Doing the Right Thing

By | August 6, 2018

[August 6, 2018]  Several years ago I was driving in a small town located in eastern Pennsylvania, south of the city of Scranton when I came upon a terrible automobile accident.    I arrived only a couple of minutes after the accident but there were already three men working feverishly to get the occupants out.  At the risk of their own lives, they were doing the right thing by attempting a rescue.

One car was in flames, another other was crushed, and each had serious injured passengers.  No one had to tell these men what to do.  They knew that without their help, people would die.  I jumped in to help and later I was happy to speak with the survivors and other rescuers.  We risked serious bodily injury for complete strangers and did so without hesitation.

On a recent camp out with a local Boy Scout troop, one of the boys asked me what I meant when I say, “It’s important to do the right thing.”  I say it so often that I have really not given it much thought.  What does doing the right thing mean?

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey, media proprietor

I believe that doing the right thing is the result of two overlapping requirements.  First, it means that whatever behavior is involved is associated closely with the value system of a particular group or society.  If a society, for example, values the preservation of life, then a rescue of passengers from a burning car fits well.

Second, doing the right thing means that a person is doing something selflessly for others (usually without compensation).  This could mean volunteering in soup kitchen.  It may mean donating money to a charity.  Or, it could mean saving someone’s life at the risk of your own.

If these two requirements are met, then we can see that doing the right thing is in the long-term interest of both the individual being helped and to society as a whole.  Doing the right thing, however, does not always mean we know what to do and it also doesn’t always put us in danger.  But it does mean that it aligns with their values and is done selflessly.


For readers of my leadership blog, you will remember that I’ve written several times about doing the right thing (see articles here, here, and here).  I plan to create a page with terms of reference so that readers can refer to it so that I am less likely to misunderstood.  Thanks for reading my blog.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

28 thoughts on “Doing the Right Thing

  1. Wilson Cox

    Wow, nice comments today on a relevant topic that is rarely discussed. Thanks.

  2. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Long time reader, new to posting comments. I want to note that defining the meaning of words has a special meaning to me because I teach young kids in Elementary School. They learn quicker than we imagine so we teachers should be careful in the use of our words and also take the time and effort to get them to understand the meanings behind them.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Welcome to the posting section. I want to encourage you and everyone to please post your thoughts here. This is what the section is for and I understand many read it religiously.

  3. Yusaf from Texas

    More great info from Gen. Satterfield. Thanks for making a Texan’s day this bright and very hot day.

  4. Edward Kennedy III

    People should pay close attention to this article today. True, the main point is that ‘doing the right thing’ should be something all leaders do. But the secondary consideration here is that we need to articulate the meaning of our words. So many disconnects in communications occur exactly for this reason. Gen. Satterfield has laid it our simply for us to see. Thank you.

  5. Doug Smith

    Every morning I open my iPad to read what is on the pages of The Leader Maker. I enjoy not only the articles but also the comments. So I say thanks to those who make comments here and also who read such wonderful writings.

  6. Jerome Smith

    Thanks to Brig Gen Satterfield and his guest bloggers for their input on such an important issue … LEADERSHIP. Leadership is the grease that allows the wheels of a society to turn.

  7. Bryan Lee

    You are providing a valuable service to us all by reminding everyone that we must be absolutely clear in the meaning of our words. Too many folk simply ‘assume’ everyone knows … that asumption, as you have pointed out in the past, will come back to haunt them.

  8. Drew Dill

    I was drinking my morning tea and popped open my computer to see another great article on leadership. Thanks, General Satterfield.

  9. Greg Heyman

    Another good article on the basics of leadership. I want to remind everyone that despite this article today being most appropriate for those newly learning how to be a good leader, it is also a reminder for senior leaders to not forget that they must also do the right thing always too.

  10. Tomas C. Clooney

    Loving it guys. Thanks for all the links and great comments. Haven’t posted in a while … great to be back.

  11. Nick Lighthouse

    Thanks Danny, good one. Here is my favorite: “You are a role model to people. You gotta make sure you’re doing the right thing.” by Stipe Miocic. I believe you are a role model whether you want to or not. That is why it is important to do the right thing.

  12. Danny Burkholder

    One of my favorite quotes is “There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.” You have to think about it for a moment to get what Chris Fussell meant when he wrote this. Chris is one of my favorite people who made something good of himself. He is the President of McChrystal Group and author of Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

  13. Janna Faulkner

    Good idea to break the idea of “doing the right thing” down into its two components. No one really gives it much thought and that is why it is so misused and abused as a concept. Everyone seems to use it the way they believe it to mean and thus it becomes nearly a meaningless idea unless you define it clearly. Thanks.

    1. Eric Coda

      Exactly. If we don’t clearly define things, the meaning is nebulous and worthless (for the most part, anyway).

  14. Army Captain

    Very interesting take on this idea. We always use it without really giving any thought to what it really means.

    1. Tomas C. Clooney

      Thanks for your service, Army Captain.

    2. Anita

      Thumbs up to you and our military service members.

    3. Army Captain

      Thanks for your appreciation and support.

Comments are closed.