Recently, a speaker at the Aspen Institute asked his audience of successful business executives a provocative question.
“As we continue to do good,” he said, “can we do less harm?”
It was a line that stuck with me, because it reminded me of a dinner I once had with a successful private equity executive.
During our meeting I asked “What do you feel good about in your
life?” He said he was known for the large gifts he makes to universities
but what he feels really good about is his athletic scholarship
“How many people do you support each year through that program?” I
asked. “From six to eight,” he replied. Then I asked, “How many
employees do your companies employ?” Around a hundred thousand, was his
reply. I paused for a moment, looked him straight in the eye, and said,
“What you’re telling me is that you feel good about helping six or eight
people outside your company, but the hundred thousand people who work
for you every day, whose livelihoods and happiness depend on the way
they’re treated, they’re simply a means to achieve your wealth?”
At the end of our lengthy conversation he said “Now I get it! I
thought I worked so I could do good, make enough money so I could give
to my church and the causes I care about. But how I make money is a whole different thing. You do good while you do well!”
The greatest gift, the greatest charity, the greatest way you will
ever give back to society is being a truly human leader. And that means
treating the people under your care with profound respect and dignity
and not as objects for your success and wealth.
A growing number of business leaders are focused on corporate
benevolence these days. Current times don’t allow for companies to
simply be in business for the sake of making a profit anymore, it must
be a virtuous cycle where all stakeholders benefit: your people, your
shareholders, your customers and your community
According to a recent Global Corporate Social Responsibility Study,
Cone Communications/Echo Research found that corporate social
responsibility —or being active do-gooders in solving the world’s most
pressing social and environmental issues- –is no longer a “nice-to-do”
but rather a “reputational imperative.” Just 6% of the respondents
believe the singular purpose of business is to make money for
shareholders. More than eight out of ten consider corporate social
responsibility when deciding where to work (81%), what to buy or where
to shop (87%) and which products and services to recommend to others
But, like my friend who was proud of his athletic scholarship
program, might business leaders be more focused on doing good outside of
the workplace while overlooking their most important social
Shouldn’t corporate responsibility begin with the lives who are entrusted to your care every day?
Businesses destroy lives all the time through poor leadership and
work environments where the employees feel overlooked or disregarded.
Those same businesses then turn around and “do good” by supporting
social causes, thanks to the profits realized by those broken souls.
As leaders—as truly human leaders—the greatest act of charity is to
first and foremost care for our people. Corporate social responsibility
begins inside the walls of our organizations. It begins with
ensuring that our team members are offered meaningful work, secure
futures, and environments in which they feel safe and cared for.
At Barry-Wehmiller, we discovered an interesting byproduct of doing so.
Researchers from Georgetown and Washington University in St. Louis
analyzed segments of our workforce to see what effect our culture of
care and compassion had on our team members. Their research showed that
in the 70+ percent of our associates who reported feeling like their
lives had been touched by our culture, there was an interesting
corollary: a heightened sense of altruism, or philanthropy. In other
words, because they felt cared for and valued in their workspaces, they
were more likely to take the initiative to help others.
Giving the people you lead the kind of work and work environment
they deserve is the greatest act of corporate social responsibility.
Like we’ve seen at Barry-Wehmiller, it’s the kind of giving that keeps