Two Traits on Which to Build A Workforce

Randy A. Burba is the Chief of Public Safety for Chapman University. He has served in this capacity since 2005 and he is responsible for all law enforcement-related functions, parking, transportation services, fire & life safety, and emergency management for the university.

Individuals, governments, and private businesses all share one absolute truth: Reputation is everything.  If an individual has a bad reputation, no one wants to take a chance on them. When a company has a bad reputation, no one wants to do business with them, so much so, that others can simply avoid these less-desirable services and take their business elsewhere. However, people often can’t easily avoid or seek out another local government as easily.  Therefore, in many ways, it is even more critical that local governments guard their reputation.  

In any service industry, those who do the serving are the individual employees who represent the larger entity.  If a local government has a bad reputation, the likely culprit is bad service from one or more of its employees. A government or business is, in essence, the sum of its parts, so selecting the right person is critical.

 In thirty-four years of public safety service, I’ve found these are undoubtedly the two most important characteristics to ensuring success.


Much has been written about hiring the right people, and there are a thousand theories and techniques lauded and debated on the need and the value of recruiting and hiring the right employee.  The bottom line, however, is you need to seek and find two traits to drastically increase your chances of finding the right fit for the success and reputation of your organization: Integrity and attitude.  In thirty-four years of public safety service, I’ve found these are undoubtedly the two most important characteristics to ensuring success.  

Skills can be taught to an employment-aged individual but personality traits, are pretty much set and not likely to change, though there are no absolutes and anomalies are always possible.  Why are these traits so essential to the success of an employee and ultimately the business? It is because these two traits are the compass and the drive that feed everything else, and they are the foundation on which all other qualities and skills are eventually added and exercised.

You can see examples of this in the sporting world.  Think of times that you have heard of ultra-talented or skilled people who were busts because of attitude or integrity; they were missing the foundation necessary to support their talent and skills.  Attitude drives the desire to perform. If you have a good attitude you can overcome obstacles and negativity that often creep their way into work environments. Integrity quite simply keeps someone from deviating from what is right regardless of outward pressures. 

Does That Candidate Have What It Takes?

How then can we test for or measure for these traits during an interview or other limited employment pre-screening process?  Full law enforcement backgrounds often involve talking to many neighbors, coworkers, or other people who may have more insight into a person’s long- term behavior/traits. Most other jobs don’t have this lengthy of a process for selection.  It is critical to develop specific questions that can give you a glimpse into these traits. Ask questions about obstacles, how they have overcome adversity in the workplace; insist on specific examples. Ask them to define integrity and give examples of when theirs was tested; in what way(s) were they challenged and why did they make the decision they ultimately did. 

Attitude can be tricky because people oftentimes mistake passion for attitude. I’ve known a lot of passionate people who have bad attitudes and step away when the situation changes into something they aren’t as passionate about.  If our paradigm shapes the world for us, then our attitude most certainly shows us how we will interact with it. Attempt to ask adversity questions and ask for specific examples of how their attitude affected the outcome. Those who understand the power of a positive attitude will be able to explain it and give examples willingly.  

The science of selecting a future employee based on skills and talent must come with the art of why choosing that employee is imperative for your team.  We can write the perfect job description, identify all the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities required, satisfy all the statutorily required mandates, verify degrees, and any other plausible due diligence.  But, if that person arrives for the first day of work doesn’t have a good attitude and integrity, the chance of success is greatly diminished.  

We can all be fooled occasionally. But the absence of a positive attitude and personal integrity will immediately signal trouble.  Trouble your organization doesn’t need or want while trying to earn and maintain a good reputation.  

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