Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Doing Well and Doing Good

            A Grammar & Life Lesson

Do you remember the difference between an adjective and an adverb?  The former modifies a noun and the latter modifies a verb. For example, look at the difference between the words well and good in the following phrases:  Do well in lifeDo good in life.

Well, Well, Well

Doing well can mean accomplishing things such as making a high salary, having a nice house or living the high life.  Bernie Madoff lived well…on other people’s money through his Ponzi scheme, but he did well for a time. The whole Kardashian family lives well including big houses, lots of clothes, and great celebrity.

But do they do good?  Do they have a positive effect on the world?  Do they make others feel better about their own lives? Alleviate poverty? Serve as positive role models? Provide spiritual support? Act as positive employers?  Treat others well?  Help others feel good about their own lives?

I think that you can do well and do good at the same time but it is hard.  In business, I felt the push and pull of these two modifiers.  I was promoted often, had responsible roles and helped companies make money.  But, I also tried to be a caring boss and be sensitive to my employees’ needs.  I was usually approachable and encouraged others’ careers.  I tried to perform ethically.

At Work

Most companies have lists of values which include platitudes like “Our people are our most important asset” or “We are committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity” But when individuals in an organization behave badly in order to improve the financial bottom line they are doing well for the company but are they doing good?

Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson has a corporate credo which talks elegantly of responsibility to patients, customers, suppliers, employees and (lastly) shareholders.  Many years ago when tainted Tylenol was found in the marketplace, J&J did not hesitate to act responsibly and “do good” by quickly withdrawing all of the Tylenol products from the market.  More recently, they have had waves of issues with products and sacrificed their credo in the name of profits. Financially they were able to continue to make money on products which were potentially harmful.  Better to pay penalties than to only ship good product.

Doing Good

A positive corporate example is Costco.  The founder was told often on Wall Street that the corporate profits could be higher if they paid lower wages or provided less generous benefit packages that were more in line with Walmart practices.  But they want to not only do well financially but also do good by their employees.

Life is full of these ethically dilemmas.  If you get too much change back you will do well financially but are you doing good by cheating someone else?  If you focus mostly on making money personally but ignore the needs of your community are you doing well at the expense of doing good?

How do you prioritize doing well and doing good?

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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