Good People

Summary Written by Dianne Coppola
"Our general definition of ‘good people’ is this: those committed to continuously cultivating the values that help them and others become the fullest versions of who they are."

- Good People, page 30

The Big Idea

Goodness First, Competency Second

"Leadership of competency is relatively easy to source, but people of character and goodness, who are rooted to a set of core values that explain who they are and what they stand for, are much rarer and more valuable."- Good People, page 26

Think about the last interview or performance appraisal you had or conducted. What questions were you asked/did you ask? How much of the focus was on past accomplishments and methodology? Did any questions explore the personal values and beliefs that influenced how those tasks were executed? I’ve had a number of interviews recently and the majority of the questions I was asked focused solely on job competencies. I don’t recall one question that directly inquired about my core values and what I stood for. Why is that?

Tjan posits that ‘goodness’ in workplace parlance is usually a synonym for competence. Thus interviews are designed to document evidence of a candidate’s competencies and accomplishments as a predictor of future success. And yet, what makes an employee valuable goes beyond their skills and expertise. Tjan argues that “‘goodness’ is [also] about people’s humanity, their values, the qualities inherent in their character, and other intangible traits.”

So how does one develop goodness?

Insight #1

Deliberately Commit to Goodness

"Becoming good ourselves and cultivating goodness in others requires a rare brand of a stick-to-it-ness that yields disproportionate dividends over time."- Good People, page 153

The short and obvious answer is to practice goodness daily. Through his research, which included reading broadly (leadership, philosophy, theology, history, and literature) and conducting close to 100 personal interviews, Tjan came to the conclusion that ‘good people’ seemed to:

BE – People first, proactively and in the long-term.
HELP – Others become the fullest versions of themselves.
COMMIT – Beyond competency to the values of goodness.
BALANCE – The realities and tensions of goodness.
PRACTICE – Goodness whenever possible, not just when tested.

He calls these principles the Good People Mantra. Adopting this mantra requires an open and curious mindset; one that prioritizes long-term impact over short-term results. As you go through your day, look for opportunities to put one of these principles into action. Ask yourself, “Am I putting people first in the decisions I am making? What else can I do to help others be the best they can be? Will my choices and actions create good outcomes?”

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Insight #2

Start with a Solid Foundation

"The values of truth, compassion and wholeness come from an internal place, and their realization requires stoicism, commitment and a belief in the value of long-term results."- Good People, page 148

Living according to the Good People Mantra is a good starting point. Tjan’s The Goodness Pyramid goes deeper and explicitly explores three principle states of being (truth, compassion and wholeness) and nine values that anchor goodness in people and organizations. It was inspired by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and so starts with a foundational level and progresses through to a state of wholeness.

Foundational Level – Truth
Truth demands honesty and congruency across all your actions, thoughts and feelings. It encompasses the foundational values of humility, self-awareness, and integrity.

Middle Level – Compassion
Compassion is the selflessness made possible by understanding others’ experiences. Compassion is reflected in the human values of openness, empathy, and generosity.

Peak Level – Wholeness
Wholeness signifies your gratitude for the people around you and for your current waypoint in life. It embraces the harmonic values of love, respect, and wisdom.

These nine values become visible through one’s mindset, practice and actions. Here’s what this looks like for the foundational level of truth which is the essence of goodness:

  • The mindset value of truth is humility which requires us to acknowledge that we are not perfect and will occasionally make poor choices.
  • We must practice self-awareness to better understand our strengths and weaknesses, and challenge the biases that influence our thoughts and decisions. Self-awareness also requires us to set meaningful standards to aspire to and regularly measure our behavior against those standards.
  • Finally, we must act with integrity ensuring our thoughts, feelings, words and actions demonstrate our commitment to truth, goodness and long-term success.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, living a values-based life is rarely easy! It requires time for regular reflection, brutally honest self-appraisal and an unwavering commitment to continuous self-improvement. Cultivating goodness is a life-long journey, not a destination!

If we truly want the world to become a better place, if businesses truly believe their people are their most valuable resource, then we all need to take responsibility for proactively cultivating a culture of goodness and caring where we live, learn, work, and play. Good people are the backbone of thriving families, neighborhoods, organizations and any other place you can name. Tjan provides us with roadmap so we can strengthen the values that underpin goodness and success in business and life.

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Anthony Tjan

Anthony K. Tjan (Tony) is Managing Partner of Cue Ball, a venture capital firm based in Boston. Most recently, Tony was Senior Partner at The Parthenon Group, a leading strategic advisory firm where he continues as its Vice Chairman. He spent seven years as a special strategic advisor to The Thomson Corporation, and its then CEO, Richard Harrington (now his Partner at Cue Ball). At Thomson, he played a key role working alongside the CEO on its transformational growth strategy. In 1996, Tony founded and was CEO of the Internet services firm ZEFER, a pioneer in early commercial web initiatives. Tony started his career with McKinsey & Company and holds his AB and MBA degrees from Harvard University. He was also a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Tony sits on several boards, is a contributor to Harvard Business Review, and is on the Editorial Advisory Board of MIT Tech Review.

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