Good Intentions are not Good Enough


“Life is short and if you’re looking for extension, you had best do well. ‘Cause there’s good deeds and then there’s good intentions. They are as far apart as Heaven and Hell.” Read more at

“Best of Intentions” – Singer Andrea Bocell’s “Quotable Quote” in the February 2002 Reader’s Digest disappointer her. “All that counts in life is intentions.” What were the intentions of Enron’s and Arthur Anderson’s leadership as they played their financial games? Intentions are very self-serving, feel-good things. A wise friend once told our son, “We judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our actions. – Mary Blair Watts, Smith County, Texas. March 2002 Reader’s Digest.

My Story: Good intentions were what my second manager in the Old Bell System had in mind when I approached him with a question about a problem I was having shortly after I went to work for him in Corpus Christi. I can still see in my mind’s eye walking into his office and asking for some advice on a problem I was having.

Some background: Our organization was responsible for certain reports done each month but it didn’t end there. We were also responsible for the service results of several small rural Texas telephone offices but actually had very little power to get the result improved. Basically all we could do was insure the service measuring equipment was sampling and recording properly and report the measured results each month. If the measurement results were not good then we coordinated with our field maintenance personnel to visit the offending office and fix the problem(s).

Occasionally the maintenance people had priorities on their to-do lists that were more important to them than taking care of what they felt were “our problems”. I was having a couple of offices whose dial tone speed was slow and I needed maintenance to checkout the causes and remedy them so the measured results and customer service improved. Maintenance seemed to be ignoring my requests so I went to my manger for some suggestions on how to remedy the situation.

The first thing the manager did after hearing me out was to swivel around in his chair and start dialing his counterpart in the maintenance department. In a few short minutes he was able to get a commitment out the other manager to have the two offices checked out later that day and the problems fixed within one business day.

This was all well and good but I felt like a child who had to go to his father to get the class bully off his neck.  The phone call did fix the problem but after this happened a time or two more I discovered it had injured the relationship with my counterpart in the maintenance department. Fortunately I had a good relationship with my manager and was able to sit down one day and explain to him the side effect or “collateral damage” of his attempts to help me. Besides, all I learned from the encounters was that he would solve my problems if I took them to him. That is not what I wanted or needed so we worked out a little strategy to keep him from swiveling and calling instantaneously when I asked for a little helpful insight to solve a problem. His intentions had been good but they were also causing problems for me. I also learned how effective a case of beer left at the local pub can be in getting maintenance issues fixed in small central dial offices in southeast Texas.

A more recent personal example occurred this past fall of 2013. I wrote about it on a different blog site of mine:

“I want to mention that across the street from me lives a single mother with her four children. Nick, her oldest, is eight and in third grade. Nick and I have become friends and we have walked Mia around the block many times over the years. Eventually he learned how to ride a bike so his trips around the block became much shorter than mine. During the winter we even helped each other shovel our walks.

When I returned to McCook this past October I decided that his mother could use a little help so I offered to keep Nick two afternoons after school so she only had three children to contend with for a few hours. I also offered to help Nick with his home work during our time together. On Nick’s first afternoon with me he brought his home work along with math flash cards.

Our routine settled in and each day we would do a little homework, reading and bake cookies or use an easy to make cake mix. We would practice reading the directions. He would measure out the ingredients, set the over temperature and timer. Mia got to lick the mixing bowl clean.   I quickly learned that Nick was in the special education classes at school, he read at an early 1st grade level and his math was not much better. He also did not understand what he was reading if he did get most of the words correct in a sentence. I noticed that he tended to talk in short sentences and to leave out words. He would say “I go home.” In place of “I want to go home.” He also struggled with remembering how to pronounce many words. He would struggle through trying to pronounce it out then just guess at a word it might be. Never the correct one.

One morning, while reading The Brain That Changes Itself,  Doidge wrote that children with learning disabilities can leave out the central words of a sentence. Immediately I thought of Nick and his learning problems. Up until that time I did not realize that his  problems might be due to LDs. There were areas in his cerebral cortex under developed, possibly since birth. It was at that point that I seriously started to learn about brain plasticity and learning disabilities in children.  I began spending more time each day searching through The Brain That Changes Itself for anything that might help me work with Nick.”

The thing I failed to mention about this example was that I had, on a couple of occasions, gotten stern with Nick when he was having trouble staying on task while attempting to read. When that happened he would look up at me and say “Don’t you  like me?” When I realized he could not read because of the lack of the necessary connections in his brain I pretty much felt like a louse. In other words I had become away of his real problem and I immediately changed my behavior toward him and also my teaching methods. My intention to help Nick had been a good one but I did not have the necessary knowledge to start off using the correct methods to really help him.

Here is an interesting online article from FT Magazine: The Shrink & The Sage: Are good intentions enough?

Now, take a minute to think back and answer this question. Is there a time in your past where your good intentions in managing others (even your children) turned sour and backfired? Did the employee get hurt, quit, retaliate against you or take it out on your business? If so, then you might want to purchase and read the book or at a minimum, read on. 


About stevebatty

Retired adult eductor and life long learner.
This entry was posted in coaching, educational and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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