An Oregon Medicaid Agency Supporting Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Road to Success

Good Intentions Get a Bad Rap

By Stephen Rex Goode

Al Capone

The old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Nobody quite knows who first uttered or wrote it. It’s at least as old as the first half of the 19th century. There is much abou it that is true. There is even more about it that I don’t like. If you were to read all of the quotes about best intentions by all of the famous people who have spoken about them, you’d have a pretty dismal view of mankind. In short, good intentions have a bad rap.

Speaking of quotes about good intentions, notorious gangster of the Prohibition era, Al Capone, was quoted as saying, “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man (from How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, 1936).

With so much criticism of good intentions, we forget that much good in the world begins first with the intention to do good. Indeed, people who deliberately set out do do evil usually succeed, but people who set out to do good ever completely fail. As Al Capone illustrates, just about everyone thinks they’re doing the work of heaven instead of heading up a parade to hell.

It is my desire that the leadership of this company always strive to remember that the people we hire want to do good.

They want to make a difference in the lives of the individuals we support. They did not choose this work in the hope of hurting people with disabilities. However misguided some of their choices prove to be, it does them, the individuals they support, and the company no good to begin by accusing them of bad intentions. This includes all of the reasons we may imagine for why their good intentions didn’t pan out.

I know that it is frustrating, because we all want to do the best job possible for our individuals. We plan; we train; we throw our hearts into our work; someone comes along and doesn’t get with our plans and chaos ensues.

The classic response to situations like these by managers is to draw a little blood. Remember that our company is supposedly not built on a managerial model. We are built on a leadership model. We show how things are supposed to be done by being out front doing things the right way.

We also understand that when we mess up, we probably had good intentions too. How would we like to be approached when we, as leaders, are the problem? I think we would at least want to be acknowledged for having good intentions and that correction begins, not criticism of our motives, but with rational training of how the company does things.

The other side of this coin has to do with what I’ve outlined in Being Leaders: How to Avoid Defensiveness. The entire operation of the company would grind to a fingernails-on-chalkboard halt if everyone took every effort to train or make suggestions as if we were being personally attacked. Defensiveness is the biggest waste of time.

I think that the statement about the road to hell is being paved with good intentions is far too cynical. There’s another famous quote whose author is disputed. It’s the one about, “Don’t assume anything because you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” I believe that presuming good intentions is a really good idea.

I prefer that we take this road to our success:

I want to encourage every employee, leader, manager, support staff, and owner to eliminate defensiveness as the first page of your playbook and replace it with the presumption that everyone here has the intention to do the best job they can.

2 Responses to “The Road to Success”

  1. Elizabeth said:

    This immediately reminded me of another quote,
    “Look for the helpers”- and I don’t mean this in the sense of how many have taken it and essentially “meme-efied” it.

    The original quote was:
    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day … “I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

    Regardless of your thoughts on Mr. Rogers choice of sweaters or puppets, I love the simplicity in the statement.

    We can look for the bad and people and we will most surely find it, but when we take a step back and look for the helpers, when we look at the broader scene and look at people with less suspicion
    At least for me it gets a lot easier to work through the difficulties of everyday when I remember to look for more of that good.
    -granted we’re humans and we alllll have our moments, but I’d rather approach someone when I don’t assume that they mean the worst.

  2. Deborah Ververs said:

    Always remember the quote teamwork makes the dream work. The dream being happy clients, a healthy workplace, and a great sense of a strong team doing its best to build each other up. Thanks for the pep talk Rex very important for team building morale.

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