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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"No Greatness Without Goodness" (Randy Lewis)

TITLE: No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father's Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement
AUTHOR: Randy Lewis
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, (240 pages).

Are the disabled really disabled? Have we given them a fair chance to compete and to work at an equal footing? What if a Fortune 500 company offers them a chance to work like any other ordinary person? This is what Walgreens did. Under the leadership of former Anderson Consultant turned Walgreens employee, Randy Lewis made it a corporate goal to have representation of disabled people from 0% to 10%. Motivated by his love for his autistic son, Austin, spurred by his desire to pave the way for society to accept more people regardless of their abilities or disabilities, Lewis learns to defy all odds to attempt to make a difference in the lives of disabled people by first making a difference in the attitudes and expectations of society, beginning at Walgreens.

The path was definitely not easy. Filled with initial disappointments and despair at the discovery of Austin's condition, there were moments in which the family could have called it quits. Fortunately, Lewis was able to see a glimmer of hope through simple provision of opportunities. The language of business is money. The tool of management is mission. The opportunity to serve provides the meaning.  Lewis weaves all three together to incorporate as much meaning as possible in a world drive by profits and mission statements. Yet, the path to success is not easy. The first attempts were failures as not many shared Lewis's passion, let alone vision. Thankfully, the failures do not dampen his resolve. It strengthens, especially when he witnesses results and the way disabled people like his son becomes more purposeful and respected in earning a living instead of expecting handouts. Step by step, Lewis shares his ups and downs, and how he learns from mistakes, gets encouraged by results, and eventually, moving Walgreens forward as an exemplary leader in the area of hiring disabled people up to a third of the organization. What follows within the book are powerful principles put into action, to usher in humility in businesses and to cultivate a deeper respect for all humanity in society.

So What?

The world tells us that there are people who are able and others who are disabled. Whether it is a different use of terms or not, society generally looks down upon people with physical challenges. Some people desire to do good but do not know how. Others want to help but are powerless or unable to afford it. Moving down the pecking order only increases the challenges of desiring to help. As I reflect on the book, I have several thoughts.

First, leadership is critical to any paradigm changes. Without the leadership of passionate people like Lewis, it is hard to imagine anything like the Walgreens transformation from 0 to 10 percent employment of the disabled. We notice how the years of training as a consultant have shaped Lewis's leadership skills. We also note his great ability to build relationships with his peers, his subordinates, and his superiors. Such things are core essentials to leadership. Filled with many management and leadership principles, this book sure looks like a leadership primer for businesses wanting to strike a balance between for-profit and non-profit endeavours.

Second, mission and vision must be broadened. I agree with Lewis about the need to see mission and meaning as one integrated whole. After all, when they feed on each other, the effect is viral. I particularly appreciate the point about the need to expand the vision if the mission needs to be expanded. Often, we stop our tracks the moment we see our mission falling off the rails. If something is important enough to be done, the associating devices need to be changed to get that done. Of course, I know about mission creep and the need to stay on target with limited resources. For that, I can suggest

Third, the book encourages us in the way that good businesses can be both profitable and charitable. For the best troops are not just those with the right skills and competence, they are the ones with the best hearts. Of course, without competence, success will be difficult. With heart, success will eventually come, but for with heart, success has already come.

Fourth, the book's title is rather apt. We have often seen literature and popular books that trumpet greatness as the next big thing. Jim Collins's book "From Good to Great" and Steven Covey's "The 8th Habit" are two prime examples of the next big challenge.  The trouble is, it may create an unwitting assumption that the earlier levels are simply checked off and forgotten. You need all the previous underlying good works in order to sustain any greatness.

Finally, I ask myself whether the Walgreens' project is more fantasy than reality. For one, Walgreens did actually prove that it is entirely possible. They have graciously shared their expertise and best practices with competitors. As far as shareholders are concerned, there will always be nagging questions about what-ifs and other scenarios where more money could have been made. That said, we need to tell ourselves money is not everything. We cannot be slaves to money so much that we forget our fellow human beings, regardless of abilities or disabilities.

Indeed, equal opportunities for all must be extended literally to all. Otherwise it will be mere words without action. I am grateful that Randy Lewis' personal encounter with his son's autism has created a good work out of something potentially disheartening. Add to that the wise counsel and support from management and friends, this Walgreens experiment is something that touches all hearts for years and years to come. It has touched mine and I hope yours too.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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