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Failing to Do Our Duty is a Habit

Setting the example for the people around us is a moral obligation for Leaders of Character.

The little things matter. I am talking about really small things. When you are alone and when there are no real consequences to your actions, our choices matter when it comes to doing our Duty.

Here are some ways I fail in exercising my Duty. See if you can relate:

– When I drop an ice cube, instead of picking it up, I kick it under the counter.

– When I see a text from someone asking for something, I don’t answer right away.

– When I have to take care of 401k paperwork for our company, I procrastinate.

– When our bed needs to be made, I walk past it hoping my wife will make it.

– When I notice something that needs to be done at the house, I wait until my wife asks me to do it.

When you read this list, some of you may be appalled. You may wonder how I can write all about what West Point taught me about Duty and then make the choices above daily. But I am also betting some of us can totally relate to what I am talking about.

When I look at the moments in my life where I choose to procrastinate or ignore something that needs to be done, I am doing the opposite of what I have built a career encouraging others to do. I am minimizing the impact of my choices based on their perceived consequences. If the consequences are not large or immediate, then they lose the ability to motivate me. That is why we all need to work on how we look at the topic of Duty.

Duty is a habit. We form our habits by making choices. Each time we make a choice, it makes it easier to make the same choice again. When I choose to procrastinate, it is easier to do it the next time. The converse is true as well. When I decide to take care of that 401K paperwork as soon as it hits my inbox, I am reinforcing a habit as well. Doing our Duty is like exercising a muscle. The more we perform our Duty, the stronger that muscle gets.

In fact, just like exercising, it is the smaller, lighter weight exercises that prepare us for the heavier lifts to come. As a leader, we must be prepared for the big lifts in our future. If we are not taking care of the small choices and exercising Duty at those moments, we are probably not going to be ready for the larger choices on the horizon.

There is another advantage to consistently exercising Duty in the smaller daily choices we face – others are more likely to see us. When the people we are called to lead at work and at home observe us picking up that ice cube or taking the time to respond to someone’s voicemail, we set an example. They see that we are willing to do the small things to fulfill our moral obligations and that inspires them to do the same.

More is caught than taught. Setting the example for the people around us is another moral obligation for Leaders of Character. It is another way of exercising our Duty and positively impacting the lives of others.

Dig Deep Questions:

● What are people catching from you at work and at home when it comes to exercising your Duty?

● How can you work on setting the example in Duty when you are with others?


Taking responsibility and exercising Duty is a lifelong journey for not only you, but your team. We want to partner with you as you make Duty part of your organizational culture. When it comes to remembering the definition of Duty, let us help to make it easy to keep it visible.

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