The Five Things All Good People Have in Common

The pursuit of goodness and good people has become the central organizing principle of how I try to conduct my life, raise my children, build businesses, and lead my firm in ways that meet our business objective of delivering superior returns while also positively influencing our partners, colleagues, entrepreneurs, investors, and all other stakeholders. But until recently, I wasn’t able to define what that feeling was. You know how around certain people, you feel more inspired and elevated while simultaneously more grounded and confident? Each time I experienced this feeling in the presence of others, I tried to bottle it up so that later I could take it out and reexamine it in order to better understand what had just happened.

I vaguely began to understand that what I felt in the presence of good people was the result of someone helping me become a fuller version of myself. I wanted to learn how I could help others feel that way as well, and how I could turn it into a way of living, working, and leading. Which is why, three years ago, I resolved to reflect further on my own experiences while also researching what goodness means in leadership, philosophy, theology, history, and literature. In the end, I concluded that while there are many things that make good people tick, knowing a few meta­ level choices, frameworks, and themes that most good people embody can help leaders and businesses speak the same language and come together to change the way we work. The result is my upcoming book, GOOD PEOPLE.

I found that there are five dimensions that are often in play when we see or experience goodness. We should continue to develop these qualities in ourselves, encourage these traits in the people we care about, and bring this ethos to our work. These qualities have become a “Good People Mantra” I try to live my life and run my business by.

· First, good people purposely and proactively put people first in their decision making. This is not done selectively; if you want to be good, then you need to do this consistently and over the long haul.

· Second, good people grow by continually seeking to improve themselves; this means that they not only pursue their own betterment, but they also acknowledge a responsibility to help others feel and become the fullest possible versions of themselves.

· Third, while acknowledging the need for and the importance of competency, at the heart of goodness and good people is the premium they put on the values that underpin the very meaning of good­ness beyond competency.

· Fourth, good people are realists. This means they understand that goodness requires hard work and a constant balancing of aspirations and real life.

· Fifth and finally, good people see goodness as something that must be put to work not only when tested in extraordinary situations, but also whenever they are forced with the opportunity to do good. Put simply, they step forward to do good whenever they can, not when they need to; their goodness becomes habitual.

While the book draws from the wisdom of a fortuitous string of leaders and mentors who have positively influenced my own career — including the late advertising creative icon Jay Chiat, current dean of the Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria, and legendary venture capitalist Henry McCance — I want to make clear that I don’t think leadership is something limited to business. In fact, speaking to as many people outside the world of business as possible was important because many are skeptical about how much good can or does exist in businesses and its for-profit world especially on its investment side. I wrote this book because I was searching not just for leadership of competency, but also for leadership of character and goodness. In this regard, it was key to dig deeper and wider. I have gained great perspective and inspiration from several extraordinarily good people outside of traditional business, but leaders in their own right, including to name a few: jazz artist Herbie Hancock, architect Moshe Safdie, MIT Media Lab interdisciplinary re­searcher and professor Neri Oxman, and General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal. Lastly, because goodness is something we all feel, I also wanted to get diverse perspectives from other positive unsung influencers in my own life who have inspired me, both in person and on paper. These people include everyone from my parents and family to a high school teacher turned family friend.

In total, the book benefitted from the insights of almost 100 good people. The strength of character of all these people, together with their shared commitment to goodness, has been invaluable in shaping my ideas. There is no question in my mind that the more perspectives you receive on a subject such as goodness, the more you are able to filter, see, and understand the essence of that idea. I hope that the reflections in GOOD PEOPLE resonate with you, and that you recognize the goodness contained in these lessons and stories. After all, we share much more goodness in common than we than we realize.


Adapted from Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters by Anthony Tjan in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Anthony Tjan, 2017.

Anthony Tjan is CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, former vice chairman of the advisory firm Parthenon, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck (HBR Press, 2012) and author of the forthcoming Good People (Penguin Publishing Group, 2017).

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