This review first ran in the July 17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters
By Anthony Tjan
Portfolio / Penguin
People aren’t our organizations’ greatest asset.
It’s actually good people who make the difference.
Great things happen when we’re in the company of good people. They lead with humility, honesty and integrity. They’re generous, empathetic and compassionate. They’re also wise, respectful and grateful.
Good people inspire us to perform at our best. And being at our collective best is good for our organizations’ bottom lines and long-term financial health.
Author, entrepreneur and strategic advisor Anthony Tjan says good people are “committed to continuously cultivating the values that help them and others become the fullest possible versions of who they are. Good people purposely and proactively put people first in their decision-making.”
So why do smart leaders sometimes make dumb decisions when it comes to hiring and promoting? Why do they bring not-so-good people into our organizations who put themselves first and make the rest of us bitter instead of better?
Tjan says we’re conditioned to put credentials and competencies ahead of a job candidate’s character and values.
“Defining goodness and good people, especially in business, is challenging. Goodness is something we all intuitively sense but nonetheless have trouble describing clearly or tangibly.”
How many all-staff announcements have you read that introduce new senior leaders as good people? We’re told about where our newest executive worked, the projects she led, the schools she attended, the awards she won, what she does outside of work and the names of her kids and the family dog. Yet little to nothing is said about her values and beliefs and how they match up with those of our organization.
To improve your odds of hiring a good person, Tjan has 10 questions to consider before making a job offer.
- Is this job candidate self-aware? “Is the person intellectually honest about who she is, about her strengths and weaknesses? Is she actively curious about learning new things? Is she humble? Are her thoughts, words and actions consistent?”
- Is this person authentic or obsequious? “There are few things worse than phony praise. Good people do not feel compelled to tie themselves into knots in order to impress you.”
- What’s the talk-to-listen ratio? If the ratio’s skews heavily to talking, the candidate could suffer from self-importance or indifference to what you and others have to say.
- Is this person an energy giver or taker? Good people are optimists who give off energy. Takers are cynical emotional vampires.
- Is this person likely to act or react to a task? When asked to do something, good people jump in and get it done.
- How does this person treat people she doesn’t know? Good people believe we’re all equal. There’s no condescension, brusqueness, rudeness or snobbery.
- What is the spouse or partner like? “We are known by the company we keep, especially the people we keep closest to us.”
- Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? “Early setbacks tend to shape character more than early successes and developing resilience in response to adversity is a key predictor of success later in life.”
- What has this person been reading? “Reading frames ideas, ignites new thoughts and adds complexity and nuance to familiar perspectives.”
- Would you want to go on a long car ride with this person? Tjan says this question reminds us to think about the “who” rather than the “what” of a person.
- Is this person comfortable with idiosyncrasies? “Our most unusual traits make us who we are. In some cases, simply being true to ourselves – to our own idiosyncrasies – can make us good.”
- Is the person multidimensional or multidisciplinary? “People who can’t navigate between, around and across diverse fields of learning and experience have drastically limited horizons of possibility.”
Tjan says we should also ask ourselves these 10 questions. Our answers will show where to get better at being good and helping the people around us do the same.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.