Good People | Anthony Tjan

Summary of: Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters
By: Anthony Tjan


In Anthony Tjan’s book ‘Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters’, the author explores the importance of fostering goodness in the workplace, emphasizing the need for truth, compassion, and wholeness. The book provides valuable insights into the often-overlooked aspects of a person’s goodness, focusing on their values and moral code rather than just skills and competencies. You’ll discover the Good People Mantra and Goodness Pyramid, which provide a framework for nurturing these values and creating a positive workplace culture. You will also learn how to navigate the tensions between goodness and the realities of the business world, while developing your leadership skills and becoming an inspiring mentor.

Redefining Goodness in Business

The term “good” has become ambiguous, especially in the context of business. While competency and skills are crucial, the core values of truth, compassion, and wholeness often get overlooked. Embracing these values leads to a happier, more productive workforce, positively impacting a company’s bottom line. When a business prioritizes its employees and emphasizes a people-first philosophy, it creates a thriving organizational culture that fosters success, as exemplified by the WD-40 Company.

When we describe something as “good,” we’re often ascribing to it a mixture of multiple definitions. In the realm of business, assigning this label to an employee usually refers to their competence and skills, rather than their valuable core characteristics or ethical code. This tendency stems from the convenience of measuring competency through tangible factors such as technical abilities and academic achievements.

However, overlooking the essence of goodness – truth, compassion, and wholeness – can be detrimental to a company’s achievements. Contrary to popular belief, these qualities are not “soft skills” that can be sidelined. They are crucial in developing a vibrant work environment where employees feel supported and motivated to excel. By fostering these values within individuals and the wider corporate culture, companies can significantly improve their overall performance and contribute positively to society.

A thriving organization relies on the harmonious interplay between its people, their values, and the workplace culture. Financial health is rooted in this intricate relationship, and it is only sensible to anchor these aspects in a foundation of goodness. Companies that champion a people-first philosophy, such as the WD-40 Company, exemplify the power of this approach. By prioritizing staff well-being and placing emphasis on mentorship, they have achieved high approval ratings for superiors, a valuation of over $1.5 billion, and remarkably low staff turnover.

Embracing the principal tenets of goodness not only unearths the true potential of employees but also establishes a nurturing and effective work atmosphere that ultimately drives corporate success. Business leaders must consider the importance of fostering truth, compassion, and wholeness within their organizations to maximize productivity and achieve their long-term goals.

Embracing the Good People Mantra

The Good People Mantra is a practical framework that consists of five principles: prioritizing people, supporting personal growth, emphasizing values over competencies, balancing idealism and pragmatism, and practicing consistent goodness. By employing these principles, we become better individuals and can also identify goodness in others, leading to increased success in the business world and beyond.

Goodness goes far beyond personal abilities or a company’s financial status. But what does it mean to be good, and how can we embody goodness? The Good People Mantra provides a valuable guide for shaping behavior and recognizing goodness in others. It comprises five key principles.

Firstly, adopt a people-first approach. This involves actively putting human beings above ideas, goals, and even profits. While many of us may be drawn to great ideas, Harvard Business School professor Georges Doriot argues that it’s crucial to prioritize great teams instead. A phenomenal team can adapt, push each other, and transform average ideas into exceptional ones.

The second principle is to help others become enhanced, complete versions of themselves. To accomplish this, we must demonstrate patience, honesty, and an acknowledgment of our shared humanity — understanding that we are all flawed beings. By establishing common ground, we can support individuals in reaching their unique potential.

Thirdly, focus on a person’s values rather than their competencies. While industry experience might appear impressive, a person’s core beliefs and principles provide deeper insight into potential performance and contributions.

Next, practice balance and pragmatism in your pursuit of goodness. In our imperfect world, conflicts and competing priorities are inevitable. Steering through these challenges with clarity is vital to avoid limiting our accomplishments. For example, the author aims to achieve equilibrium among idealistic and pragmatic employees within his organization, Zappos.

Lastly, stay true to goodness by actively and consistently living out your values – not just when being observed or when there’s a personal benefit. Genuine goodness is rooted in truth, compassion, and wholeness, requiring unwavering dedication to embodying your core principles.

Building the Goodness Pyramid

The Goodness Pyramid is a three-tier framework embodying the concept of goodness, with truth at its foundation. Truth consists of three core components: humility, self-awareness, and integrity. Humility fosters intellectual curiosity and is an essential leadership trait, as demonstrated in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” Self-awareness is a skill to be nurtured through writing, meditation, psychometric tests, and constructive feedback from peers. Integrity ensures alignment between values and actions; one way to practice integrity is by following Benjamin Franklin’s technique of tracking adherence to your values daily. Together, these elements create a sturdy foundation on which to build a life of goodness.

In the pursuit of goodness, the Goodness Pyramid provides a structured approach. This three-tiered framework enables us to understand what goodness entails, starting with the concept of truth as the base. Without authenticity in thoughts and actions toward oneself and others, goodness remains unattainable.

Delving deeper, truth is composed of humility, self-awareness, and integrity. Humility not only nurtures a sense of humanity but also encourages intellectual curiosity. Contrary to popular belief, effective leadership should embody humility, inspiring coworkers to be down-to-earth and free from arrogance. This perspective is supported by Jim Collins’ 2001 book “Good to Great,” in which humility is identified as an indispensable quality in exceptional business leaders.

Self-awareness, another aspect of truth, enables us to honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses. It is a skill that can be honed through writing, meditation, psychometric tests, and soliciting peer feedback. Embracing self-awareness with an open mind nurtures the ability to reflect, further strengthening this valuable skill.

Integrity, the final element of truth, guarantees consistency between our stated values and actual behavior. A practical method for nurturing integrity comes from Benjamin Franklin, who tracked his adherence to personal values using a weekly chart. This straightforward approach remains an effective means of practicing goodness and upholding integrity.

By embracing the three composite elements of truth—humility, self-awareness, and integrity—the Goodness Pyramid shapes a solid foundation to guide moral and ethical behavior, ultimately propelling us toward a life rooted in virtue and goodness.

Compassion: The Key to Goodness

A world built on truth might seem ideal, but truth alone isn’t enough to define goodness, because it can be cold and unkind. The real secret to fostering goodness is compassion, which rises above truth, enabling us to view others with understanding, empathy, and a desire to help. In today’s competitive business world, achieving success calls for cultivating a compassionate workplace, anchored by openness, empathy, and generosity.

Picture living in a world where everything is based on truth – appealing, isn’t it? However, being purely truthful isn’t synonymous with goodness, as truth can be harsh and painful. The cornerstone of true goodness can be found in the heart of the Goodness Pyramid: compassion.

Embracing compassion means putting self-interest aside and attuning ourselves to the feelings and experiences of others, which leads to a better understanding of the world around us. The business realm might not seem like the ideal fit for compassion, as it tends to equate kindness with weakness and encourages ruthlessness for professional success. Yet, incorporating compassion into the workplace can generate a unique, inspiring, and efficient environment, driving employees to exceed expectations and accomplish essential goals.

Three anchoring values define compassion: openness, empathy, and generosity.

Openness is a mindset that negates negative biases and allows us to approach situations with optimism, making it easier to feel compassion. The 24×3 rule is an excellent practice to implement openness, which prevents hasty judgments by waiting 24 seconds, 24 minutes, or 24 hours before responding to an idea – deducing its benefits beforehand.

Being empathetic means striving to comprehend another’s feelings, allowing individuals to create positive changes in the workplace. Enhancing connections and compassion for coworkers come from asking genuine, meaningful questions, like “How are you, really?” or “Are you happy working here?”

Generosity, the last anchor of compassion, benefits both givers and receivers, bridging the gap between compassion and competition. Adam Grant, a renowned professor and author, discovered in his book Give and Take that the most collaborative and generous medical school students outperformed others in their future careers, showcasing the importance of embracing compassion to achieve success.

Wholeness: Love, Respect, and Wisdom

Wholeness is a state of existence comprising love, respect, and wisdom. Achieving wholeness means genuinely caring for others, embracing your company’s values, and respecting both yourself and others. By applying wisdom in decision-making and understanding the nuances of situations, one can grow personally and professionally.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “life is a marathon, not a sprint.” However, if we swap the word “life” for “wholeness,” the message becomes clearer. Wholeness embodies the pinnacle of goodness, attained through the continuous quest for love, respect, and wisdom. Significantly, the journey towards wholeness represents an individual’s highest pursuit of goodness.

In a professional setting, love may sound peculiar, but it isn’t about forming romantic relationships with colleagues. Rather, it encompasses a sincere commitment to others’ well-being and happiness, along with fondness for the company’s goals and values. Essentially, love means wholeheartedly enjoying what you do. Brands desiring genuine consumer connection should focus on establishing “lovemarks” instead of traditional trademarks. These memorable and authentic moments strengthen the consumer-brand relationship.

Furthermore, developing wholeness involves cultivating a deep sense of respect for both oneself and others. A prime example of taking responsibility and demonstrating respect is evident in the actions of JetBlue’s CEO, David Neeleman, following a chaotic ice storm incident in 2007. Amidst plummeting public opinion, he apologized empathetically, took responsibility, and pledged to prevent future occurrences. Neeleman embraced the age-old notion that “the customer is always right” and prioritized respect for the consumer.

Wisdom, the final aspect of wholeness, enables us to apply our intelligence and experience to discern what truly matters. Such perceptiveness helps us make better decisions by separating significant factors from trivial ones. For instance, in business, understanding whether a phenomenon is a fleeting fad or a lasting trend is crucial. Wisdom goes beyond this, though. It allows us to recognize the dimensions of control, enabling us to let go of what’s beyond our influence.

Additionally, wisdom empowers us to make more accurate assessments, appreciate complexities, and view life’s various shades of gray. This clear understanding of situations is particularly vital when navigating the challenges of the real world. By embodying love, respect, and wisdom, wholeness helps us grow personally and professionally while enriching our lives through meaningful connections and purposeful endeavors.

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