out, I mentioned to the cashier that I needed an item but couldn’t find it. She walked around from the cash register, headed down one of the aisles with me, pulled the item I needed off the shelf, and handed it to me. This happened over fifteen years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it.

The total time elapsed couldn’t have been more than a minute, but she truly went above and beyond the call of duty to help me find what I needed, and I still tell people that story. Guess which supermarket I’m going to the next time I’m in Ponte Vedra?

As a manager, how would you deal with employees who come to work with a cold or flu?

A man I’ll call Howard woke up with the flu one day, yet his employer required him to come to work.  He couldn’t do his job well, and some of his colleagues — including a national radio host — got sick. Being treated simply as a means to an end prompted Howard to leave his job. His current boss, Gwen, would never think of doing such a thing, and as a result of her caring attitude, Howard has much greater job satisfaction.

How would a high-character person respond to question 3? One would hope to hear something like this: “I wouldn’t allow someone with the flu to come to work. First, I wouldn’t want him or her to make other people at work sick. Second, I’d want the employee to get better, which means staying home and resting. I’d find a way to get the employee’s work done.”

But what if the employee insisted on coming in? “I’ll isolate myself,” she might say, “so that I won’t get anyone sick. I just don’t to fall behind in my work or give others more to do.”

A caring manager would say, “I appreciate your loyalty and dedication, but you can best serve us by staying home and getting better.”

That kind of manager is someone I’d want on my team. How about you?


Caring employees

  • have a deep concern for other people and themselves, and they put this concern into action;
  • view themselves as servants, but not to exclusion of their own health and well-being;
  • do better work and are more loyal when their employers care for them, too.

This essay, an excerpt from my book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, is the third in a series of blog posts on how to hire high-character people.  The first two were How to Hire Honest People and How to Hire Accountable People.  Next time, we’ll look at what it means to be a courageous person and how to evaluate this quality in job applicants and current employees.

As a business ethics speaker and trainer, I work with organizations that want to do the right thing every time and that know the key to their success is the high character of their employees. Download a summary of my presentations here. Book me to speak or present a webinar to your group here. Call me at 646.649.4501 (U.S.)