Doing Good Work

I am fascinated by the conditions under which people successfully perform “good work” — and I’ll unashamedly steal the definition of good work as “a calling that combines excellent performance, expresses one’s ethics and offers a pleasing sense of engagement” [taken from the Donald Goleman article in the Sunday Business section of this past week’s New York Times].

Goleman’s piece pays homage to the work of Howard Gardner and peers in the Good Works Project, a collaboration of several great minds tackling an issue worthy of their capabilities:

“The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that
exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningfulto its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.”

Goleman is the author of Emotional Intelligence and, through that effort and his subsequent work, a significant voice in the understanding of work, practice, cognition and emotion. And if you doubt the connection and power behind the integration of those elements, just Google “Obama.”

In any event, Goleman’s piece in the NY Times tells the story of Govan Brown, an New York bus driver and Deacon of a local Baptist church who elegantly (and with an astonishingly large dose of American ingenuity) combined his personal ethics with his “job” transporting people along a bus route in midtown Manhattan. His story is — once again — the story of the possible. The context is different, but the underlying concepts are the same, I think, as the story of Jan Blittersdorf and NRG Systems of Vermont (or pick any one of the employees of NRG Systems).

It is the same story I heard from Colleen Barrett, the President of Southwest Airlines who spoke at a recent Winning Workplaces conference. Colleen talked a lot about living by the principle of the Golden Rule — a common element of her upbringing that she shared with Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher. What they believed — and executed — is a vision based on positive possibilities.

None of these stories are exactly the same in the way they play out. The protagonists draw their inspiration and guidance from different sources. But the underlying spirit shares common ground — a strong belief in the power of positive actions, executed in innovative fashion.