14 Behaviors and Attitudes That Can Drive Workplace Success


I have worked with hundreds of people at all corporate rungs and have enjoyed watching many of them progress. There are, sadly, a few who seem to spin their career wheels. I thought I might discover some wisdom if I considered the behaviors and attitudes of two people, both bright and kind to me. One has had success in the business world and is currently a senior manager of a global organization while the other struggles in low-paying wage or so-so sales commission positions:

  • Both are American, male, single, 40something, and fit.
  • Both have an undergraduate degree only and have experienced periods of intermittent unemployment.
  • Neither have high-achieving family members.

Let’s call the successful guy Jack and struggler Charlie, and consider their differences. I’ve created two categories: one is for behaviors that are observable; the other, attitudes that are not so obvious. Here are 14 things that can make a big difference in workplace success.


1) Jack chooses employers and positions carefully, frequently being rejected and rejecting inappropriate offers; Charlie is not astute at discriminating between a good opportunity and bad choice, and so finds himself not progressing and continuing what one career services buddy refers to as a “downward spiral.” 

2) Jack goes into overdrive for the first 6 months of a new job (and beyond as needed), working extra hours to learn the nuances of his accountabilities, gain understanding of the company culture, figure out who the key players in the company are – all while doing his daily tasks and delivering results as quickly as possible; Charlie complains that things aren’t what he expected or what the company promised.

3) Jack relocates if necessary; Charlie talks about relocating but never has.

4) Jack has developed a career specialty that offers better paying, though harder-to-find, positions; Charlie’s skills, while valuable, don’t differentiate him from other candidates.

5) Jack is always looking for the next challenge, either with his current employer or another one, and doesn’t mind taking calculated, well thought-out risks; Charlie wants to be successful but doesn’t set goals for himself or plan how he will deliver results for his employer.

6) Jack embraces mental challenges including taking professional development courses and learning new technology on his own; Charlie avoids newness and avoids using technology, making it more and more difficult for him to learn.

7) Jack advocates for his employees at the risk of company disfavor; Charlie seems to have enough problems of his own and complains (doesn’t offer solutions) rather than advocates (explains why he is right and makes specific requests).

8) Jack tries to increase his income and net worth through real estate investing (home buying and selling was profitable) and running a side business (which didn’t take off); Charlie has thought about starting a business but hasn't yet.

9) Jack has increased his visibility and knowledge through membership in a professional association; Charlie doesn’t have an expertise in one field and so doesn’t have a professional association suitable for him to join. 

10) Jack has been mentored and has mentored others; Charlie has never found anyone to help him mature professionally.

ATTITUDES (revealed through conversation but not directly observable)

11) Jack values other people’s points of view and motivations even if he disagrees with them; Charlie considers his perspective only and doesn’t see how getting what he needs may jeopardize the rights of others. 

12) Jack categorizes corporate behaviors as normal/typical or abnormal/unacceptable, and he has learned to operate as expected but protests (or plans his escape from) unreasonable requirements; Charlie considers nearly all company behavior to be damaging to his psyche and, ultimately, his performance.

13) Jack sees negative events as leading to positive outcomes, either directly or indirectly; Charlie feels that one bad thing leads to yet another.

14) Jack holds himself to a high standard of ethics and performance, and isn’t afraid to hold others (his bosses and his staff) accountable; Charlie wants to hold others accountable but many times does not live up to his employer’s standards. 

Considering these divergent approaches and outcomes, I see that choosing the right employer (and being chosen) is critical so that your viewpoint doesn’t become skewed and you take a downward spiral, which can be difficult to reverse. There may be times when conditions are so difficult you can't see the way out. Going outside of the workplace -- joining professional associations, taking classes, learning something new -- combined with an ever-hopeful, goal-setting, people-savvy, hard working attitude can make a difference. 

Like this article? Pin it!

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Guest's picture

Thank you for this wonderful insight. Surely, I will use some of these tips as I restrategise for 2008. This is great stuff!

Guest's picture

...are directly related. Crappy jobs don't yield mentors. Unfortunately, many of us have to have a paycheck and can't afford to be picky. I suggest trying working contract for a while to break a streak of crappy jobs; it's a pain, but you'll learn more this way, and will have the opportunity to network. Even if a contract doesn't result in a permanent job offer, you can use the people you met on the contract job to help you find something else. And if you find out you're working for a crappy company, you're free to move on without a blemish on your record.

Guest's picture
Jon A

I've found the key to workplace success is to do the jobs that no one else wants to do--and do them well.

Even if you're working at a crappy company, someone is going to notice and that notice can lead you to either a position where you can make some change or to contact with people who will provide you with better opportunities.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the comments and ideas.

Some companies have formal mentor relationships but your mentor doesn't necessarily have to be a higher-up at your company. You might find people (older friends or younger friends with expertise in certain fields) who can give you advice or guidance -- and you can create a composite mentor: that is someone you admire for their leadership; another who is good with supervising people; and still another who has strengths in your career field.

Guest's picture

I really appreciated this post. I wanted my readers to see this also so I've provided a link to it from one of my recent posts.


Keep up the good work!

Guest's picture

Thanks Julie.. I like this.. You inspired me to do a powerpoint presentation of this so I can show to my staff the value of choosing the right path

Guest's picture

Was this written in 1950? This isn't remotely relatable to today -- the economy, the workforce, the prejudices.

Guest's picture
Kevin James

I like all the options on the many attitudes of behavior on the job. I definitely would consider them all.

Guest's picture

This is unhelpful HR rhetoric. The person “Jack” is a fictional character whose traits are written around an perceived HR/corporate pschological blue print. No such person exists. If they did, they would have shot themselves in the head.

/** Fix admin settings safe to ignore showing on unauthenticated user **/