Donna Rae Smith: Leading for the greater good

Written by Donna Rae Smith

Most of the companies I admire in the world I think have a deeper purpose. I’ve met a lot of successful entrepreneurs. They all started their businesses not to maximize shareholder value but to pursue a dream.” – John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market Inc.

What would the world look like if each of us pursued purpose before profit?

Just a glance at the headlines reveals example after example of leadership gone awry: people failing to do the jobs with which they were entrusted, mired in greed, wastefulness and willful deception. Gross abuses of power and criminality are all too common. It seems time for drastic change.

When will we close the door on cynicism and complacency? When will we say enough is enough to self-serving leadership and instead examine the impact we’re having on those around us? How can we begin to seek the greater good before our own interests?

It begins with each of us intentionally pursuing our full potential, striving for a purpose greater than ourselves. When we achieve that, our businesses, communities and people will thrive. Profitability will follow purpose, not profitability for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

Inspire a vision for the greater good.

Deep down, most of us crave a cause to aspire to that is greater than ourselves. In order to lead for the greater good, we must create an expansive vision of the future that engages and inspires those around us. The vision must be one we’re passionate about; positivity is contagious. Those we lead will see that the objective isn’t solely about personal success but rather about a work product everyone can be proud of.

There are two ways we can begin to do this. One is by bringing together diverse teams to share their dreams for the company and their part in making it happen. For this to be a success, we must create inclusive environments where each person feels safe to fully participate.

The second way is to create opportunities for leaders to thoughtfully engage around what it means to lead for the greater good. How does each person define it? What does it mean for the organization as a whole?

Recognize the power of relationships.

When we lead for the greater good, we focus on what’s best for our organizations and our employees. Leading for the greater good means you don’t browbeat people into doing what you want. Instead it’s about determining if they want what you want and vice versa. It’s about shared goals and full engagement in working toward those goals. This can’t be achieved through coercion or with a megaphone. Instead it requires relationships developed through conversation.

In a June 2012 article in Harvard Business Review titled “Leadership is Conversation,” Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind affirm the role of conversation for today’s leaders. They rightly point out that a top-down leadership approach is on the way out and that leadership that emphasizes conversation is the way of the future. They have coined a model called “organizational conversation,” which simply emphasizes intimacy, interactivity, inclusion and intentionality.

As leaders, we need to ask ourselves, which of my actions and habits limit or prevent relationship-building? Am I contributing to an atmosphere of intimacy and trust,or of fear and exclusion? Which of my behaviors are selfish and which are leading for the greater good? Am I investing the time to meaningfully engage with people and learn from them? Are they open to learn from me?

Damaging behaviors include being distant or inaccessible, overly judgmental and critical, and dismissing the contributions of others. Selfishness and bad behavior have been shown to be contagious, as have positive behaviors. As leaders, we must recognize that relationships can’t take root in a climate where negative behaviors are flourishing. Shifting the climate to one of positivity and interactivity is incumbent on us.

Give credit to others.

Leaders who lead for the greater good aren’t trying to amass credit for themselves. They understand that their employees want and deserve credit too, and they know that by giving them recognition, everyone benefits. It should be obvious that people will be more likely to support your goals when they see your primary interest isn’t self-promotion but rather teamwork. Create opportunities to recognize the contributions of others.

Emotion and behavior are contagious. As leaders, we must consider the ripple effect of our actions. Are we going to radiate selfishness, complacency and negativity? Or will we reach for a worthwhile purpose greater than ourselves and choose to inspire positivity, connectivity and hope in those around us? ?


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Donna Rae Smith at

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