In previous blogs (here and here), I have presented a comprehensive model of leadership that I have labeled The Performance Trilogy®. The framework describes the three fundamental processes that must be managed; strategy, execution, and leadership development and the three leadership roles needed for each process; leading, managing and coaching. Leading each of the three processes of the Performance Trilogy® requires very different attributes (i.e. talent and skills). The three most important attributes needed to successfully lead the strategy process are imagination, courage and persuasiveness. The three most important attributes needed to successfully manage the execution process are conscientiousness, productivity and discernment. The three most important attributes needed to successfully coach the leadership development process are integrity, empathy, and teaching skills. These nine attributes are universal and essential for sustainable success in any endeavor you pursue. In this blog we will explore the first of these management attributes required during the execution process, conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness – The motivation and discipline to be thorough and dependable

Woody Allen was famously quoted as saying that “80% of success is just showing up”.

While on the surface this seems like a joke, I believe there is a lot of hidden meaning to this expression. A universal attribute of excellent managers is their discipline and consistency in “showing up”. The role of managers is to control processes and projects (as opposed to leaders whose role it is to lead people). Once a new change process is created in phase 1, the manager’s job in phase 2 is to control all the variables to make that process work to produce results.

Conscientious managers plan ahead, delegate responsibly, pay attention to detail, and follow up in a disciplined way to ensure that processes and projects are proceeding according to plan. Conscientious managers understand the importance of rigorously following policies and procedures and establish key performance indicators to ensure consistent quality and uniformity across the organization. A common mantra of these managers is “what gets measured, gets managed”. This kind of attention to detail is universally present in conscientious managers. I always looked for this attention to detail in my technical project managers, delivering high quality reports on time and on budget. This indicated to me that the person had the potential to become a technical group leader and eventually a higher-level manager.

Punctuality and preparedness are additional traits of conscientious managers. They show a great deal of respect for their own and others’ valuable time and always seem to be prepared (see the next section on organization). I will admit to being fairly undisciplined earlier in my career and as reflect on it now, it was probably the reason for being passed over for promotion on a few occasions. Recognizing this weakness, I gravitated towards turnaround assignments that required new transformational strategies and dramatic change management actions. Once the organization was back on its feet, I passed it on to more a disciplined manager.

There is a certain irony in the fact that it is the very qualities of a conscientious manager that oftentimes prevents him or her from properly executing a newly developed strategy that requires change. It is uncomfortable to have to change a system or process that is working for the sake of a new untried initiative. After all, products and services still need to be delivered despite the disruptive changes being requested. I often describe the process as trying to change a flat tire while the car is still moving!


Graffeo and Associates is an organization committed to improving the quality of leadership in science and technology (S&T). It was formed in 2008 around the expertise of Dr. Tony Graffeo, a senior executive from Arthur D. Little and Battelle Memorial Institute. Dr. Graffeo has consulted with leading research institutions in the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and has created a codified system of leadership development centered around the principles of the Performance Trilogy® which he has taught throughout the world. He is currently a professor at Northeastern University teaching Professional Masters entrepreneurship and leadership courses. His new book, titled “Leading Science & Technology-Based Organizations: Mastering the Fundamentals of Personal, Managerial, and Executive Leadership” will be published in 2018.