You Don’t Have To Choose Success Or Integrity

How Making Everyday Business Decisions Can Impact The World Positively

If you want to be an impactful leader with a meaningful legacy, there is no room for you, or your responses, to be one-dimensional. In fact, critical to your success is your ability to sit within the middle, gray, and muddy spaces which make us uncomfortable.

I know this because I work with leaders around the world, high powered CEOs and massively successful people seeking to put their Time, Talent and Treasure to work in the world in ways which positively changes the game on a massive scale.

Historically, operating within that space of paradox, contradiction, and capital ‘P’ Philosophical mindset is the driver for most of human innovation. See what works, recognize what doesn’t, buck the trends, and fill the societal gaps with an idea to fashion a more meaningful environment. The key, however, is fulfilling that environment in a positive manner.

As such, here’s the first piece of advice I can give you: you don’t have to choose between being wildly successful and having integrity – just like you don’t have to choose between your health and being a good parent.

Taking it a step further, you do not have to choose between delivering incredible outcomes that address a major social need, and running an organization that consistently makes money.

With that in mind, you need your work, effort, and focus, to be well aligned with your deepest sense of self, core values, core ideals, and core desires. You need to really assess yourself, your organization if you have one, and pinpoint the ways in which you are equipped to fill the major personal and societal gaps.

REMINDER: You are neither the answer to every question, nor the solution to every problem.

You do need, however, to understand what you want to be part of, to be clear on what you bring to the world, and to be willing to seek out those who you can partner with to fill the gaps. When you grasp this ultimate goal, only then can you and your partners be more impactful together.

Your place in the global business economy and how you can affect it.

If we just put the idea of “doing good” into a small box, and see it as the role of social enterprises, charities, or the government, then we will never have a chance of operating at the level needed to crack the big systemic problems the world is facing today.

We must acknowledge that all of us are buying products and services every day, and that is ok. We all have furniture, clothing, skincare, and services of all kinds. So as a result, we need businesses producing and operating in more intentional ways throughout all of these facets of commerce.

The truth is, business is an incredibly powerful tool for positive change in the world.

Facilitating that change, though, requires us as business owners to become more conscious of that truth, and to become both excited about what we can do in the world, and the importance of our role within the framework of that world. Those of us who are conscious of, and intentional within, our roles should be the ones making decisions about where we allocate that capital and shape the impact it has in the world.

When we as business owners make these mindset shifts, and begin to run our organizations in this way, amazing things happen. One such change is when you suddenly realize that you don’t have to wait to make a difference. In fact, you can make a difference right now.

Too often when we have an approach that says: “Okay, when the business gets to a certain size or a certain profitability, or I sell it, or I have paid off my mortgage…” Most of the time, this line of thinking is subject to only external factors. In other words, “I can do more good if ‘X’ happens.” It’s a valid thought process, but there is so much more at play.

Awaken to the possibility of doing good inside the business itself

Rather than having an approach that sees “doing good” as being external to your business, I’m asking you to see “doing good” as a result of your business.

No, you don’t have to be a social enterprise, or a charity. Just do what you’re doing, operate in the lane where you’re in flow, and use your brilliance. Here’s the kicker: you can do all of this AND you can do it in a way that is thoughtful.

First off: consider the materials you use; how you ship your products; how you package them; and all of the other components which produce a physical product for your business.

When you consider the veracity of these factors, you’ll begin to see the massive ripple effects from all of those decisions you make on a broader scale.

Best yet, there does not have to be a neat line between what your business is doing and how that directly impacts large societal issues like homelessness or education – that line of logic is far too simplistic.

For example, if you are making tangible products, you could dive into areas like your supply chain. Are you making products in another country where it’s cheap, but you also choose not to ask any questions about the conditions of those workers? Is it because you would prefer to close your eyes to it and not take responsibility because it might not actually sit well with you when you take a more intentional approach to doing good inside your business? Some may argue this, but simply making the product cheaper may no longer be enough to warrant such a choice.

Moreover, where are you spending money? How are you making decisions in those backend components of how your business operates and produces something?

Careful analysis of even the most simple practices can engender positive consequences for any business – even those which at first glance may seem irrelevant to the world economy.

Rest assured, your business is already having an impact on the world. The problem is that it just may not be a very good one! Either way, even if you’re not conscious of your areas of opportunity, it’s still happening — whether you want to admit it or not.

You can become a more effective leader by embracing the complexity of your inner paradoxes

When you embrace your various inherent human paradoxes, you can tap into the creative tension and come up with new, innovative angles to unlock options you previously never even saw – let alone thought were possible.

Extraordinary leaders like you are unleashed in ways that are aligned with your true inner self. The more you can tap into that self, the more impactful you will be. As you develop this richer insight, and understanding of yourself, you will also catch yourself quicker when you fall out of alignment or when your shadow sides emerge.

While I think you’re extraordinary, I also know you’re human. You are not one-dimensional, but you are also not perfect.

Let’s own our brilliance AND our Cbrokenness through that lens. Rather than shy away from the messy middle where we all exist, let’s step more fully into it.

Your contradictions are not something to figure out, compromise, or resolve. They are, instead, what makes you unique and they are an avenue through which you can embrace your unique brilliance.

We’re being bombarded by a world that is bland, mediocre, and everyone looks the same. We’re told that success takes a limited and restrictive number of forms. We’re told what certain types of marketing, businesses, roles, or positions need to look like. Your job, though, is to show up fully cloaked in the uniqueness that is only you, and bring the full expression of who you are.

That very expression is how you will have the most impact in the world. Instead of draining you of life, and leading you down the road to burnout and resentment, this paradox is a life-giving force that actually brings excitement and energy.

Your power is tapping back into the beautiful realization and acceptance that there’s two sides to every coin: our strengths can be our weaknesses. Contradictions. Paradox.

Your contradictions can help you begin to really tune into the world in a different way, and thereby prevent you from being reactive or willing to jump from a fundamentalist approach which swings to the extremes of our logical (and illogical) spectrum.

Your contradictions can allow you to say, “Ah, what’s at play here? Is this a situation where I have to sit with my brokenness and my brilliance at the same time? Or is this a situation where I need to look at this scenario, and play it out from both perspectives of what would otherwise be seen as two contradictory approaches? If that’s the case, can I then come back to the idea of innovation and that juxtaposition of two previously unconnected things?” When you’ve looked at it from both parts of who you deeply are, it is at that point you can truly integrate them.

No one else looks at the world in the same way as you. That is a good thing. So embrace your paradoxes, because it is your differentiator.

Understanding your past and “looking back”to define your “Flow” vs. “Anti-flow”

The ancients understood very well that a key to being able to create into the future was a very clear understanding of the past. Ancient orators would work very hard at building up what they called “Memory Palaces”. These Memory Palaces were figurative banks of information made up of images, little devices, metaphors, and stories which could be mined to shape powerful stories or formulate powerful arguments in the moment.

Today you can begin to build your own Memory Palace from which you can draw upon. Your first step is to explore your past for the clues and cues which will make you successful, powerful, and impactful in the future. To do this, we need to have an understanding of two simple concepts: Flow and Anti-Flow.


Research has identified common characteristics of people who exist in flow most of the time. These include:

  • a general openness
  • curiosity and interest
  • tenacity
  • perseverance
  • tendency towards inner motivation
  • lower self-centeredness


Anti-flow is most often identified through experiences of boredom, apathy, and anxiety.

We may have those more available to us as memories, and it may seem strange to focus on such a negative aspect of experiences we would surely want to avoid.

But they are important as part of this stage of LOOKING BACK because they can inform and guide our decisions by providing very clear insight into what we need to avoid.

Research shows that if our level of ability is much lower than the task at hand requires, we experience anxiety, worry and frustration. If we have a much higher-level ability than what the task at hand demands, then boredom kicks in. As such, when both the abilities and the requirements are of a lower level, we feel apathy.

This dissonance and identifying where on that scale we are is important because boredom, apathy, and anxiety, are key features of anti-flow.

With this in mind, to operate in a state of flow, we must know ourselves well enough to be able to anticipate situations, tasks, roles, and responsibilities that push us into that place of dissonance and result in either anxiety, boredom, or apathy.

Wherever possible we need to design these things out of our lives and stay true to who we are, and what we truly value.

For your business to thrive you need clarity around the core values and aspirational values

Core values are the small number of values, usually somewhere between two and five, that describe behavioral traits which are inherent in your organization. These values do not change overtime and already exist.

Core values are not simply matters of convenience, but are ideals for which you as an organization would be willing to suffer or take a hit.

Aspirational values, on the other hand, are the characteristics that you want to have.

In other words, aspirational values are traits you do not currently possess, but understand that they are part of your plan as you look into your future strategy as either an individual or an organization. In trying to facilitate your aspirational values, you also understand that they are the values which are prerequisite of your future success.

A critical step in your future success is to not name your current aspirational values as core values. Should you make this mistake, you run the risk of manufacturing distrust where it needn’t be. In other words, if someone hears you referring to an aspirational value as a core value, but does not see them in how you behave, you undermine your trustworthiness and integrity in the eyes of that person.

Recently I was involved with a group who were very vocal about diversity being a core value and a pillar of their function as an organization. They spoke about it openly and often at first, and made initial moves to attempt to demonstrate the important position it would play in the company. Additionally, they discussed another deeply held value: the way in which leaders and entrepreneurs needed to have the strength of character to cope with criticism. Not only that, but they need to be able to discern when to take that criticism and feedback on board, and when to continue on regardless of the criticism.

Yet, when critical milestones or opportunities to speak up and provide a platform for diversity emerged overtime, the company was either silent, or slow to act. What’s more, as their team grew, the diversity did not, and people were received with hostility and defensiveness when they questioned the blatant contradiction to what they believed to be one of the company’s core values.

Interestingly, the same played out in relation to the commentary around leaders and entrepreneurs needing to engage with feedback. While on a surface level many opportunities were provided for surveys and feedback, customers were often met again with hostility, defensiveness and a complete inability (or unwillingness) to engage in meaningful conversation.

The impact of these contradictions on the company, and the numbers of customers lost as a result, were far worse than what should have been the case. The situation worsened simply because these two areas had been presented as core values as
opposed to what they actually were: aspirational values. Due to the gap of company truth from physical reality, there was a large and jarring disconnect for customers which provoked a strong social, as well as financial, backlash.

Here’s the underlying lesson: if the company had never mentioned diversity as being so central to their function, they may have received some feedback or commentary on how they could improve when they failed to prioritize it. You could be certain, though, that they would not have been judged as harshly. Furthermore, if they had not been so vocal about the importance of learning to take feedback and criticism, then they would not have been held to such a high standard when they failed to listen and engage with feedback they did not want to accept.

By claiming these things as core values, when they were in fact aspirational values at best, the company undermined their integrity. They, therefore, lost the trust of those who interacted with them and thereby suffered far more than what was necessary.

Bessi Graham - Doing Well By Doing Good Inside Your Business

Both/And with Bessi Graham Podcast

Everybody has an opinion about what you should do and how you should live. There’s no shortage of loud voices imposing their views and values on you.

Create a more positive environment in your business: You should be an authentic leader and admit to your mistakes

Why would you want to be so vulnerable as to admit when you don’t know the answer, make a mistake, or reveal that you are struggling?

Here’s why: you are already an established leader; you have a track record; and people know that you deliver. So, stop trying to prove something. Sit confidently in that knowledge and now start to think about how you can up-level by showing up in a different way.

Embrace this different way which allows you to be more authentically yourself, and at the same time, permits others to learn from your mistakes. Philosophically, it may sound antithetical to your success, but your success is defined by nothing more than your success in the eyes of your company. More succinctly, the outside vision of your success is as a result of your success and nothing else. Colleagues, employees, and partners do not see your faults, and sometimes, may mythologize your presence by putting you on a pedestal to which they cannot relate. By admitting your faults, or mistakes, this does not chip your overall armor. Instead, your choice to be authentic helps them realize that they are not the only people struggling with certain issues or challenges.

Being authentic like this requires you to let go of the scarcity mindset which worries that there’s not enough to go around. I promise you do not have to grab every win for yourself because no one will get the better of you. Your success is already determined by your success, remember?

The more practical choice is to create an environment and/or culture which expands and creates mutual benefit rather than a culture where there is only one pie, and someone having a slice means less for everyone else.

“Looking around”yourself, your business, and your market for better context in how to help fill societal gaps

Looking around opens us up to being more conscious of those around us and our impact on them. Without beginning to look around, you risk getting stuck only focusing on yourself or having goals which only benefit you.

From the perspective of creating a positive impact in the world, it’s always important to look at the context in which we find ourselves operating.

These are three steps you can take to inform your practice of LOOKING AROUND:

1. What do you care about contributing to in a positive way through your efforts?
Either positively drawn to or fighting against in the sense of an injustice you want to correct.

2. What do you have control over / decision making rights over that provides you with a lever to pull to influence this
issue or area?

3. Do you already have the skills, experience, resources to contribute? If not, who else do you need or what do you need to learn, or acquire in order to contribute in the ways you want to?

If you’re more drawn to the positive side of what you want to be part of in the world, it may be that your explorations of the times when you’re in flow hold some clues for you.

If what comes to mind are the things you’re fighting against or the aspects of injustice that really get you mad then there may be hints in your moments of anti-flow that start to be useful here.

So, can you answer in a broad sense what it is you want to be part of in the world?

Easy (and hard) steps you can take to make changes in your business which positively affect the world on an everyday basis

It is important to look inside your business itself rather than simply seeing the business as a tool to make money and donate to a cause. I want you to ask yourself about how you could integrate “doing good” into your core business?

Could you change your hiring practices, your leave entitlements, or the conditions of your workers?

Could you change your bank or financial institutions to ones that align more with issues you care about, or are more closely connected to the community in which you work?

Are there areas of your supply chain to which you have turned a blind eye because you wanted to reduce costs and not be burdened by the guilt of asking pertinent questions concerning the process? Are you afraid of trying to ensure either fair pay, or humane conditions, of those producing the materials you use?

Are there other areas where you are treating the negative impacts you are creating – either directly or indirectly – through the decisions you make, and the way you operate your business, as nothing more than externalities?

Perhaps you are engaging in this kind of work. Perhaps you’re not. Either way, you need to take a full assessment of yourself and accept the answer simply for what it is.

Remember, you are full of layers, questions and paradoxes. Just as you are multidimensional and nuanced as a human, so is your business just as multidimensional and nuanced.

I don’t want you as an individual to be one-dimensional and make as much money as you can, regardless of how you make it, and then “one day” when you “have enough” (whatever that means!) to finally give back.

Equally I don’t want you to operate like that in your business. Those who claim business’ sole purpose is profit or shareholder value maximization are a far more recent breed and neither represent the roots of business or its future.

If that comment sparks your interest, or feels like an outrageous notion, you may want to read Roger Martin’s book Fixing the Game for a simple explanation where he goes so far as to say that “Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism.”

You have to start somewhere: Which of the 3 focuses do you want to address in your busines first?

The truth is, by bringing good “in-house”, by doing good consciously INSIDE your business, ensuring that even if all you ever did was break even you would have made the world a better place by your business existing.

In doing that, you create the impact and legacy you want in the world, but you also set your business apart. You set it up to be more financially successful and more sustainable in the broadest sense of that word. This happens because of the reputation you create, the results you deliver, and the raving fans you produce.

To that end, you have different parts of your business which require intentional analysis. Pull those apart more consciously and see if you can shift how you are spending money or making decisions so as to be more aware of the impact you are having through those decisions.

You can then use that to focus on where you will get the most impact or leverage in your business. This focus can be your starting place to start to bring more “good” into your business and more meaning into your life.


If you decide that a Customer Focus is your first entry point, I want you to be unapologetic in your consciousness or attention on both sides of the equation.

Consider how you can create more value for your customers – how you can be doing good through your engagement with customers and the delivery of the outcomes they are seeking.

Consider equally, though, how you can be producing value for the business – having an eye on what that means for the sustainability, the financial security, and success of the business.

This could be you if any of the following ring true:
  • You are really driven by, and conscious of the results, benefits and transformations your customers get from engaging with you.
  • You passionately believe (and have the results to back it up) that when a customer engages with your products or your services, you:
    – make their life better
    – remove some kind of obstacle or barrier that is a challenge for them,
    – open them up to incredible possibilities
  • You solve a problem
If customer focus feels like the area where you are having the most influence and impact in the world then what I want you to do is to get really clear on three things:
  1. What is it that you make possible for your customers (the change or outcome that is important to them)?
  2. Who exactly are your ideal customers (flesh that out so it’s specific).
  3. How do you deliver and engage in ways that lead to the change the customer wants?
A customer focus draws out an obsession for, and love of, your customers. Rather than just being obsessed with your product or service, you need to have a real focus on the customer. That helps you start to think about the customer relationship in the following ways:
  • How do you engage with them?
  • How do you do that in a way that expands, increases or improves the impact that you’re having?
  • What are the results you’re creating for them?

Here’s the thing that happens as you focus on delivering more value, doing more good, creating more positive impact and change through your customer focus: you simultaneously improve the customer experience and increase revenue.
A better customer experience has the following flow on effects. It increases the chance that your customers will:
  • Refer others to you
  • Will give an incredible testimonial
  • Gets results that you can talk to other customers about which has the triple win of:
    – Building your authority
    – Driving new revenue
    – Increasing recurring revenue into your business

A focus on the customer may not be the first entry point for you on this journey. When you think about your organization, perhaps the vast majority of the money you’re spending, and the decisions you’re making, are focused in-house on your team.

As such, doing good inside the business is more focused on the BACK END of the business model. This starts with shifting to a team focused approach.


If you are taking a Team Focus approach, be unapologetic in thinking about the win-win that it creates.

Consider the positive impact it will have on your staff if you begin to think more consciously about each of those decisions you’re making.

Consider equally, though, the ways that being more conscious of those categories can actually derisk your business, and not only save you money, but make you money. If you do this, you will suddenly have a team who can more actively and energetically be driving sales, and bring revenue into your business.

One easy entry point is looking at the conditions you create or provide for your team:
  • How well do you pay your staff?
  • What benefits do they have access to in terms of the safety nets or security nets provided around things like:
    – Healthcare
    – Retirement Funds
    – Broader financial security or living wage that you are responsible for providing in exchange for the services they are giving your organization or you as the business owner.
There are some obvious areas that will sit within your cost structures around how you actually pay people. There are also more aspects you will find in the key activities category of your business model related to the actual work that you get people to do:
  • Is the work people are doing meaningful?
  • Do they see a connection between their role, or input, and the achievement of the overarching goals or strategy of the organization?
  • If the company wins, or meets targets, do they win?
  • Is their work well aligned with their skills, interests, or competency?
  • Is there an opportunity for them to experience flow in their work?
Let’s look at another area of your business model: key resources, and your brand:
  • Can your team feel proud of the organization they work for?
  • Do they feel connected to the communities in which you work or operate?
  • Do they feel a direct sense of contribution – clear connection between their work and your outcomes?
You can also examine the cultural elements and the environment in which your team works. For example, do you cultivate the wellbeing of your staff? If you do respect and honor those people who are working for you, then the reality is that you create a win-win because:
  • There is a positive flow on effect for your team in their own lives, in their relationships with their families, in their interactions more broadly, socially, when they go home. Those ripple effects will be positive.
  • Within your business you will have the added benefits of a team that: – Will service your customers better – Will be happier, more content, more joyful – Will draw the right customers to you – Will have the energy to serve them well, to engage with issues in terms of customer service in a more positive way because they’re not drained themselves – You will see reductions around the costs related to retention issues, churn, recruitment and train ing, and in other areas where you are spending money over and again because you lose good team members.


This is a complicated category, and I understand that it can feel overwhelming. But, this approach will be relevant if you have a product, and deal with aspects related to supply chains or the production of goods.
Oftentimes, decisions in the back end of our business model are driven by a desire to reduce costs. This can lead to us wanting to externalize, or not think about, the fact that there are negative impacts in a supply chain when we make this choice.

I know this might make you uncomfortable, but if you have some of these aspects around key partners, suppliers, or areas that you outsource parts of your supply chain, then I want you to think about the following:

  • What are the working conditions of the people making your products, or parts of your products?
  • Do you even know?
  • If you do know, how many layers back in the supply chain do you have visibility?

Are there ways you could ask more, or different, questions to be able to make more informed decisions?

The first step is becoming consciously aware of, and actually capturing, what you do know. You can identify key changes, and map them to specific timeframes within which you want to achieve the change.

Don’t feel like everything has to happen immediately if that will paralyze you and make you do nothing. I just want you to consider the components of the supply chain, the conditions, the pay, and the environmental impact from your products’ production.

“Looking ahead” to glimpse into the incredibly important aspects of your legacy, vision, and part in the world

Awareness over the importance of human attention is critical.

If you are to articulate your vision and design a legacy that is uniquely yours, you must ensure that you are not so distracted and pulled in multiple directions which water down your impact by spreading yourself too thin to be effective.

Understanding the Attention Economy allows us to step back and say: “Wow, my attention is split into these little fragments and then spread across hundreds of seemingly important things. No wonder I’m feeling frustrated.” As you run scenarios, design your life, and articulate your vision; you must consider “attention” as your most precious resource.

Without learning to focus our attention and intentionally choose what we give our Time, Talent and Treasure to, we risk mistaking movement for progress. If you can harness your attention, and really calcify what success looks like for you, then you will dramatically reduce the risk of mistaking movement for progress.

The first step is to build a practice of reverse engineering to help you move beyond thinking good intentions are good enough. As you look ahead with clarity and then reverse engineer you can begin to answer the all-important questions:

  • “How will I know if I get there?”
  • “How will I gauge if I’m trending in the direction of my desired outcome?”

Once you’ve taken that first step, the second is to use running scenarios to form a habit of doing what my partner, Brad, calls “taking it to its logical end”. Run what you are actually doing to its logical end through a scenario, and see if it gets you to where you want to go. You might want to play with the different approaches of running it to its logical end, and then reverse engineer it back to where you are today to see which approach affords you the best insight.

Are the actions you’re taking today contributing to, or moving you in the direction of, your vision?

You could use a framework like the Theory of Change or a Logic Model to map out your activities, the outputs in which they directly result, the outcomes that come from those outputs, and their contribution towards impact.

If there is no connection between what you’re doing, and where you want to land, it’s time for some redesign.


Many people tell me that there is an underlying discomfort or question for them around whether it’s even possible to have both an impactful legacy AND feel fulfilled at the same time. They’re worried that they are asking for too much, or maybe even being naïve.

I hear you and understand if you’re asking questions of the same tenor.

I can positively say you’re not asking for too much.

In fact, a thoughtful approach to designing your legacy can actually increase how impactful you are in the world. The process itself creates the space for some beautiful self-discovery that will be life-giving for you in far-reaching ways.

The unspoken, and often unquestioned, sense that generosity, and contribution need to be selfless is often underlined by a tone of martyrdom or self-flagellation. This fool-idealistic crusade needs to be replaced. Reactionary giving, without thoughtful or informed decision-making, can have massive negative unintended consequences.

Good intentions are NOT good enough.

Seeing legacy, or the act of philanthropy, as an outlet for guilt is neither healthy, nor necessary.

If we unpack the beliefs and mindset blocks behind your discomfort, we can create a win-win where you are both more fulfilled and more impactful.

A double-sided approach to legacy is the opposite of selfish or naïve. It is instead the most effective way to bring the level of thoughtfulness, reflection, and accountability to the privileged position in which you find yourself.

You are enough and you can create an impact on the world through your everyday business decisions

Your final impact is the sum of all your experimentation, iteration, and refinement as you seek out what works for you. It’s all about understanding your business, the context of your business, and thinking differently about how you could operate as a business. Once you begin this process, you can have that really strong sense of pride and comfort in what you are creating.

As you step into those spaces, and you become that millionaire, ultra-high-networth individual, or that seven figure CEO, you will own that role. Yet, you will not only own the role but you’ll wear that with pride because you know your evolution has brought your team with you and/or you created an incredible product that actually supports other communities of craftspeople making your products. Let’s design businesses like that and then be unapologetic about the growth that comes with that.

You can think differently about how you operate in the world.

You can behave differently.

You can make different decisions from the place where you can create the flow of impact that you want.

You can bring doing good back inside your business.

You don’t have to choose integrity or success.

You know you were born to do something significant, so don’t leave it to chance.

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