The Duty Driven Approach

Different people are driven by different senses of duty. They may feel a duty to care for their family, follow a moral code, pursue a philosophy, follow their vocation or another theme. This commitment often drives their daily actions.

People who take this approach often follow certain disciplines. They love to make lists and cross off completed items on the way towards achieving their aims. They get a kick from delivering the goods.

Such people may experience both pluses and minuses in their approach. The pluses can include pursuing a clear goal, having a sense of meaning and doing satisfying work. The minuses can include appearing robotic, failing to see the big picture or serving a false ideal.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you felt a sense of duty towards something.

Describe the specific things you did to translate this sense of duty into action. 

Describe the specific pluses and minuses – both for you and for other people – that were involved in pursuing this sense of duty.


Looking at your life at the moment, are there any things to which you feel a sense of duty? Different people express this in different ways.

Some people feel a duty to their talent. They show great discipline as a musician, chef, athlete, mathematician or in another role. They do the right things in the right way to make full use of their gifts.

Some people feel a duty to a mission. They dedicate themselves to raising money for a charity, climbing a mountain, inventing a pioneering product or another activity. They feel fully alive when pursuing this purpose.

Some people feel a duty to a moral code. They may follow their inner compass, pursue a spiritual path or live their values. They aim to translate their beliefs into action in their daily lives.

Miep Gies described how she took this approach in her book Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. She described this in the following way.

Helping people who are in danger is not a matter of courage but from making a decision that every human being has to make when he or she distinguishes between good and bad.

Miep was one of a group that helped the Frank family, who hid in an annexe next to the office where she worked as Otto Frank’s secretary. After the family were betrayed she retrieved and safeguarded Anne’s diary.

Looking at your own life, are there any things to which you feel a sense of duty? You may feel this towards your loved ones, your vocation, a compelling mission or something greater than yourself.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

Describe the specific thing to which you feel a sense of duty. 

Describe the specific reasons why you feel a sense of duty to this thing.


People who are duty driven love to follow daily disciplines. Such people need to believe, however, that pursuing this pattern will enable them to fulfil their duty.

Sometimes the discipline may come from the outside. A person may pursue their sense of duty by choosing to join a group such as a spiritual community, profession, police, military or other organisation.

Such an institution often lays out a code of behaviour that people need to follow. People then follow this creed because they see how it will help to fulfil the mission.

Sometimes the discipline comes from within. Creative artists, for example, often follow certain individual rituals that enable them to work each day.

Such people often demonstrate Obsessive Compulsive Discipline rather than Disorder. They follow their regular pattern without thinking. This enables them to continue to be creative.

Imagine that you have a strong sense of duty. You may wish to encourage other people, follow a spiritual faith, make good use of your talent, deliver a mission or pursue another activity. If you wish, try answering the following questions.

What are the disciplines I can follow to deliver the goods? What can I actually do – in behaviour terms – to translate these disciplines into action? What will be the pluses and minuses involved when following the disciplines? How can I build on the pluses and manage the minuses? 

How can I get a good start to the day by following some of these disciplines? How can I keep doing the right things in the right way? How can I develop a daily rhythm to keep doing these things? How can I encourage myself on the journey?

As mentioned earlier, one approach is to develop a rhythm that you follow each day. Sometimes this calls for getting enough rest, rehearsing what you are going to do and then clicking into action.

After a while you may follow the rhythm without thinking. It is something you simply do each day as you work towards achieving the goals.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing to which you feel a sense of duty. 

Describe the specific things you can do to translate this sense of duty into following certain disciplines.


People who are duty driven do their best to deliver the goods. There are many models for taking this route. The following section describes one approach I used in my work but the principles can be applied in many other situations.

During the period between the mid-1970s and 2020 I ran hundreds of workshops. It was often vital to make clear contracts with people about what they wanted to achieve from the sessions.

This involved talking with the leader and other key stakeholders to agree on the following things.

The specific outcomes they wanted to achieve from the session;

The specific themes to be covered and, as a result, the actual things they wanted people to be doing after the session;

The actual words they would like to hear people saying at the end of the session.

We also made clear contracts about: a) my role in the session; b) their role in the session; c) any specific dos and don’ts to bear in mind when running the session.

Before the actual workshop we also sometimes took the following step. The leader sent an email to people explaining the aims of the session. They wrote something along the following lines.

Sometimes the participants got back with further topics they would like to see covered. When appropriate, these were added to the final agenda.

Clear contracting was also vital when starting the actual workshop. The leader would begin by giving a short introduction and then handover to me. I would say something along the following lines.

Welcome to the workshop.

I will try to make it both enjoyable and effective. Let’s begin by making clear contracts about what we aim to achieve today.

As far as I understand it, the topics we want to cover are these:

To …

To …

To …

“The aims are that at the end of the session you are saying some of the following things:




My role is to create an encouraging environment. It is also to provide practical tools you can use to achieve your aims as an organisation.

Your role is to encourage each other. It is also to take the ideas you like and apply these in your own ways to achieve the organisation’s aims.

Bearing these things in mind, are there any other topics you would like to add to the agenda? If so, we can try to cover these things.

We can then move onto focusing on the first topic we want to cover.

During the day I would do my best to deliver the desired results. This often involved focusing on a particular theme and aiming:

To be crystal clear on the specific results that people wanted to achieve by focusing on this theme;

To provide positive models and practical tools that people could use to achieve these results;

To also invite people to do exercises where they clarified the practical things they wanted to do to achieve the desired results.

During the day I kept in touch with the key stakeholders to make sure we were on course. This sometimes resulted in adapting things to make sure we achieved the goals.

The day was often about encouraging people to refocus on the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. It was also about helping them making their best contributions towards delivering the aims.

Bearing this in mind, towards the end of day we invited each person to do the following exercise. They then presented this to the rest of the group.

The leader would also explain they would have a follow-up session with each person. They would then agree on: a) the specific outcomes the person would aim to deliver; b) the specific support they needed to deliver these outcomes.

The leader would also describe how to get some quick wins. These were tangible things that would create momentum and help the team towards achieving the picture of success.

Finally, the leader would thank everybody for their contributions. This would include describing some of their own take-aways from the session. They  would then formally end the workshop.

Looking back at running the workshops, I became more duty driven as I got older. Whilst wanting to pass on lots of ideas to people, it was vital to make sure these helped people to achieve their goals. That was my duty.

You will, of course, have your own approach to delivering the goods. If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing to which you feel a sense of duty.

Describe the specific things you want to deliver when following this sense of duty.

Describe the specific ways you can do your best to deliver these things to which you have a sense of duty.

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