The Common Good

A few years ago I attended a formal dinner. David McCullough, the famous biographer spoke. He told two stories. The first was about John Adams who was still in the White House but who had lost the reelection. One night there was a fire in the Treasury. Adams walked over and joined the bucket brigade. The next morning in the paper they wrote; “Due to the exertions of the citizens, animated by the example of the President of the United States, the fire was extinguished.

In the second story, Harry Truman was going to appoint John Marshall to a senior position. A staff member advised against it. The rationale was that if the people were exposed to Marshall they would prefer him to be the next president. Truman responded by acknowledging that he also thought that Marshall would make a better president. But Truman indicated that his highest current concern was not about being reelected but surrounding himself with the best people possible so he could serve the country.

Adams and Truman were both making sacrifices for the common good. Their purpose, in the given moment, was to serve others. The common good was more important than their self-interest.

I often do an exercise in which I ask people to identify the person who left the most positive legacy in their lives. They do this and I ask them to share descriptions with each other. We then explore what such people have in common. One of the most frequent answers is that the people of great positive influence are so frequently selfless.

Selflessness has impact. Putting the common good first not only builds trust, it also inspires. It arouses the best in us and attracts us to want to be like the selfless person. This is called idealized influence.



Who left the most positive legacy in my life?

How do I feel about that person?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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