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Do the right thing

5 min read


I was recently listening to a spiritual talk when one of the speakers said something that struck me: We must always try to do the right thing, and when we do, not only does it help others, it also helps us to feel good about ourselves and what we do.

John Fontana, a management consultant and the director of the Arupe Center of Ethics in Business, believes that grace and spirituality in the workplace can be transformative to an organization’s culture and spirit. While not everyone may embrace the idea of spirituality, many people would appreciate a culture that is about a lot more than revenues.

What I mean by spirituality and grace, really, is the idea that the people of an organization, including the senior leadership, strive for a greater purpose, such as honoring people’s personal goals, their families, their traditions and their personal and professional growth. It’s about honoring the whole person in each team member in their company.

Being a student of leadership, I know how important it is to do the right thing in business, as well. I know we all agree. Our attitudes and actions in business are so important, mean everything.

My friend Meg Mannion, an accomplished commercial real estate and branding executive, tells a story I just love. When she was pregnant with her first child, she was with a large real estate company in St. Louis. Meg worked up until a few days before her due date. Before she left that last afternoon, she told her boss to let her know that, if he needed anything, she would try to help if she could.

When she was in the hospital shortly after giving birth, she got a call from her boss. He started to apologize, and Meg said please, no need, just quickly tell me what you need. He was at a closing in New York City, asked Meg a few questions, which she answered and the deal closed successfully.

Meg’s message is, “Find out what needs to be done — and just do it! No one wants drama or intrigue. Just do it.”

What company wouldn’t want people like Meg, people who just do what needs to be done?

Doing the right thing in business means being a source of positive energy, and only positive energy. That means being encouraging and helpful to others, to those who report to us, to our team members and other colleagues, and to those whom we may report to.

The right thing is being a giver, helping others. It means never talking about someone behind her back or complaining. Negative energy hurts a company and does not reflect well on the speaker.

Doing the right thing is being an attentive listener, listening to understand and being open and eager to learn. And doing the right thing is about being up front and honest, doing what we say we will, keeping our word, treating people fairly and with respect, and being appreciative.

It’s about humility, really. From humility comes our desire to be respectful, appreciative, helpful and encouraging to others, and to continue to learn and grow ourselves.

Emily White, a talent management specialist at Optoro, epitomizes doing the right thing. She holds herself to high standards and is a lifelong learner. She also has no personal agenda. She is always responsive and cheerful, and she’s all about the team. She is doing all the right things.

Emily’s protégé at her previous job is Sarah Hay, associate director of career services at Georgetown. Sarah embodies these same qualities. She has no ego, she just wants to serve and be helpful to others. Sarah is a great teammate, easy to work with, and very accomplished.

It was Sarah, from whom I first heard use the phrase “grace in business.” I explored this idea in an article and received a lot of appreciative feedback. The idea of grace in business seemed to open up thinking about creating optimal organizational environments.

As I write this paper, I’m thinking about the many men and women with whom I have the privilege of working, who are great examples of grace in business. They are servant leaders who lead with positive energy, who genuinely care for their colleagues and make the time for conversations with them.

Let’s think about what we’d like our legacy to be. Let’s treat our team members well, respect them and help them grow and succeed at all levels of our company.

We have choices all day long. Let’s take a moment to think “What’s the right thing to do?” and that’s what we should do.

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives helping them develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, and a striving for continuous improvement, theirs and their team’s. You can reach Keyser at [email protected] and 202-236-2800.

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