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14 Sep 2015

Difference between Doing Good and Being Good at Work

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Placebo Management

The difference between doing good and being good affects how we lead. Too often though leaders only care that employees do good. They care about their behaviors not how they view them.

Why should we care if they are being good as long as they are doing good?

Difference between Doing Good and Being Good

At work, what is the difference between doing good and being good?

Tapping the difference between doing good and being good plays a key role in leaders motivating group members.

We should care about the difference between doing good and being good. Our intentions and motives matter. Our laws recognize this. They treat accidental crimes differently from premeditated ones.

Being good is about feeling we are good. Our intentions and motives affect this. Doing good is about the act. It is not about us.

Doing good can help us feel good. This is only true if we feel the act was of our own making. There are many times when this does not happen. Here are a few examples in which doing good is unlikely to help us feel we are being good:

  • We do it out of guilt or obligation.
  • It is the policy, rule or expectation.
  • We do not see the act as good; it is against our beliefs.
  • We are told or forced to do it.
  • It is a habit taken for granted.

What Does This Mean for Leadership?

This difference between doing good and being good comes into play as we lead. People do better when they feel good about themselves. When they feel they are good, they are more receptive. Change is easier. Building organizational cultures is easier. Teambuilding is easier.

That means this difference is about leaders helping people see they are being good. When they do good on their own, we point it out. We thank them. We compliment them.

When they say, “I’m just doing my job,” we do not let them take their work for granted. We reply, “No, you are wrong. You went beyond your job. You did very well, and I thank you for it.”

Even if they are just complying with a rule or doing what they were told, we show appreciation. They helped us. They did not do the minimum.

This difference between doing good and being good allows leaders to show that they have concern for motivates us. It is not only about what we do.

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5 Responses

  1. So I clearly get it that you can do good but not be good. And it can happen when leadership does not recognize the ‘be good’ aspects. I think an employee can cheat on the ‘be good’ aspects when they take advantage of opportunities to not put forth good effort or hide ‘breaking the expected organization culture.

    From the other direction, is it really being good if an employee (or leader) doesn’t do good? You know – always on time, never taking advantage, but never committing to give best effort doing… I don’t believe such individuals are ‘doing good’ or ‘being good.’

  2. I think I contradicted myself… What I was trying to say: “I don’t believe you are ‘being good’ if you are not ‘doing good’ but you can be ‘doing good’ without ‘being good’.” I think I’ve got that saying what I meant it to do…

    1. Mike Lehr

      That’s interesting, John. I did not consider your point in this post. On initial consideration, it is quite possible to be good and not do good. We can see this more easily if we remember that “good” is very subjective.

      For example, breaking the law is generally considered not doing good. Yet, Rosa Parks did it. She and many others felt she was being good doing it too. Many who changed things were initially viewed as not being good. What drove them though was that they wanted to be good, to feel good about what they thought, felt and did.

      Let’s move this to the workplace. Being insubordinate is generally thought as not doing good. Yet, when an employee does so to uphold his principles, values, morals, ethics or religion, he can feel he is being good.

      The whole concept of civil or non-violent disobedience is about not doing good in the eyes of the mainstream just so you can be good, so you can be true to something internal but rooted in something bigger than you are. Yes, maybe they can think they are doing good too. But it’s very hard to think that when everyone else is telling you that you aren’t. When everyone else is threatening, punishing or discrediting you. This is especially true when so many can give you many ways of reconciling the two but which the person only sees as ways to compromise his values.

      So, who’s right?

      1. Ah, but there’s the difference… Rosa Parks and that employee were, in their and lots of other’ thinking, not only being good BUT also doing good!!! There were / are many ethical, moral, and responsible reasons for their actions. That’s precisely what I had in mind when I wrote about not being good when you are not doing good.

        Would I have done what Rosa Parks did? I’d like to think I would have but neither I nor anyone else can say for sure; we weren’t there! But here’s the difference: I know she did good and was good. The absentee landlord who ignores living conditions is not being good because he is not doing good – CAN’T be good no matter what else is happening!

        The insubornate employee will likely not get the consideration sought and will likely be fired. Had to be expected, making it doing good and being good!

        1. Mike Lehr

          Yes, John, you and I would see good in the same way. The point is that it is not universal. It is also not clear frequently. As a result, whether we did good or not can be doubted. Doubt can plague the best of us.

          Many people end up doing good in their own eyes only to find they are serving a jail term. That means someone must have felt they did not do good. Social, cultural, political and peer pressures, just to name a few, create doubt in many “do gooders” minds. Near us is Kent State. When people die because of our good deeds, it is hard for most of us to feel we did good even when we strongly believe we did. It does not matter if you were a guardsman who felt he was doing good by protecting the community or a student who felt he was doing good by causing an early end to the war. Deaths are reasonable results that cause a revisit of our deeds no matter how good we feel they are.

          Yes, the person who left because of insubordination is a more practical example. I have counseled such people. I can tell you that there are times when they doubt they did good. For some it turned out well. For others it did not. In the end, it is in all how we define good. It is purely subjective. That subjectivity leaves enough room for doubt and debate to plague many of us in real-life situations. As a result, it might take a lifetime to conclude whether we did good and whether we were good.

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