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What Is the Right Thing to Do?

Doing the right thing is never easy. The question confronting us all is: What is the right thing? To paraphrase the words of a U.S. Supreme Court justice when asked how to discern pornography: “You’ll know it when you see it.” 

Leaders apply another lens to this question and answer. Leaders, by definition, have an obligation to apply a hierarchy when deciding on what is right and wrong. This hierarchy requires leaders to ask first and foremost: What is the right thing to do by the business? In other words, for leaders, it is always paramount to hold the organization first in line between rights and wrongs. If it’s not in the best interest of the organization and its primary business, then it can’t be perfectly right. 

Next in the hierarchy is the team of people most connected to the issue. What is the right thing to do by the team? Individuals on the team matter much less than the group or unit that must execute what is right and live with the consequences of any choice. Teams deserve to be made right every time. 

Lastly, leaders need to ask: What is the right thing to do by the clients or customers? Afterall, the organization heavily depends on customers for its very existence. Doing right by the customers is always a failsafe way to ensure the ability to make more right decisions in the future. 

Leaders who operate within this hierarchy hold self-interest at arm’s length and don’t allow any individual or momentary need to have an undue influence on determining what is right. This is how leaders take the high road and allows them to easily defend their choices in the face of noisy special interests, which typically want a leader to ignore the business, team and customer to scratch a particular itch. 

If it’s right by the business, the team and the customer, it is the right thing to do. So, take the high road of leadership and apply this hierarchy to every major decision, especially for those where the “right” choice is not perfectly clear. As Warren Buffett likes to say: “Take the high road; it is less crowded.” 

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