Jan Rutherford

by Jan Rutherford

A moral obligation. A responsibility. A requirement to perform a task. That’s how we define duty, and effective leaders make choices based on what they should do versus what they want to do. Forward-looking leaders feel duty-bound to serve the greater good, which often means an uncommon discipline for delayed gratification.

I am often asked, what’s the most important thing we need to do to preserve our culture? My short answer is, “Uphold the values of the organization.” My longer answer is about creating an environment where purpose is clear, and shared accountability is seen as a sacred duty to not let other people down when it comes to commitments, promises and obligations.

I’ve had the privilege of leading expeditions with Fortune 500 executives in the wilds of Patagonia, the Rocky Mountains and the glaciers of Alaska. We pair executives with special operations veterans who have served on some of the best teams the world has ever known. The executives participate in the Crucible® expeditions in order to take a step back, slow down, reflect, and reprioritize their business and their life. At the same time, they possess a desire to help military veterans learn more about business so they can successfully transition their leadership and team building skills to the civilian world. ‘

The special operations veterans’ desire is always focused on continuing to serve. They often don’t know how their skills will translate, but inherent in every fiber of their being is a devout sense of duty. They’re driven by the desire to fulfill expectations and obligations with discipline and perseverance. This sense of duty is commonly thought of as taking care of the person to your right and left. Having someone’s back. Not letting the team down. They shun those who criticize, condemn and complain. It’s about being squared-away so the leader can focus on the needs of others rather than vice versa. It’s about being self-reliant so as to be reliable.

Before we head out on an expedition, we use a behavioral analysis tool to assess soft-skills that are changeable. What we’ve found is the veterans are more motivated by commitment and obligation than flexibility and freedom. The confidence they display often has a steadying influence on others, but they can also come across as rigid and inflexible. After participating in a Crucible, the veterans see the world – and their duty in it – through a different lens. Their drive for success and willingness to overcome obstacles and adapt changes significantly.  And it persists. The veterans focus on their new work world with purpose and meaning along with that sense of duty.

A sense of duty relates directly to self-awareness. For example:

  • The first step most people take:
    • I know I could and should listen better. I’ve heard this feedback my whole life – nothing new. I should listen better…
  • The step most people should take:
    • When I don’t listen, I know the effects it has on other people. They feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and both sides make inaccurate assumptions about each other’s intent, motives, values, beliefs and expectations.
  • The hard and most impactful step is changing behavior and delivering an emotional response that best serves the organization – not one’s own ego:
    • Even though I may be preoccupied, or find the conversation boring, I will set aside those feelings, and focus one-hundred percent of my attention on what the other person is saying – verbally and non-verbally. I want the other person to feel that I genuinely care about what they have to say, because I know that’s best for the team and the organization at large. Helping grow and develop other people is the best way for me to advance the organization’s overall goals. It’s my duty to care enough to listen to understand… to be understood.

As you reflect on what duty means to you and your organization, ask yourself:

  • Am I being selfless, and putting the needs of the the organization ahead of my own?
  • When have I gone above and beyond for the good of the organization?
  • What would my colleagues predict I will grumble about most?

Henri Frédéric Amiel, a 19th Century Swiss philosopher wrote, “Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.” A person’s standards for behavior – character – are what ultimately makes duty a moral obligation that transforms ideas to a shared collective purpose.

About the author

Jan RutherfordJan Rutherford is the Founder of Self-Reliant Leadership®, creator of Crucible® expeditions, author of The Littlest Green Beret, and co-host of The Leadership Podcast. You can reach Jan here. You’ll also want to register for free to learn from Jan and over 30 other great leaders at Virtual LeaderCon.