“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” – William Shakespeare
We praise people who have what we like to call “character”. They’re the kind of people who are led by principles and convictions (not the kind you do time behind bars, the other kind!). What we rarely get to see is the backside of this. What they go through because of it isn’t always the most pleasant things. I know, i’ve had the priviledge of working with this kind of people.
A guy was questioned by the authorities: “So, how are we going to get you to realize the gravity of your actions?”. He sat silent for a while. He knew what they’d done was wrong. They’re just trying to help people lead a better life. If that means bending or even breaking the rules to give people choices, is that so bad? They’d gotten away with it twice before. What most people in his situation would’ve done was to lie, blame someone else or just said “I dunno?”.
After contemplating for a while he answered candidly: “Charge us. Place a fine on us. We’ve been through this two times before. We’re not going to take it seriously unless it hurts.”.
The officer just stood there for a while, looking at him. This was probably a rare moment of honesty. People could’ve been hurt. Here was someone who’d realized that leniency wouldn’t get him or his companions to change. Finally the officer spoke: “Are you sure?”. He said: “Yes ma’am.”. The officer gave him a lecture that seemed rehearsed and didn’t really even apply. He sat there and listened politely, knowing full well that there’d be a lot of explaining to do to his companions.
Amazingly one of them actually laughed the whole thing off. The other one got royally pissed for a long time, but later thanked him since it led to a change for the better. They’d go about helping people within the confines of the law.
The CEO was clearly not pleased: “I hear what you’re saying, but why? Do you WANT me to fire you? I can’t understand why the hell you would give them ideas? They’re our enemy!”. What he didn’t realize was that the same things he most admired about his employee were what made him act in what most employers would deem as an “illoyal” manner.
He’d met with one of their “competitors” who on the fly asked him to spitball ideas. Being the creative type he’d given some pointers on how they could improve their business model and also what principles he uses when working on projects.
This sounds like a “no harm, no foul” situation when you look at it like that. But what the boss saw was basically that the employee had spilled the company beans and that this could lead to some serious consequences further down the line. It’s not like the other guy was forthcoming with any information, so why should he be? He should’ve just kept quite, right?
Well, like I said. The same things that made this guy a star were the same things that made him open up to the competition. He believes in honesty. He believes in creative competition. The other guy doesn’t need to divulge his secrets unless he wants to. If the other company can benefit from it, it means that his company needs to come up with even better and more creative solutions.
These weren’t necessarily the things the boss saw when he hired the guy. But those were the things that got him to rise quickly through the ranks. You know the old “from the mailroom to the boardroom” story? It’s almost like that. He started in the mailroom and within a couple of years was dining with the bigshots and buddying it up with the CEO.
What saved his job was that he stood his ground explaining that this would only lead the company to look at things that had stagnated. In order to grow the company would have to face these weaknesses either way. Otherwise, it would get worse down the line. He made an argument that no matter how painful it would be to change, the changes would be for the better.
Do you want to feel safe? Then DON’T do what these guys did. They foolishly risked losing their freedom and security for principles, values, honesty and integrity. Sure, the things that lead them there weren’t necessarily always the noblest of acts. What matters is what they chose to do after the fact. They couldn’t change the past, only where to go next.
“Honesty is the best policy.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Honesty has always worked for me.” – Katy Perry
“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” – Noel Coward