No Greatness without Goodness


Welcome to my sixth quarterly newsletter.

In my first newsletter, I wrote about kindness and leadership. My contention was that “kindness and altruism lead to more effective leadership and organization effectiveness.”

In this newsletter, I want to take this idea a step further and, borrowing the title of a great book I just completed, suggest there is “No Greatness Without Goodness.”

Here is the concept I want to try to communicate in this newsletter:
Organizations that are the most successful in the marketplace are those that aspire to benefit the world in some powerful and unique way. They have at their core “goodness.”

Here is how I come to this conclusion.

In 2005, when Randy Lewis, Senior Vice President of Walgreens, set out to build in Anderson, SC, the most efficient distribution center in the world. He decided he was going to staff one-third of the workforce with people with disabilities (mental disabilities, physical disabilities, every kind of disability), paying them the same while holding them to the same standards as others. Randy, whose son has autism, knew deep down that many people with disabilities could hold jobs and even perform better than the average worker … if only given a chance. He bet his career on making the world a better place through capitalizing on an often-marginalized group of people.

Now the incredible thing about this is that it didn’t just benefit those with disabilities, it benefitted everyone. Here is how Randy expressed it in his book. “As we began to see people with disabilities as equals, it changed the way we worked. It changed our culture. It changed our work environment. It changed the way we looked at the world. We didn’t know what a team really was until this all happened. We found the satisfaction of our own success didn’t compare to the joy of helping another person succeed.”

Today 40% of the workforce in Anderson is disabled. It is contagious. Walgreens’ Hartford distribution center is 50% disabled. And Anderson and Hartford are the two most efficient distribution centers in Walgreen. At the two facilities 85% of those hired 5 years ago are still with the company. Today 10% of Walgreens’ total workforce is disabled.

Randy Lewis wanted to create the most efficient distribution center in the world, but the deeper meaning – the goodness – in the work that he and others do is to integrate the disabled into society. Hiring disabled is just one vehicle of goodness to greatness. There are lots of others.

Southwest Airlines provides safe, economical commercial flights around the country. That is what it does. But I think Southwest exists to do goodness in another way. It exists to “democratize” the airline industry. It wants people of ordinary means to be able to fly to funerals, weddings, family reunions, vacations, meetings, or for whatever reason they desire. To make flying available to most everyone. Everything Southwest does is consistent with this; from bags fly free, to no assigned seating, to no change fees, to fare “tranfarency”, to employees having fun and using humor. My guess is you will never find Southwest introducing 1st class service, it just doesn’t fit.

Several weeks ago, I was in Igloo Letterpress in Worthington, OH. This was prominently displayed on the wall.

Now Igloo provides excellent printing service, but this statement implies that their work has a far grander meaning. If the employees at Igloo perceive that they are “an armory of fearless truth” and they stand on as sacred ground, then my guess is Igloo has tapped into a fundamental desire for all humans … that they and their work have meaning and value. This is their vehicle for goodness.

In 2000, when my partners and I took on the leadership of Best Brands we wanted to provide excellent food products to consumers and customers like Walmart, Kroger and Starbucks. But our deeper motivation was to demonstrate that there was a radically different and more effective way to lead. A leadership method that provided exceptional clarity of purpose and which moved information, resources, education, financial reward, voice and power all the way to the factory floor. Through this leadership model we found that we could succeed in any market we chose to compete. Even more importantly, by leading in this manner everyone associated with Best Brands won – owners, customers, employees and their families, suppliers and the communities within which we operated. A leadership model that benefits everyone was our goodness to greatness strategy.

Most recently, as I and Laura and Chris Cooke have created a new venture, Positive Foundry, LLC, we want to provide consulting services to clients, but we have a deeper motivation. We want to bring the incredible insights from the emerging science of Positive Psychology about what leads to a meaningful, accomplished, joyful life (what the science calls flourishing) to businesses, schools and communities. We want to enable people across the world to flourish. Our goodness to greatness strategy is to enable the world to flourish.

Tesla wants to wean the world off fossil fuels, Space X wants to colonize the solar system, Starbucks wants to create a 3rdplace.

So, what is your strategy for goodness to greatness? Goodness doesn’t guarantee greatness … it just makes it possible. Because, as Randy Lewis writes, there is “no greatness without goodness.”

Thanks for reading. Be well … in fact, flourish!

–Douglas. A. Smith


“Use every opportunity to help others see meaning in their work. They will be transformed from bricklayers to cathedral builders.”

–Randy Lewis


From the bookshelf!

Books I am reading and highly recommend.