ATD Blog

What Does “Doing the Right Thing” Look Like in Business?

Monday, December 8, 2014

 A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post, “Do the Right Thing.” For those who did not read the article, by right things I was not merely referring to ethical issues. Of course, acting ethical and appropriate are a given. I was also referring to being encouraging and helpful to others, as well as a great teammate and communicator. In essence (and in spirit), I am talking about being a servant leader and a source of positive energy—and only positive energy.

Here’s some of the feedback I received for the post: 

  • “The message is inspirational—developing a positive and encouraging environment is planting seeds of success in our workplace, and for our team members, and can produce limitless benefits for our firm’s overall success.” 
  • “Fortunately, I am in a smaller company that is very leadership focused. In the past, though, I worked with managers with the attitude: “Just do what we tell you, just comply, adhere to our procedures.” They did not encourage creativity, finding new and better ways, collaboration, and even asking questions. It was just do it.” 
  • “We need people who know why they do what they do, are guided by proper values and purpose, versus so many managers who do what they do for money, power, attention, control, title, or corner office.” 
  • “We need leaders who have faith, a moral compass, and love to coach, mentor, and help others learn, grow, and succeed. We need leaders whose own satisfaction comes from the satisfaction and success of their people.” 
  • “It is true that doing the right thing helps others and helps us to feel good about ourselves. I also have found that doing the right thing is key to overall business success. A focus on personal gain can lead to short term success, but doing the right thing usually ensures the ultimate long term emotional (and financial) returns.” 
  • “I love the thought of doing the right thing as it improves morale and the spirit of an organization. Results will improve. Failure to do the right things has the opposite effects; it reduces drive, people won’t go the extra mile, and ultimately turnover, which is a huge hidden cost that management usually rationalizes—rather than taking responsibility to learn from and improve.”

There is a saying that “kindness of words motivates others.” Having a sense of kindness in our work, leadership, and relationships in business, including our internal relationships, is definitely doing the right thing! 
Mara Vandlik of McGinn & Co., asked if women are expected to be more graceful, helpful, and encouraging than men? Granted, we could start a dialogue on that question, but my answer to her is that this is an area where men could learn from women and their natural leadership skills and competencies.

Kerry Douglass, a spiritual director and counselor, thoughtfully noted that effective leadership comes through community, not authority.

John Kelly of Hanover Stone Partners sent the Do the Right Thing post to two former leaders with whom he worked and respects and states that now when faced with a difficult decision or issue, he asks himself “What would Dick or Ed do?” Then the answer is clear, do what’s right. 

This is consistent with a recent conversation with Joe Bottari, a sophomore student athlete at Georgetown, whom I have the privilege of knowing and mentoring. When faced with what he considers a life decision, he takes the time to seek the counsel of those for whom he has great respect. Joe also believes in having great relationships with his teammates and focusing on team goals, as then work and football practice are easier to handle well.


Andy Funt, CEO of Bio Films Innovations, makes an insightful suggestion that we should bear in mind to always doing the right thing—and also do the next right thing. By that Andy means the first right thing might well be an assessment or decision and the next right thing is our action. An example might be reaching out to someone to help them with their inner-confidence as we pursue our desired outcome.

Aaron Spokaeski, a general manager at Billy Casper Golf, a company that definitely treasures its people and consciously tries to listen for their ideas, advice, and feedback, points out that doing the right thing means being “we-oriented” not “me-oriented.” It also means realizing that, as a manager and leader, we are a part of a team and every person is an important member of the team as well, and helping them believe that.

We should live to help make lives better every day. That is living in our faith, and isn’t it the way we can be in our business lives?!


Yes, surely it is. With that personal mission, we can be exemplary and highly effective leaders and team members—by doing our best work, by being positive, and by encouraging and helping others do their best work. 

As I finished drafting this paper, I happened to read a wonderful article about empathy. It encouraged me to go back and add this paragraph. Bottom line: Empathy helps us improve the lives of others, as well as our own. Here are just a few things we can do each day: 

  • See something at work that needs fixing? Just quietly fix it.
  • Say thank you with eye contact and a smile and not being too hurried so the person feels your appreciation.
  • Grab a coffee or tea with someone who could use a conversation. Conversations are a gift, if we listen to connect. 

A great way to lead our lives from a spiritual sense is to help make lives of others better every day, and we can have that be our personal mission in our work and leadership. We need to encourage and help our team members and other colleagues have better business lives every day. That is doing the right things and that is servant leadership!

About the Author

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives, helping them to develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, as well as ongoing employee and organizational improvement; [email protected].

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