I don’t understand people who don’t try to carry their weight. I don’t really want to understand them. Lack of talent is one thing, but lack of effort is inexcusable. If you asked every one of your co-workers “do you have a strong work ethic?”, I’d bet very few if any of them would say “no”. I’d go further and suggest that if you asked everyone in your entire office building “do you have a strong ethic?”, very few would admit their work ethic isn’t all too impressive. Yet we don’t believe every one of these people maintains a consistently strong work ethic because we all have our personal opinions on other peoples’ commitment and efforts to their work. So these varying opinions on work ethic mean that we all have our own attitudes of how ‘work ethic’ is defined.

The dictionary describes work ethic as a noun meaning the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous and worthy of reward. Hard work. Intrinsically virtuous. Worthy of reward.

Hard Work

Hard work can be physically demanding labor – sod a lawn all day, chop wood for a few hours, or perform plyometric exercises for 60 minutes every day for a month. This is tough work on the body, which additionally requires mental toughness as physical fatigue sets in. Hard work can be problem-solving challenges requiring hours or days or weeks or even years of analytical scrutiny, trial and error, growing pains and setbacks. Edison’s light bulb, Ford’s vision for a twin engine, and Salk’s polio vaccine required grueling effort and diligence to achieve success. Meeting deadlines, resolving challenges, seizing opportunities. This is hard work.

Intrinsically Virtuous

The work itself feeds our industrious nature. We feel better about ourselves because we strived, struggled, and win or lose, we left it on the field. Easy tasks do not provide the same personal satisfaction that a full day, year, or career provide. Self- esteem and heads held high stem from our personal knowledge that we set out to do something, we grinded it out, we accomplished something, and we lived up to our own moral standards. We may or may not have been a raging success by societal standards, but maximum effort was put forth.

Worthy of Reward

If someone is asked to perform a job in exchange for compensation or some other currency, that is the inherent reward for the completed job. However this component of the definition is a little more suspect. Somebody might work hard at something, but lacks the necessary competencies to accomplish a meaningful result. Hard work + solid results are worthy of reward – promotions, salary increases, acquisitions, funding, recognition – those events don’t happen for effort alone. Effort trumps talent over time, however effort alone is not enough. A homebuyer wouldn’t purchase a poorly constructed house upon inspection regardless of any ‘hard work’ a contractor may have put forth to build a quality structure. The quality of the work dictates the worth of the reward. So hard work motivated by personal fulfillment and incentives make up work ethic. If this is easy to define, why is it not everyone possesses a robust work ethic? What does it take?


This is part of the virtue of the definition, the honest quality of your effort. You can’t cut corners, you can’t hold back. Your moral standards towards the commitment to task are never questioned because you’re focused on a truthful quality outcome. Everyone around you – your board, your team, your clients – they know you’re about team, transparency, and delivery.


It takes a certain level of commitment to follow-through on your obligations and tasks each day. Staying highly organized promotes personal accountability, task- mastering, and follow-through. “I forgot” isn’t something you say. “I meant to knock that out, but I’ll do it tomorrow” is not a consideration. You get s@%# done or you don’t go home. It’s part of who you are, you don’t avoid the less interesting or painful necessities. Assignments get done.


You took on the role you’re in to carry out a larger mission. It’s ok, actually, it’s great if you took on your role for your own interests – to take your company public, to sell your company, to get promoted, to get rich, or to achieve a more altruistic objective. You don’t lose sight of those larger goals, you remain dedicated to that cause. You embrace that your efforts today will yield your future status. You’ll grind because you’re motivated by your goals. Work ethic might also manifest in taking the time and effort to plan a new course to reach those macro objectives. It’s difficult., it takes unwavering commitment.

Some people are more talented than others, some are more athletic than others, some are better at math than others, some are taller then others, but none of these circumstances are within our control. Our work ethic on the other hand is entirely dependent upon our own self-influence and personal attitudes. Is your work ethic taking you where you need to go?