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How to Exercise Duty - Leading in Your Twenties Series

Reliable, Initiative, Proactive, Accountable, Low Maintenance, Easy to work with, a "Go to" person, a Leader. These are the words and phrases people will use to describe you if you make it a habit to exercise Duty.

This is a teammate everyone wants. This is a friend everyone wants. This is your company's next generation of leaders. The question is: "Is this person you?"

Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a series of 12 blogs written directly to the Twenty-Somethings. This is about you and your future. As you read these blogs, please share them with other people who want ideas on how to lead now and how to develop the Twenty-Something Leaders of our future.

Unfortunately, when you don't exercise Duty, it becomes a habit. Others will see you as being unreliable. They will find ways to exclude you from groups or projects. At best, they will include you begrudgingly.

That is not a person people will be getting in line to follow.

How to Exercise Duty

Doing your Duty is a habit. The young men and women who serve in the military or as first responders understand the concept of Duty. Unfortunately, the general public thinks of the word Duty as something on a job description or a task the boss has assigned. But, Duty goes beyond that.

My good friend, Colonel (R) Craig Flowers (@COLCraigFlowers) demonstrates this concept with a simple example. When you were in high school, your mom may ask you to "Take out the trash." That is the assigned task. But, there is an implied task as well. The implied task is "Put a new bag in the empty can."

You exercise Duty each time you go beyond an assigned task and complete the implied tasks as well. Nobody may verbalize those tasks to you. But, they are the things that need to be done whether someone directly tells you to do them or not. We call these moral obligations.

Andersons' 12 Words (or less) Definition of Duty

Taking action based on your assigned tasks and your moral obligations.

The reasons people don't exercise Duty are examples of cowardice, arrogance, hypocrisy, and selfishness. But few people believe they are any of those things. But that is what we are doing when we avoid taking action on our moral obligations. Here are some examples:

Assigned Task Moral Obligation

Being part of a group project. Come to all project meetings unless sick or injured.

Accepting a job from an employer. Do the parts of the job you dislike with maximum Meet a friend for coffee. effort.

Let them know you will be late BEFORE you are

already late.

Duty and the Rest of Your Character

The Habits of Character we've discussed in this series never stand alone. They are like muscles. They work together to make us well rounded and prepared for the challenges of life. If you want to be a leader, a Leader of Character, you can not wait to begin exercising on the day the test comes.

If you exercise Duty consistently and frequently you are strengthening other parts of your character.

Courage: You exercise Courage and Duty when you proactively admit you will be late instead of just showing up late and hoping the other person doesn't say anything. You do this because you believe that by saying "yes" to coffee, you implied you'd communicate with them if you were going to be late.

Humility: You exercise Humility and Duty when you admit you left the house late instead of blaming traffic. You do this because you believe it's your moral obligation to consider that person's time as important. Therefore, you own your bad choices and make no excuses.

Integrity: You exercise Integrity and Duty when you give 100% effort to the parts of your job you don't like. You do this because you know by accepting 100% of your paycheck for the month, you implied that you would give 100% effort that month.

Selflessness: You exercise Selflessness and Duty when you participate in every group meeting even when it might be inconvenient. You do this because you understand that moral obligations are rarely convenient and avoiding them would be selfish.

The examples above are not complicated. But so few people actually go beyond the assigned tasks. To exercise Duty, you must fulfill your moral obligations as well. When you fulfill your moral obligations you are also exercising the other Habits of Character.

Exercising Duty on a consistent basis prepares you when the big challenges come. If you do, others will see you as someone who takes the initiative, is reliable, proactive, accountable, low maintenance, easy to work with, and a "go to" person.

When you exercise Duty, they will see you as a leader - a Leader of Character.


  • What other implied tasks or moral obligations do people regularly face?

  • When is following through on your moral obligations most difficult?


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