Feature Article: Doing Good and Doing Well
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
The feature article about good work, done well and making the world a better place in the process was written by my
husband, Vern George. As I listened to Vern speak passionately about “doing good and doing well” to my friend
and colleague, Kate Ebner, it occurred to me how timely this perspective is as we work to change direction in this country.
Will the last ethical, honest person please turn off the lights? Bonuses for grievous failure. Earmarks based on the
constituents rather than the recovery. TARP being used everywhere by recipient banks except to increase lending
and save homes. Congressional response on all issues being only based on partisanship. A zero sum game. Just
keep the victorious Minnesota senator from sitting, and voting, as long as you can. Doing everything in your power to
make the other party’s President fail. Clearly all these folk are hell bent on doing well—with little or no concern for anyone or anything outside of themselves.
Well, yes and no. There are those primarily focused on doing well, as highlighted above; but there is also great
opportunity for doing good.
Because, as discouraged as the daily news makes us all, the vast majority of Americans and citizens of the world
remain thoroughly committed in their careers and in their lives to doing well, but seldom at the expense of doing good. The two life strategies are totally consistent and lead
to the kind of society which we all seek. Let’s talk about it a minute--this doing good while you are doing well, and we
would submit, building a sound financial underpinning for your life in the process.
Doing well is what most of us set as a major and most important objective in our careers and often in our lives, at
least as doing well is required to meet the needs and the desires of ourselves and others close to us. Education and
experience, and yes, commitment, are essential tools we use to do well; and to steadily enhance the degree we do
well. We often measure “well” in terms of financial resources and what they will buy. Seeking, yes “worshiping,” doing well,
seems to have become the credo for many.
For others, fortunately, their personal needs and desires are best being met by doing good. Doing good means a focus
on making a major and sustained commitment to utilizing the full range of your personal energy resources to meet
human individual and societal needs. Greatest satisfaction comes in doing good when your actions cause a
substantially greater level of achievement in meeting the needs and desires of others. And what many of us have found in our lives is that the balanced strategy of doing good
and doing well provides the most sound foundation for a productive and usual life.
So what can we do to refocus and reinforce our generation and future generations commitment to a balanced life strategy of doing good and doing well; and that the balanced
strategy will result in all of us living the full life for us, our children, our grandchildren and future generations to come?
We can continue to enhance and refine the skills, characteristics and energies which allow us to do well, and
to apply much greater commitment to effectively applying those skills, characteristics and energies to do good.
Many of us run businesses, and although that is very challenging, we prevail and prosper. But few of us can
“find the time” to pass on those management and entrepreneurial skills to struggling small businesses or
those attempting to start businesses. When we look at recession impacted markets of the past we find that
the chief source of recovery was less the big firms “coming back” than if was those furloughed in the
downturn boot- strapping their way into new businesses, which struggled, yes, but grew and rebuilt the job
base. Think how much faster that could occur if those of us still doing well brought the greater balance to
our lives of investing much more time and energy in doing good.
And the opportunity is just as great on the non-profit side. While the long days are the same, the unmet
needs are even greater and a much greater share of those needs can be met if those with the skills and
contacts to succeed in those fields invest their time and contacts to help others to form and operate
individual, small group and emerging major players in this public side. The need is beyond private folks
giving more to public. It requires all folks to take what they know and the resources which they have to give themselves the satisfaction of doing good. The same could certainly be said for those of us in government;
from the top to the bottom.
I mention those of us in the financial community, and quickly duck for cover. But think of the good which could
be done if all those with extremely effective financial skills, and that is most of the folks who go to work every
day on that small island near the Statue of Liberty, applied those skills to leverage the relatively limited public
funding for doing good to achieve an amount many times as great to more closely meet the total need.
Yes we can!
“Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.”
Leadership Lessons: YES is the right question!
A life that matters is captured in the word YES. YES affirms the value of participation, of being a player
instead of a spectator to our own experience. YES affirms the existence of a destination beyond material gain--for organizations as well as individuals.
“HOW?” we ask. How can I contribute to the greater good? What can I possibly do? The problems in my
organization, my town, the world are just too big and complex for me to know where to start? How do we get
there from here?” How can we be sure it will work? And on and on and on we go. We look for certainty,
frustrated that in the area of human endeavors there is never is certainty.
Peter Block, Margaret Wheatley and other thought leaders suggest that our pragmatic focus on what works
(the HOW) leads us to avoid questions of purpose, of what truly matters to us as citizens, leaders, members
of the global community. Instead, we must take the time to think carefully about the questions then take the
time to dig deep, engage in dialogue with ourselves and others, treating the conversation itself as action.
Problems that count need to be respected before they will reveal themselves to us. Peter Block points out
that the focus on tools, answers, and problem solving keeps them in hiding because we will just revert to the
solutions which are more easily implemented. The push for concrete action is exactly what sidetracks our
dreams and postpones until tomorrow what needs to be addressed today.
Raise the question of what do we want to create together, even for an established institution. Making money
and serving a constituency is too small. We must raise questions about social responsibility, equity, and the
meaning the institution has for the community. Do What Matters.
“Character in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” Theodore Roosevelt
TIPS, TOOLS AND PRACTICES: Change Your Questions from HOW to YES
YES QUESTIONS TO LEAD US TO WHAT MATTERS MOST
There is nothing so practical as a good question. Good questions work on us…not the other
How Question One: How do you do it?
Yes Question One: What refusal am I postponing? If we can’t say no, then our yes means nothing.
How Question Two: How long will it take?
Yes Question Two: What commitment am I willing to make? This question recognizes that if change is to occur, it will come from my own
free choice, not from the investment of the institution or the transformation of others.
How Question Three: How much does it cost?
Yes Question Three: What is the price I am willing to pay? There’s a cost to pursuing what matters for we are leaning against the
culture and may disappoint those around us who are used to us being a different way. There is often little support because we don’t have
the answers to “how?” at the outset.
How Question Four: How do you get those people to change?
Yes Question Four: What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with? This question affirms that we have had a role in creating
the world we live in.
How Question Five: How do we measure it?
Yes Question Five: What is the
crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my life/work? This question affirms the idea that it is the challenge and
complexity of life and work that gives it meaning.
How Question Six: How are other people doing it successfully?
Yes Question Six: What do we want to create together?
Individually and collectively, we have the wisdom to get our desired results. We need to act on that wisdom.
(from Peter Block, The Answer to How is Yes)
© 2009 Bette George & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Conversations on Leadership and Life is an e-newsletter written by Bette George of Bette George &
Associates. In each issue, Bette offers best practice tips and resources, innovative ideas and inspiration to
help you begin to create the change you want to see in yourself, your workplace, your community.
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