This is my first Maxim for leaders. It seems strange to many that I speak of goodness before market share or process refinement or the importance of a corporate strategic plan. But I put it first deliberately and not for some pretend altruism.
Before all else, goodness can make an organization. No matter your job, no matter your position, no matter your rank, if you show genuine goodness towards all people, they will go out of their way to help you succeed. I have personally observed as well as read about countless cases in which coworkers and subordinates drop everything to help someone out of a bind when that person is good towards others. I have personally witnessed people from one organization within a corporate structure help the leader of another division simply because of the reputation of that leader for being good to others.
And before anyone rolls their eyes and asks about the effectiveness of a leader or worker apart from their goodness, or lack thereof, as yourselves how likely it is that someone can achieve excellence without goodness. Certainly there are some people everyone can name that have risen to positions of influence or power on the backs of those they walked on, but in all cases, these people top out and are often given their due in the long run. It is the good ones who rise at a slower but steady pace and build up a large foundation of supporters along the way.
Business exist fundamentally for the person, not the person for the business. Logically, it cannot be any other way. Profits help the business operate, but they aren’t the end. Helping the human person out to be the end. If it weren’t for the individual person – the workers, the customers, the maintainers – there couldn’t be any business.
Pope John Paul II said that man is more valuable for what he is than what he has. Whatever is done for the sake of greater justice, wider fraternity, and a more ordering of social relationships counts for more than any progress in any technical field. This truth should be intuitive for any leader, but so many need reminding periodically. When people are treated well, they work more effectively and when their boss genuinely cares about them, then they will do more for that boss even if the boss brings news of troubled times.
So when you have to make a decision about difficult trade-offs, understand that you will have to give something up to gain something else. For example, if you have to decide whether to outsource certain functions to a subsidiary to save money, you will lose something for the gain in savings. Steve Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post, reminded business leaders that no matter how diligent your outsourced subcontractors, and no matter how much they save you money, they cannot know your organization’s culture and care for your customers as well as your your own people are. If you want discretion and judgment, workers who really know your customers’ issues, who are flexible enough to adapt to your customers’ changing needs, then you will have to do it all in house and pay your workers much more than you’d pay the subcontractor.
And there comes the meat of this discussion. As the leader, you might decide that your allegiance to your shareholders trumps any vague notion of goodness to your people. So going with the far cheaper subcontractor gains you greater stability because your shareholders are happy. But will that happiness last when clients and customers start dropping off due to impersonal and inflexible customer service from afar. Goodness might cost you more in terms of time and dollars in the short term, but in the long run, your customers and clients will be happier and more loyal.
Ultimately, this is a normative discussion. Yes, there is actual evidence from Berkeley’s Haas Business School that peoples’ subjective well being is far more influenced by how people are treated than how much they are paid. But even that evidence is difficult for some leaders to embrace. That is why I say leaders ought to work to be better to their people. Those leaders have to get to this realization on their own learn how to be good and practice that over time. And hopefully in that time they’ll see the positive results of their goodness.