Book Review: “Good People” by Anthony Tjan (Penguin Random House, 2017)

I’ve just finished reading Anthony Tjan’s latest book, ‘Good People’, on the cover of which the author asserts that the only leadership decision that really matters is good people: something which is hard to disagree with. It charts the lessons learned by Tjan during his 22 or so years in business, with almost 100 interviews conducted to dig deeper into what ‘good people’ constitutes and how goodness can be defined, identified and developed.  According to the author;

“Goodness is about people’s humanity, their values,
the qualities inherent in their character and other intangible traits.”

In arriving at this definition, Tjan sets great store by the power of personal networks and the existence of effective mentors within them. Mentoring is a topic that runs like a golden thread through the book, and I think this provides a significant clue about the whole essence of ‘being good’.

How to define ‘goodness’ in a business environment

In an early signpost, Tjan talks about one of his most influential mentors who defined success as our “capacity to make other people become more successful in life and leave the world a better place”. This is quickly backed up with Tjan’s Good People Mantra – put people first, seek always to improve oneself, be led by your values, base yourself in realism and practise goodness whenever you can.

The author’s general definition of good people is “those committed to continuously cultivating the values that help them and others become the fullest possible versions of who they are”. He supports this with a Goodness Pyramid that clearly draws on the work of Abraham Maslow: at the base is Truth, followed by Compassion and Wholeness. Each element of the pyramid contains something about mindset, practice and action.

Which is all well and good.

However, whose version of the Truth will sit at the base of the pyramid? Tjan asserts that truth comprises the values of humility, self-awareness and integrity; this is fine, except that truth might well be a somewhat culturally nuanced construct with a range of possible interpretations based on one’s upbringing and beliefs, as well as other personal influences.

What struck me most about the book was its capacity to challenge. It asks some very fundamental questions about our beliefs and values, in a way that is simple and slightly unnerving. I have reflected on some of these questions and am struggling to give fully formed and meaningful answers. The questions are:

  • What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or should not like to do? Describe a moment when you experienced this love and how it made you feel.
  • Tell me about two of your most challenging life experiences: how have they shaped you?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your life that makes you feel the happiest?
  • When, and in what context, have you encountered goodness?
  • Who has most fundamentally shaped who you are in life and at work?
  • What was the greatest characteristic you inherited from your mother?
  • What was the greatest characteristic you inherited from your father?

Self-reflection as a pathway to values-driven business

I share these now because – in the world of Big Data, alternative facts, personal social media presence and the emphasis on being ‘present’ almost 24/7, understanding who we are and how we demonstrate our own unique authenticity are the Biggest Lines of Enquiry we can have of ourselves.

I also share with you Hemingway’s quote from Tjan’s book, which is sublime: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Personal growth should not be anything other than a natural course of action for us.

We know from the work of Richard Barrett that values based leadership is a great starting point for developing a rich and engaging organisational culture, because it enables people to bring the best of themselves to work each day. Having a learning organisation ethos enables everyone to aspire to be better at what they do.  To learn more about Barret Values you might like ‘Why we took the test at Primeast’ by Gary Edwards

Linking the power of our authentic self to a values-based and learning environment means that we can exist and operate in a synergistic culture where everyone’s a winner.

Book review by David Evans, Head of Organisational Consulting at Primeast, get in touch with David here.

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