Paul A. Dillon, Owner, Dillon Consulting Services LLC
This is not a typical business article.
I’m not really going to tell you directly that you should be doing the “right thing” in business because it is good for customer relationships, or good for business in the global marketplace, in general—or, even that it will keep you out of trouble. While all of those things are undoubtedly true, you’ve probably heard them many times before. If you haven’t, then you need to pay more attention to how you operate your business, and maybe get some coaching in ethical business practices.
What I am going to tell you is why doing the right thing—not the expedient thing, or the thing that you can get away with, is good for your soul and, most important, peaceful for your mind…and, then all those other things about promoting good customer relations and good business practices will follow.
Let me explain.
I once asked my father, who was a very successful businessman, in addition to being the best father anyone could have, how it was that he outlived most of his contemporaries. He replied,” I always tried to treat people with respect, dignity and fairness. When paper was in short supply–he sold fine printing paper, I didn’t abandon my customers. I bought paper from our competitors at no additional mark-up to fill their orders, and supply their needs. When I had to let someone go, either due to budgetary necessity, or because I thought that they were in the wrong job, I always respected their dignity, and often worked to find them an even better job, even if it was with one of our competitors.”
You see, my father was firmly convinced that the psychological damage that we inflict on ourselves when we are unjust to others affects us physically in dramatic, yet in unseen ways, much as the picture of Dorian Gray deteriorated as the subject of Oscar Wilde’s famous novel continued his malevolent acts.
Peace of mind, according to my father, was as important to leading a long and fruitful life, as it was to ensuring good customer and employee relationships.
No one has ever figured out how to attach a U-haul to a hearse, I thought!
Later on, as I progressed in my business career, I discovered that the example set by my father was not that unusual. “Doing the right thing” has been the hallmark of many great business leaders, I learned.
In the book, Apples are Square: Thinking Differently About Leadership, the authors tell the story of Henry Givray, the chairman and former CEO of SmithBucklin (http://www.smithbucklin.com), the largest association management company in the world, passing up a $1 million payout for the successful sale of the online services company he formerly led, asking instead that the money be distributed to shareholders.
“I did what felt right”, Givray is quoted in the book as saying, “and it was easy for me because I have always believed that doing things that are right is a much more powerful guide than doing things to derive a specific reward.”
But, doing the right thing is often hard to do. This is particularly true in the global marketplace, which has few well defined and universally agreed upon rules.
In an April, 1978 newsletter published by the Royal Bank of Canada, the author states,” The fewer the rules, the greater the need to make one’s own rules for the sake of self-preservation. Not only to make them, but to live by them—and it is always tougher to abide by self-imposed rules than by those imposed from above.”
It takes a great deal of courage to do the right thing in many instances, however—to set our own standards for ethical and moral behavior in business, and to live up to them.. Group pressure wants us, indeed, often demands us to, “go with the flow”, or, said in another way, “to get along, go along.”
In his book, Ethics (and Other Liabilities), Harry Stein quoted a young New York woman as telling him, ‘There are a lot of closet ethical people. It’s hard to speak up for something merely because it’s right.”
God, how awful! But, that attitude is, I’m afraid, what most of us find in the global marketplace.
When faced with a situation like this young woman described, we need to steer a different course. We need to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the popular stance, or in our own seemingly best interests. Former Illinois Governor, and two time presidential candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson II once famously said, “All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions. All change is the result of a change in the contemporary state of mind.” He walked that talk, and paid a substantial price for it. After losing both presidential elections, he exclaimed, “There are worse things than losing an election; the worse thing is to lose one’s convictions and not tell people the truth.”
Oh, that business executives in the international marketplace–and politicians–would adhere to those words today!
It is by having integrity that we can reinforce our moral courage to do the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, or even ostracism, from our social or business milieu. “By integrity”, said the late management guru Warren G. Bennis, “I mean those standards of moral and intellectual honesty on which we base our conduct and from which we cannot swerve without cheapening our better selves.”
If you haven’t experienced it already, most of us in the international business community will find ourselves placed in situations where doing what is right puts the interests of our business, and, consequently, our own personal interests, at stake. The choice is simple: Either we do the right thing, or we don’t; often, no one is the wiser. It is merely a matter of being able to look at ourselves unflinchingly in the mirror, and have the peace of mind—hopefully leading to a long and fruitful life– that comes from that.
And, with that peace of mind, good customer relations—and, good–and profitable–business practices will surely follow.
About the Author
Paul A. Dillon, is a Certified Management Consultant, who has more than 42 years of successful business development, client relationship, and project management experience with professional services firms. Mr. Dillon’s clients have ranged from small, family-held businesses and non-profits, to major clients, such as Lucent Technologies, Inc., Unicom (now Exelon) Thermal Technologies, Inc., Ameritech (now AT&T) International, Amoco (now British Petroleum), American Airlines, and the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Dillon also has managed client relationships for engagements with Illinois and Chicago government agencies, including the construction audit for Chicago Public Schools $1 billion building program.