Mark Twain said “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
While it’s astonishing, it may not get you liked. Respected perhaps, not liked.
Doing right, in the words of a board member whose organization struggles with courage and a moral compass, is “Awkward; inconvenient.”
I had a catch-up breakfast last week with high school classmate April Lewis, who along with her partner Carol French form Figure 8 Consulting in Portland, Oregon.
Figure 8 focuses on helping organizations and people become more culturally agile – upskilling so that folks marry cultural competence with personal authenticity. Their work helps produce people and organizations that are more effective and frankly more enjoyable to be around.
As we talked about a recent intervention of Figure 8’s, I suggested that doing the right thing is not always the safe thing – and indeed it can be awkward, and inconvenient. But doing the right thing is almost always the best thing to do when you look beyond short-term payoffs.
Sometimes doing the right thing is simply a matter of calling out behaviors that are inappropriate or unhelpful. Saying to someone, for example, something to the effect of “I love you to death and when you do that (pick your behavior) it doesn’t work very well. Let’s talk about some other options.“
That sort of feedback (or feed forward if you’re trying to set a bar in advance) is likely not to make you popular. It will make you respected.
Part of the responsibility in respecting people though is holding them accountable, and part of accountability is remembering to respect. Compassion is what’s called for when people screw up – provided you bring it to their attention if it’s not clear they’d realized it – and remembering that people are human, and being able to move on.
No one I suspect wants to go to their grave saying they hunkered down, played it safe in life, and accomplished less than they could or should have. Even though I may believe in reincarnation, I suspect that you don’t get a life “do over.“
It’s an ethical muscle you can practice. Like soccer player Adam Goodes call-out of a fan’s racist taunt of a teammate, practicing doing the right thing makes it easier to do the right thing the next time.
Mark Twain also said that “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage be so rare.”
So as we head into March, roaring like a proverbial lion, stay brave.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.
Cover of Do the Right Thing [Blu-ray]