Monday, September 13, 2021 6:17 AM

There are those among us who are inspired and motivated by different things than the majority of the population. And the majority will likely never understand the commitment and drive that these people, these select few, possess. These select few have that innate quality who are driven forward by their sense of duty and service to others. Very few, and usually only those who share this motivation, understand how duty can be such a motivating quality, but we see it in the actions of those that live this sense every day. Often in the movies or social media, we see the popularized version of this play out as the those left behind grieving after someone who has died in service to their duty do not understand why they died or what purpose their death served. These mourners, and the general population, fail to recognize that those who sacrifice themselves in service of their duty are not a choice that they made. They didn’t weigh the risks and likelihood of their action or inaction; they did what their internal compass told them was their duty. And what looks courageous to the rest of us, and it is, is simply the person wanting to fulfill the expectations they have of their duty.

Those committed to duty often find themselves as the quiet contributor in most firms and most organizations. And I say most because there are only a handful of organizations where duty is of paramount importance. For example, in the military, police forces, and fire departments, duty is recognized as a core value and advancement in these organizations is based, at least partially, on the performance of one’s duty and how you uphold your duty. Other organizations try to capitalize on the success of the high-performance teams that these organizations are by replicating some of the core tenets. And some of these organizations are successful in implementing these plans and do capture the performance benefits of duty and service to others within their teams. And those individuals with duty as a core motivator flourish in these organizations and teams.  

Never mind your happiness; do your duty.  Peter Drucker

However, some organizations simply pay lip service to duty and service to others and do not embrace the ethos that duty is. And so those that live by this code often do not stand out and do not advance as quickly as those who ambitiously play the internal game of politics well and are comfortable advancing on the backs of others. And so, it is rare that we see senior leaders in organizations and companies who are duty-driven. Because the organizations themselves do not intrinsically value duty or its ethos, the archetypes that get promoted and advance in these organizations do not share duty as a value either. And so it is with many other core values such as integrity, honesty, and service.

I remember one time in my career a conversation that I had with a close friend and colleague who worked in the same company but in a different location. We had similar motivations and desires to be leaders that led differently than those who went before us. We saw a better path and better way to lead that put people at the forefront of our leadership and us there to support, inspire, and service the needs of teams so they could succeed. We often remarked that if we had to behave like the leaders who went before us to advance in the company, we didn’t want to work here anymore and were comfortable not advancing if it meant changing our values and behaviours. Eventually, we both left the organization as the alignment between our values and the company’s values grew wider and wider.

Some people, maybe many, believe that values and ideals such as duty, integrity, and service are old-fashioned and outdated. But I wonder how many of those same people are now disappointed in the actions and behaviours of their political and business leaders. There seems to be no stop, reduction, or decline in the number of integrity-related scandals affecting businesses, leaders, and politicians, or society as a whole. And while I cannot claim scientific causation or even correlation with the seemingly increasing number of integrity and ethical-related scandals and the absence of core leadership values such as duty, honour, and integrity, I believe there is a connection between the two. I think leadership, and maybe even society as a whole, has moved away from these core values due to ambitions of monetary success and advancement. We no longer value things like duty, honour, integrity, or service as they interfere with the aspirations and goals of material and financial wealth. And I think much of the conflict and chaos that we see in the world today is a result of these shifting values and priorities. And so, if we want to see changes in the world around us (on whatever level) and move to a better place, we likely need to shift our values to a different place as well. We must become the change we wish to see in the world around us, and like my friend and I talked about, we cannot behave like those who went before us.

Others further believe that simply because a majority of people believe something or do something and that the existence of a majority of support for it makes it right. Unfortunately, this is false logic. While majority support may make something popular, or even democratic, a majority belief in something doesn’t necessarily make something ethical, moral, or even right. History is littered with examples of where the majority support for an action, position, or idea was simply wrong and incorrect. While popular at the time, these positions were proven wrong, and some even immoral or unethical. Our mothers may have been right on this one as well when she said, “Just because your “friends” are doing it, it doesn’t make it right.”  

Sometimes doing the right thing means standing apart from the crowd and having the courage to do so. Sometimes it means you will be passed over for promotion or advancement. And sometimes, it means that others may shun you or cast you as a pariah. Embracing and living values such as duty, service, and integrity may appear unpopular today and may not be embraced by most people. Embracing these values will have consequences in your life, but those that hold these values close are okay with that. They know that they stand for something greater than their own ambitions, comfort, or material success regardless of the repercussions. Knowing that they did their duty is all these people need.

There is only one duty, only one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right.
Winston Churchill

What seems to be missing in leadership today is a stronger commitment to duty and service to others. Too often, leaders are more concerned about their own ambitions and advancement than they are about the service and support they provide to their team and teammates. Shifting their focus away from themselves and towards how they can help others in the organization is an excellent first step. Organizations can adopt a service and duty-based perspective in their recruiting, hiring, and succession planning to create more opportunities for people who hold these values to enter the organization, advance, and flourish within it. It will take time, but organizations can return to a place where their people are a priority, and that duty and service are lived values and not simply slogans on a wall.

I think we can all examine our values and our beliefs and challenge ourselves on what we believe in and stand for. Reflection and self-awareness are critical to personal mastery, growth and ultimately happiness. We must ask ourselves if values like duty, honour, and integrity are core to our belief system and if we behave and act aligned with these. Or, we must ask ourselves, why not?

Those motivated by duty will always remain extraordinary, and those who do not share this value will likely never understand how the welfare of others can be placed above their own. But by studying these exceptional people, we may just understand the importance of duty and service to others a little more and adopt at least some components of these into our operating system. From a leadership perspective, we must always approach our leadership from a duty and service perspective, for it is what leadership is. And in reflection, we must answer the questions, “Did I do my duty?” and “What more must I do to be worthy of the leadership I hold?”

A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage... For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.  
Theodore Roosevelt