From the Experts: Decency

From the experts: Decency

By the Turknett Team

Decency can seem hard to come by these days. Just what exactly does it mean to be decent? How does decency play into our daily lives? At Turknett Leadership Group, we believe that decency is at the core of any good leader and organization. We asked our experts what they felt it truly means to be “decent”, and also asked them to report some recent acts of decency they had seen. In today’s world, decent acts often go unreported, so we’re here to buck the trend.  

Answers From the Experts:


Lyn Turknett, Co-founder and Co-chair

How do you define decency? Decency used to be defined as keeping to expected standards of morality and responsible behavior, but I think that most of us now think of it as civility, helpfulness, and a commitment to those around us.  I think the term “common decency” is something we should pay attention to, because I think decency is indeed common – much more common than it’s opposite.  We often don’t notice decent behavior – we expect it.  We are currently in a time when decency seems less common, but I think it’s primarily civility in public discourse that has declined.  Perhaps that’s because it’s easy to be uncivil when the person you are speaking to is not known or not in front of you.  I know it’s easier to be impolite in an email than on the phone, and it’s even easier to spew incivility on social media. What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? I see decency all the time – multiple times a day.  I was sick last week, and even though I know she has every minute scheduled, Kathy Igou brought me a huge container of homemade chicken soup.  Kathy Dowling, who kept shopping at early hours during the pandemic, brought us groceries throughout the pandemic.  Barbara Jacobson waters our plants without our asking when we are out of town and shares her garden bounty with everyone. I wrote a piece a few years ago on why people won’t listen to good news. Why don’t they? Because it’s so boringly common.  The news of deaths in Ida’s wake made news last week, but there were thousands of stories, most untold, of neighbors rescuing neighbors, bus drivers sticking to their routes despite the danger, and the Cajun Navy organizing to rescue those in trouble. I decided to write this piece about good news while sitting in Sunday school waiting for the class to begin.  I overheard people a few rows up talking about the dearth of good news on television.  I thought about the people in the room – all people who brought meals to the sick, helped feed refugees and their children, tutored children after school, and stocked the church food pantry.  Their stories are simply too common. I think the question may be – how do we lift up ordinary decency? How do we help each other realize and celebrate what remarkable, overwhelmingly kind creatures we truly are? We certainly should be telling that story to our children.  

Susan HitchcockSusan Hitchcock, Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership

How do you define decency? To me, a decent person is a good person; a respectable person; a person who holds himself/herself to a higher standard; and a person who does the right thing even when it may not be to his/her advantage. A decent person is also a person of unequivocal integrity and solid values. What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? Instead of providing a recent example, I would point to my recent article on Richard K. (Dick) Snelling, former Executive Vice President of Network for BellSouth Corporation. In over 5 decades of work experience as a leader myself, I’ve never known a better role model for what a decent person and decent leader should be. While he passed away a number of years ago, his legacy of decency and great leadership lives on. In February 2006 at Turknett’s Leadership Character Awards program, Dick Snelling was honored with the only posthumous award ever presented.  

Bill Dickinson, D. Min, RCC, Senior Consultant

How do you define decency? An action or gesture that honors or defends another person, and particularly when they are feeling defeated, belittled, or marginalized. What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? A gentleman in an airport terminal stood up for another man who was being berated for not wearing his mask (it looked like he had just finished eating).  The man being berated was clearly shaken up, and this gentleman politely but firmly stood by this man and said to the berating person that he was “now out of line, and being rude.  His behavior was not appropriate or helpful.” The berating person left in a huff, and the gentleman simply stood by the man (who had put on his mask) and asked if he was now OK; patted him on the shoulder and walked away.  

Marty GuptaMarty Gupta, Vice President of Strategic Services

How do you define decency? Decency – doing the right thing – reveals itself in small ways. Pew, Gallup and other researchers have seen a steady decline in trust since surveys began in the 1970’s. Today, less than a third of Americans agree that ‘most people can be trusted’, the lowest level ever recorded. Successive generations are less trusting. Adults 65 and older are twice more likely to trust others than young adults 18 to 29 years old. Fewer than half of Americans know their neighbors and 28% don’t know any of their names. Trust can be rebuilt through small, decent acts, by giving others the benefit of the doubt, and by helping neighbors, and strangers, too.   What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? A friend of mine lives in New Jersey, which was hard hit by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Within two hours, his street turned into a river and the basement of his apartment building flooded. He noticed a family stranded outside their car in front of his building and did the decent thing. He invited them to wait out the storm in his apartment, lent them some dry clothes, and they ended up staying the night.  

Tim HuffTim Huff, Senior Consultant

How do you define decency? One way to describe decency is where HUMILITY intersects with INTEGRITY. When someone is demonstrating decency, they are putting others before themselves while also acting in an honest and moral way. When a leader is operating out of authenticity and integrity and willing to put someone else’s needs in front of theirs, effective servant leadership and decency is able to thrive. What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? Not long ago, a member of my team discovered that we were using software for which the licensing terms had expired, and the company who owns the software wasn’t aware. Covering this licensing gap would be expensive and would prevent her team from doing a key project they wanted to do. Putting both the company’s and the software vendor’s needs in front of hers, she did the decent thing by getting the licensing paid for and cancelling the other project.  

Chris McCuskerChris McCusker, Ph.D., Senior Consultant

How do you define decency? Decency involves behaving according to responsible and respectful standards of conduct.  Decency can be a duty — an expectation or obligation.  Simple examples would be showing up on time for the meeting, giving others a chance to talk by listening well or avoiding gossip.  Decency can also be a virtue, going beyond expectations. For example, without being asked, providing a meeting summary by email. Appreciating others and sharing positive feedback. Leaders should strive to be decent in obligatory ways, right in tune with expectations of business and society.  But a burden of ethical leadership also includes finding ways to be decent and virtuous. Doing so helps set an ethical “tone at the top.” What is an example of decency that you have recently witnessed? Recent examples of virtuous leadership to me are companies like Nike or Bojangles, who have gone above and beyond by offering time off for employees to take care of their emotional needs. These are quite stressful times in our country. Virtuous decency like that inspires me, and probably those employees, to keep up the good fight.   Want to get to know our consultants and staff? Check out their bios!