Cheat to Compete

I’m not writing this blog to be judgmental. I’m really not. However, there are some subjects that cannot be discussed without sounding judgmental. So here goes. Let’s look at the topic of (gasp!) cheating. I can’t say whether cheating is more prevalent in the business world today than 10, 25 or even 50 years ago. Needless to say, it still is an issue that takes many forms.

Presumably we all started learning about cheating as small children. As a youngster, I remember many a board game that devolved into accusations of cheating. Our teachers and parents admonished us to never look at someone else’s paper when taking a test. Playground games were fertile grounds for cheating – remember four-square? “The ball hit the line and is out.” “No it didn’t!” “You’re a big fat cheater!” Roll the tape forward and as adults we might see team members clocking in or out for colleagues; money being borrowed from the petty cash box; résumés containing college degrees that weren’t actually earned or military service that didn’t actually happen; padded expense reports, and exaggerated (and sometimes untruthful) claims about all sorts of things.

This all may sound like a collection of relatively minor transgressions. So let me tell you a story. A number of years ago we had an apartment manager who used a corporate account at a local store to make some personal purchases totaling less than $100 – and she actually reimbursed the property without being asked. When questioned by her supervisor, she admitted her mistake. Following company protocol, the supervisor wrote a memo that ended up in her file advising her that she had violated policy with a dishonest act. In our system of progressive discipline, another such incident could be grounds for termination. This probably seems like a pretty innocuous situation – right? But the story gets worse.

A few years later it was discovered that this individual had concocted a very intricate, elaborate and almost impossible-to-discover embezzlement scheme – to the tune of $160,000. Her property received federal rent subsidies, and while we never had any money missing – her property was always 100% occupied and all rents collected every month – she figured out how to defraud the federal government. As her employer, we had to immediately re-pay the $160,000 to the government and then filed a claim under our crime insurance policy. Of course she was prosecuted but had spent all the money, so there was no way to recover the stolen funds from her. The biggest surprise came when our insurance carrier denied the claim. Why? There was a fine-print clause in the policy that denied coverage if we knowingly hired or retained an employee who was dishonest. And the damning piece of evidence was that memo in her file that contained the words “dishonest act” involving her use of a company credit account for personal purposes. I’ll spare you the ugly details of litigation against the crime insurance carrier as well as the errors and omissions insurance carrier. Needless to say we lost and ate the $160,000 (plus legal fees).

The moral of the story is three-fold. First, understand the fine details of your insurance coverage and modify your policies and procedures accordingly. Second, be careful at shrugging off small acts of cheating or dishonesty. They are a window into the overall character of an individual. What may appear to be a seemingly simple “mistake” could be the tip of a very expensive iceberg. Finally, everyone needs to see us as the paragon of virtue. We entrepreneurs need to model “squeaky clean” for our team, our customers and for the public at large. As hard as it may be, we need to demand complete and total integrity from ourselves and everyone else in our organizations. We start by always doing the right thing – especially when no one else is looking. And we hold our colleagues and associates to the same standard. The temptation may be great to cheat to compete, especially if we are struggling to gain traction. But if we do, it’s hard to expect others not to follow suit.

Integrity is not a puritanical concept. Great leaders always do the right thing and show others that it is the only standard by which to operate.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 84 – D or D?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Age of Shame

There’s an epidemic of massive proportion moving across this country at the speed of light. It has swept up the high and mighty – politicians, actors, corporate chieftains and many a lesser soul. Careers have been ruined and reputations destroyed. Why? All because of a pattern of bad behavior that is no longer being tolerated in today’s society. Claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism are reaching a crescendo with no sign of abatement. We have officially entered the Age of Shame.

Entrepreneurs need to pay particular attention to this trend. We have an opportunity to do great things, but we can easily be derailed by our own actions. This is really very simple. We must be respectful of others at all times – period. We don’t make inappropriate comments to or advances on anyone else. We don’t take actions that could be construed as discriminatory of others. We treat others as we would want to be treated.

There’s a dangerous downside to the Age of Shame. The frenzy of accusations has created a lynch mob mentality. No longer are we innocent until proven guilty. Now, convictions are swift in the court of social media. There are no trials in the current “me too” environment. We can easily become ensnared in this cycle unless we take extra care to avoid it.

Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer all have something in common. It’s called arrogance. These men thought their station in life entitled them to boorishness and worse. This sense of entitlement led them to become arrogant and fostered a belief that they were bulletproof. As entrepreneurs we may realize a great deal of success. The best way to inoculate ourselves from arrogance is to remember this. The more successful we become the more humble we should become. It’s easy to develop “swagger” with success. I’m not a fan of swagger. It’s too easy for it to become an in-your-face gesture which in turn can lead to the arrogance we must guard against.

We can avoid the Age of Shame and its corresponding pain, and replace it with our own Age of Gain. We have much to gain if we do it right. We can display the highest level of integrity and model the type of behavior that others can admire. We are color-blind, gender-blind, sexual-preference-blind and national-origin-blind. Our objective is to focus on pursuing our mission and vision utilizing all of the talent that we have available. Once again the simple calculus is that we are respectful of others at all times.

The notion of respect is easy to understand. When our team members, our customers and our vendors feel respected, they are much less likely to take offense at something we might say or do that could be misconstrued. In other words, we buy goodwill that allows us the benefit of the doubt. Harvey Weinstein didn’t get the benefit of the doubt because he was such a tyrant. On the other hand, if everyone we know sees our motives as pure, an unintentional faux pas may be overlooked.

Character really counts these days. Rightly or wrongly there’s a lot of judging going on. Walking the straight and narrow truly matters. Being completely honest isn’t just a hallmark – it’s absolutely necessary to survive in the current environment. Keeping our reputation intact is essential to navigating the minefield of shameful accusations and hyper-reactions that we are witnessing daily.

When we are respectful of others at all times, we are less likely to be a casualty in the culture war that is raging. In so doing, we can sleep at night without worrying about the consequences that we might otherwise face.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 75 – O-Fer.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

June 1, 2014 – Frankfurt Am Main, Hessen, Germany – Sexual harrassment at work: A businessman is touching his female co-worker’s leg. (Credit Image: © Frank May/DPA via ZUMA Press)

Male Pink Flamingos

Question: I have some less than flattering physical traits. Should I consider cosmetic surgery to keep my appearance from negatively impacting my success as an entrepreneur?

Answer: This question reminds me of the male pink flamingo. I’m going to stereotype here, so bear with me. For past generations (including mine) the color pink is more often associated with femininity than with masculinity. So metaphorically imagine what it must be like for the male pink flamingo. He lives his entire adult existence cloaked in bright pink. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother him one whit.

OK, I know pink flamingos are birds, and birds aren’t self-conscious. Which makes the point. Why as humans are we so concerned about our physical idiosyncrasies? There’s no question that society still gives a slight edge to beautiful people. But first impressions don’t make the world go round. It’s the substance of our character and the depth of our passion that is vital to building and sustaining relationships. I’ll bet if we made a consensus list of famous entrepreneurs we’ll find few that would make a casting call in Hollywood. I won’t name names, but can attest to the fact that this list includes the tall, the short, the very short, the rotund, the bald, the wrinkled, the liver-spotted . . . you get the picture. And when we see a photo of one of these women or men what are we thinking? I don’t see the thick glasses, but I do see an amazing bright individual who has achieved great things.

For most of us, the trouble started when we reached puberty. We were so intent on being attractive to the opposite sex that we often saw ourselves as just the opposite. And every little childhood slight magnified our feelings of inadequacy. Fortunately with age comes maturity (usually) and for the most part we are able to let go of our desire to look like we did when we were 17. But every once in a while we look in the mirror and self-doubts bubble up.

Self-doubts may simply be replaced with self-awareness. Are we well-groomed? Are our clothes clean and pressed? Do we have a smile on our face and exude a positive attitude? As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that I’ve met with some people who were wearing $2,000 Armani suits or carrying $7,500 Hermes Birkin handbags and everything about their appearance, attitude and mannerisms told me they were trying too hard. Likewise, I’ve met with entrepreneurs who were wearing off-the-rack at Wal-Mart and had childhood acne scars but were truly extroverted and genuine. Who do you suppose I trusted more and wanted to do business with?

Like the male pink flamingo we can make the choice to be comfortable in our own skin. Then the first impression we make will be about the things that really matter.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

pink flamingos