I am currently engaged on a project that has the potential to grow exponentially. The more time I spend on the project, the more the possibilities emerge and having realised the scope of the venture I recognise that I will need some technical help in order to maximize the opportunity.
In considering potential partners it dawned on me that there is a close family friend who could help. However I wrestle with the idea of engaging with him because of his reputation as a ruthless businessman. I have worked with him on occasions and have been irritated by his business tactics. Although he has an endearing personality he does drive a hard bargain and he is not particularly concerned about the aftermath. Having experienced this behaviour has caused me to struggle with my decision.
As I am not one to immediately dismiss a potential opportunity I asked myself:
· What would it take for me to look beyond the past and focus on the present?
· Are there any safeguards I could put in place which would protect me should I proceed?
· How do I know that the person(s) I eventually chose will not be as ruthless as this man?
During this process I realised that I was struggling because of a lack of trust. It is very difficult to work effectively with someone you don’t trust, especially when you have first-hand experience of their unethical behaviour. I decided to “take sleep mark death” (Jamaican proverb – use the past to judge the present) because the need to be constantly looking over my shoulders would be too much to carry. Despite the potential benefits, I did not want to be that bothered, and as no one is indispensable, I am convinced that someone else will come along.
I understand that a mature way of handling the situation would be to employ strategies that enable me to access the skills I need from the individual. Everyone has good and bad inside them and we shouldn’t just walk away from circumstances that render us uncomfortable; in that case we would always be walking away and starting over. True maturity is being able to use the information we have to develop approaches that will allow us to work with people, however unprincipled they may be. However, there is also the tiny matter of wisdom and having recognised that my level of maturity is not at that advanced I hold steadfast to my decision to walk away and safeguard my peace of mind.
Although the wrestling is over I cannot help but think how people miss opportunities because of a bad reputation. Skill is only half the story; trustworthiness, character, personality and a host of other soft qualities are equally important. In business, as in our personal lives, our reputation often precedes us and it also lingers; we cannot escape it. It is a valuable, prized possession; the behaviour that encourages others to refer our services to others. People make and maintain associations with others because of their reputation - “show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are”.
From time to time I am approached by fellow entrepreneurs for a character reference for someone they met or whose services they are thinking of contracting. This can be uncomfortable as, although I’ll never ‘dig a grave’ for anyone, I will also not engage in deceitful behaviour in order to protect them. If I had a good experience I will promote their services; if it was unpleasant I won’t, but it is not my style to block other people’s progress.
Five years ago I enlisted the services of an individual to create a professional video for a product I was promoting. The person did a dry run and promised to return but never did and I could no longer locate him. The video he produced was of very little use to me and as I had paid in advance, I lost money in the process. Recently a colleague called me to say this person had been pursuing him for a business opportunity and asked my opinion of him. I simply related the experience I had with the individual and my colleague made the decision to avoid him. The videographer missed an opportunity to access a big project that has international potential. It had taken five years but his reputation eventually caught up with him.
Individuals have to understand that when they behave ruthlessly they are digging their own graves. People are responsible for building their own reputations; they cannot expect others to fabricate it for them. We cannot expect to be recommended by people we trample on when we are on our way up to collect our pennies, for when the time comes to collect the pounds we may very well fall off the ladder.
What we say is not particularly important; it’s what we do and how we make people feel that matter. We should take care not to sacrifice long-term growth for short-term gains. Bob Marley sang “you can fool some people some time but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. The fact that we escape with being imprudent now and again should not encourage us to make it a norm in our lives.
So how does this apply in the workplace? If we under-perform how can we expect our employer to give us a good character reference? How well do we work in our teams? Do we endeavour to expose the weaknesses of fellow team members or do we strive for a high performing team where everyone feels valued? We all have moments when we veer off-track but we should never deliberately hurt those we serve. Our lives should be one of service; for whether employer or employee, we all serve each other. Our actions speak louder than our words and if we perform well we will find our businesses generating repeat customers and our customers will advertise our services. The Spanish explain it well: “Cobra buena fama y échate a dormir (develop a good reputation and you can go off to sleep) – basically once you have established a good reputation you can rest on your laurels. Leaving a storm in you wake may be impressive but it is also nonsensical.
The saying: “today for you, tomorrow for me” holds true, for no one wins all of the time. There is a French proverb puts it this way: “tel qui rit vendredi dimanche pleurera” -
he who laughs on Friday will cry on Sunday.
he who laughs on Friday will cry on Sunday.
Since “to err is human” (Alexander Pope) we will from time to time offend but once there’s life there’s an opportunity to make amends, however difficult it may be. If we make it a habit to behave with integrity those moments will be minimised and in our dealings with others we will choose to take the higher ground.