Why Business Leaders need to take a Hippocratic Oath

August 26, 2014

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I'm Deb- CEO, worldwide executive coach, mentor, consultant and speaker. I'm here to help you take your leadership and impact to the next level!

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do no harm

“First, do no harm.” is the Hippocratic Oath in taken by physicians and other medical professionals at the start of their careers. The Oath serves as the ethical standard of a profession where the customer (the patient) places his trust and even his life in the hands of the business (the doctor).
As business leaders our marketing doesn’t usually mean a life-or-death situation, still there is something we can learn from the Hippocratic Oath. More often than not, business leaders focus on a goal and the data that represents the progress towards a goal. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it does become a problem when the consequential damage gets ignored, simply because it’s hard to measure or the incentives aren’t tied to it.

Let’s take the example of a great email campaign with a positive ROI. To gain new customers through email marketing, you buy an email list and send out ten thousand emails. A typical response rate of 1% (100 leads) along with a close rate of 20% yields 20 new customers. With profits from the new sales exceeding the cost of the mailing list, your ROI is positive. Just keep repeating this marketing campaign until you’ve hit your monthly target. Mission accomplished, right?

Maybe, or maybe not, and it all boils down to the unseen harm caused by the campaign. Though 1 percent responded positively, did the other 99 percent think the email was spam? How many of them reported the problem? Even if less than 1% of the emails are flagged as spam it can quickly have a very negative affect on your sender score. This could cause every email from your business to be blacklisted causing delayed — or worse, blocked — emails. This email campaign could injure future communications with customer who love you. Taking an easy, cheap and seemingly effective marketing campaign could cost you a lot in the end.

This example clearly illustrates how bad things can go when industry leaders make one-sided decisions based on the positive without considering a “first, do no harm approach.” But we don’t have to be like them. As a strength leader, it’s our responsibility to adhere to our own Hippocratic Oath and “first, do no harm.” Asking ourself these three simple questions should provide a good litmus test for any customer interaction:
• Will this benefit the customer?
• Will this benefit the company?
• Will this benefit our goals – both the short and long term one?

These are simple questions, but they go far in helping identify whether or not we should push through with any initiatives. Only when we get a yes for all three questions, should we move forward. Making sales and closing deals are important, but in many ways, not as much as important as building strong connections based on trust with both current and potential customers. It’s the difference between chasing transaction with tactics and building a business with a strategy.



Tom Schwab

This is a guest post from Tom Schwab. Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Tom is an entrepreneur who runs the international eCommerce brand Goodbye Crutches. Tom also works with high potential eCommerce businesses who want to go beyond chasing a transaction with tactics and start building a business with the strategy of Inbound for Ecommerce.


  1. Dan Miller says:

    Great reminder that we all have the potential to “make money” but leave a bad taste in the marketplace. Ethical business goes beyond profits. Thanks for the clear reminder.

    • Tom Schwab says:

      “Making a buck is easy, but making a difference takes work” I wish I knew who first said that so I could give credit to the wise person

      • Dan Miller says:

        “It’s easy to make a buck, but it’s more important to make a difference.” – Ray Nelson –

        “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”
        Tom Brokaw

        Those are just two quick ones I found – it’s a variation so let’s just make it this:

        “Making a buck is easy, but making a difference takes work”. ~ Tom Schwab