Effective Doesn’t Mean Right

A Naperville, IL man made the papers in recent weeks for driving 105 mph in a 40 zone. But he had a good reason. Apparently, the guy had just washed his car, and he wanted to speed up the drying processes. For the record, I completely agree with his thinking. Nothing ruins a $4 car wash more than streaks. Well, maybe being arrested and charged several hundred dollars in fines, court costs, attorney fees, and impound charges diminishes the shine on a freshly washed car, too.

The driver would have done well to remember that just because something is effective doesn’t make it right. That got me thinking about other things that individuals and collective organizations do because they are effective but also dead wrong.

Genocide. One way to take over land or natural resources, or to put your religious or political group in the solid majority is to kill off large numbers of the opposition. Sadly, much of the news out of Africa shows that dictators often choose this shortcut to power. It works. But it’s wrong.

Stealing/cheating/lying. In the 80s and 90s, the nightly news often featured stories about kids mugging kids over a pair of coveted Nike Airs or a Michael Jackson jacket. Cheating is an extension of stealing. It’s taking credit for something you haven’t earned. Why study when you can just as easily get a good grade in a more effortless manner? Lying is the lazy cousin of cheating. Whereas cheating takes some effort, lying can just roll off the tongue. And it’s a victimless crime, right? Wrong. Depriving another person of the truth ain’t right. Stealing, cheating, and lying can produce the desired results. But even if you get away with doing them, they are still wrong.

Threats and intimidation. Bullies have existed as long as man has walked the earth. They prey on the weak, using scare tactics to gain power over situations and other people. It works. And it is wrong.


Corporations and leaders need to be mindful of this simple principle, too. Just because something is effective doesn’t make it right.

In April of this year, the world watched in horror as the British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 people and destroying wildlife for a generation. Why did this happen? Are the people at British Petroleum bad people? Maybe. Likely, they followed a business plan designed to maximize profits at any cost. And their plan was very effective.

Just because something is effective doesn’t make it right. In the process, BP cheated on hundreds of blowout preventer tests, used loopholes to avoid compliance to the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies, and ignored warning signs up until the very day the rig exploded. Lives, wildlife, jobs, businesses and whole industries were lost. Their effectiveness came at a high price.

As a management style, intimidation went out of fashion years ago. But during the recession, some managers reverted back into a command and control style best suited for commanders leading men into battle circa World War II. But there’s been a resurgence of its use in recent times because staff size shrank, jobs disappeared, production needed to rise, and, besides, people had no where to go. If an employee didn’t want to deal with this kind of boss, the alternative was unemployment.

Just because something is effective doesn’t make it right. Intimidating employees works…to a point. While it’s true that you can run amazingly fast if you’re being chased by a grizzly bear, that pace is not sustainable or even healthy. Rather than relying on heavy-handed tactics to get people to perform, managers might do better to remember that the American Revolution started in a similar way. High taxes imposed by the British to its American colonies were effective in bringing revenue back to England. But oppressed people won’t stay oppressed for long. What’s going to happen when your best employees leave you, post-recession?

Evaluate what is right based on those things that are morally, ethically, and humanely right…not just effective.

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