Goodness in Leadership, Part 2

In Change-Friendly Leadership

roger dean duncanIn this continuation of my conversation with Roger Dean Duncan, bestselling author of Change-Friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance, he reflects on how personal change for the good comes from internal commitment rather than through compliance.

I found a way to reconcile my experiences of evil with my faith by thinking of evil as instinctive behavior that once served to keep us alive in a violent, predatory world. Now it has become a destructive force we need to outgrow. If you are starting or nurturing an entrepreneurial venture, inside a company or as a stand-alone enterprise, do you see how?

I believe humans are inherently good. I don’t believe people are hard wired to be evil. What we regard as “evil” behavior is learned. But “good” behavior, although part of our nature, must also be taught and reinforced.

In my book Change-friendly Leadership I discuss a behavioral foundation that I call the Four Ts: Think-friendly, Talk-friendly, Trust-friendly, and Team-friendly. These behaviors are absolutely essential to effective leadership and to establishing and maintaining a work environment that engages people’s heads, hearts, and hopes.

In this context, “friendly” is not intended to connote coddling or indulgence. And it certainly doesn’t imply a warm and fuzzy, hands-off approach to serious issues. The approach I recommend is a simple affirmation that successful organizational change involves – requires in fact – the active, willful participation of the people affected by the change. In that context, the Four Ts form a relationship framework, or operating system, that brings out the best in people.

I’ve come to believe that people change individually, not collectively. We desperately need collective action to improve our society, but moral change can’t be legislated. In other words, you can’t require people to be good. It has to be freely chosen. Do your own experiences in business bear this out or not? Can good behavior be forced to happen from the top-down or is it better to inspire people to choose it themselves in their work?

It is true that you cannot “require” people to be good. But of course a lot of so-called “leaders” (and parents) try to do just that. You may be able to compel someone to obey a rule, but it’s still compliance, not commitment. Effective leaders focus on commitment.

Here’s an example of the difference. I was talking with a bright engineer at a nuclear power plant. Because of the obvious safety issues, nuclear power is highly regulated with layer upon layer of rules and procedures. This engineer told me he didn’t really care if his people liked the procedures or even agreed with them. He simply wanted them to comply. I said I’m grateful for their compliance, but suggested that commitment was also critical to the safe operation of the plant. He said commitment is a nice feel-good thing, but compliance is all he wanted.

On the shelf behind the engineer’s desk I noticed some family photos, including a picture of two small boys. I asked if the boys were his sons. Suddenly the engineer switched into the “Dad” mode and proudly told me about his two boys. I asked if there were seatbelt laws in his state. He said there were. I then asked if he buckled the boys up in the family car. He said he did, and gave me a detailed description of the “astronaut checklist” he goes through when putting his sons in their car seats. “So you go to all that trouble because you don’t want to get pulled over by a policeman and given a citation?” I asked. “No, I do it because I love my boys,” he said. “That would be commitment,” I pointed out. “You’re complying with the law, but for a higher purpose. Because you love your boys, you’re perfectly willing to comply with the law and you probably don’t even think of it as inconvenient. In fact, you may not think about the law at all. You think about the importance of safety because you’re committed to it. You’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, even when nobody is watching.”

Many leaders invest a lot of energy emphasizing the what and the how of the causes they champion. What and how are of course important. But they have relatively little motivational value without a compelling why. Really effective leaders make a good business case for change. They also make a good psychological case for change. Why? Because they understand that when confronted with the opportunity to do something, most human beings listen to the same internal station: WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? When we connect with people’s heads, hearts, and hopes by answering that question, we put them on the road to commitment.

Who, in your own life, has represented goodness: someone whose actions and life have most purely embodied what you consider good? How has this person’s own example had an influence on your work and your goals in your career? 

I’ve been blessed to associate with many wonderful people in my life – people who are models of goodness. Some of them have been business associates, or clients, or teachers, or mentors. In many ways, the most influential person in my life is my wife of 46 years. In addition to being extremely smart in the traditional sense of the word, she possesses and practices an abundance of emotional intelligence. She is generous almost to a fault (we call her the champion of the underdog). Generosity of spirit is a great foundation for anyone. I recommend it highly. My wife is a true inspiration to me. More than she knows.