“How you do one thing is how you do everything.” ~ Madeline Albright
Thirty years ago, a business owner named Dave found himself in a critical position. A key employee had been found embezzling, and the company faced a $1 Mil shortfall. To Dave’s business, this was the difference between surviving and sinking.
After examining his options, he felt the only thing he could do was to sell the business or find a partner who would invest money to help stabilize the company. As luck would have it, he found a man named Ed who owned quite a few businesses similar to his, and who was willing to become a partner with Dave to save the enterprise’s future.
One day, as they were finalizing terms of the partnership, Dave and Ed went to lunch.
During the meal, something happened that should have tipped Dave off about Ed’s character. But he ignored it. He was desperate for funds and reasoned that the incident had nothing to do with how Ed would conduct himself in business. And because he chose to ignore this incident, it wound up quietly hurting Dave for the next 30 years.
What was the tip-off to Ed’s character during that fateful lunch?
When it was time to settle the $48 food bill, Ed offered to pay. The server brought change from Ed’s two $20 bills and the men left for their cars. As Dan and Ed stepped into the parking lot, Ed chuckled as he folded his money into his wallet.
“That gal needs to pay more attention,” Ed said. “Instead of giving me $2 change, she gave me a $1 bill and one of my $20 bills.”
“Ed – that’s obviously a mistake on her part! You’re going to return it, right?” asked Dan.
“Are you kidding?” said Ed. “If someone is going to be that careless, it’s money for me and a good lesson for them.”
Dave felt terrible. He went home and wrote an apology letter to the restaurant. Without disclosing who the offender was, he enclosed a $20 bill as repayment.
The next week, Dave and Ed signed partnership papers. Ed contributed the agreed-upon cash infusion to the business and thus saved it. He brought in a managing administrator to manage the company as agreed. Over the next 30 years, Dave enjoyed residual income from the business without having to manage it, and Ed’s appointed administrator operated as per Ed’s directives.
One day, Ed fell terminally ill, and Dave was called in by a key executive to talk about the future of the company and the partnership interests. As Dave and the executive went over opportunities, it slowly came to light that the business was charging Dave a disproportionately higher amount for expenses in facilities, upkeep, and business development for 30 years. The amount of money that should come to him as profit was staggering. Dave felt physically sick. These funds could have made a great difference to him and his family over the 3 decades that had passed, but he was now a weary 87-year-old widower with little energy left to fight the battle.
It was then that he thought back to that first lunch with Ed and heard his words, “If someone is going to be that careless, it’s money for me and a good lesson for them.”
The fact is, character does matter. Madeline Albright’s quote “How you do one thing is how you do everything,” rings true.
Now, most of you reading here will quickly say that you would have given back the $20 on the spot. I am confident that you would have done so. But no matter how honest you are, might there be other areas in your personal conduct or ways of doing that need fine-tuning?
Character does matter.
Here is a list of 10 common character flaws that have significant repercussions in life and work.
- Are you punctual and thus respectful of others and your time together, or are you perpetually late, signaling to others that they are just “not that important”?
- Do you respect good boundaries with others, or do you tend to blur the lines to the point where you become entangled in problems that aren’t yours?
- Are you careful as you commit to others, or do you tend to overpromise and under-deliver or default?
- Do you seek always to understand first, or are you prone to snap judgments before you investigate fully?
- Are you respectfully honest when asked for feedback, or do you gloss over the truth as you seek to please others?
- Are you open to constructive criticism, or do you take a defensive stance as you find excuses for the behavior in question?
- Do you seek to reconcile or release undesirable stress in healthy ways, or do you tend to carry resentment around like a boulder, compromising your relationships (and your health)?
- Are you quick to support others when they are a topic of gossip, or do you jump on the injurious bandwagon with the crowd?
- Are you respectful of what’s yours and what is company property, or do you find yourself taking home a few pens or empty file folders for your own use, because you tell yourself “it really doesn’t matter.”
- Do you operate from a place of generosity, or do you race to get that proverbial front parking spot before the other person does?
Can you think of others? What is the one area that you would like to work on that will make a difference to your life and to those around you?
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive coaching, leadership development, succession planning, change, and conflict management. She is also a Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.