Previously on “Making a better past”:
In the last two episodes of Ray Donovan, er (that’s the pandemic binge watching speaking), I mean makingabetterpast I have been looking at the value and absence of integrity in the current theatre of business.
Part one: https://makingabetterpast.com/2020/12/01/integrity-thats-the-ticket-part-1/
Part Deux: https://makingabetterpast.com/2021/01/18/is-integrity-the-black-rhino-of-the-business-serengeti/
In part one we discussed the idea of integrity as an overstated objective and underachieved manifestation in today’s business community. While in part two we looked at the scarcity of it, in this segment we turn toward the challenges and true value of integrity within corporate leadership.
Throughout my career as a consultant, partner and employee, I have been lucky enough to work with several ‘captains of industry’.
Part of my approach has always been to try to understand the human behind the title before I tried to make a contribution toward the success of the business model.
I have found it important to align my own perspectives with what circumstances influenced the pursuit of the entrepreneurial vision and understand what lines in the sand define the character of the corporate leader.
With that said I have never been a “fake it ‘til you make it” kind of guy, and with but one short exception, have not worked with someone I genuinely didn’t like.
It’s not for nothing that the one exception to that was also the highest paying gig in my career.
Nonetheless, I have found that I am simply incapable of bringing my passion to a team that had values that didn’t consistently align with mine and when I tried, the result was self-evident.
For example, in the case of that lucrative gig, the owner was a man who hid his insecurities behind narrowminded, egocentric and misogynistic practices.
We would meet for breakfast and his comments about our waitress at 6:30 in the morning killed my appetite and shattered my respect for his abilities. Yeah, call me judgy but if you can’t order two eggs over easy without making an objectifying comment about the woman who serves them to you -then I’m not your guy.
In another gig, I brought my full passion to the project at 1/3 my usual rate for a guy, who inspired me with the opportunity, and the eloquence of his words. He repeated endlessly “when I win WE win”.
I criss crossed the continent for 3 years developing market awareness and negotiating a license agreement for this previously unheard of technology, and in the end brokered a deal wherein the technology was sold for $10 million to an industry leader. And that’s where part of my story ended up like so many others I have heard- cuz when “we” won, HE turned out to be the only winner.
Now some might say: Did you have it writing?
And to those I respond…
We are talking about Integrity here.
I understand the purpose and place for contractual documentation; it helps people remember the things that were said and sets the expectations of all parties.
However, in my practical experience, for all of us who have paid for the swanky cars and private schools of our lawyers’ children, we know too well that the hours we spent on paragraph 5 of page 4 of said contract, invariably were wasted as the document goes into a file and we forget the negotiated phraseology until the shit hits the fan and our ego fuels the exercise to fund our lawyer’s yacht.
Now let’s not be so cliché as to blame the lawyers, the French have an expression.
“C’est gratuit” meaning that’s too cheap an approach.
We need to remind ourselves that if there was no market for slippery wording and opportunities crafted through omission, there would be no opportunity for the slickest of snake oil salesmen to get a law degree.
I have had the pleasure of working with visionary leaders who understood that integrity was the legacy that would follow them long after the office and sometimes even after they left the planet.
They placed that legacy ahead of selling their soul to get to upgrade vehicles.
Speaking of which…my father drove a Cadillac.
In the 50’s 60’s 70’s and 80’s, that was a self-awarded token of achievement! Not my thing, but I was proud of this poverty-stricken depression child who worked his ass off to achieve his dream.
When he broke away from the family publishing business to reach for his dream, he had to borrow the sum of $25,000 to start his business.
No money and no credit, left him approaching another man who made the loan on one condition: that every year until the loan was repaid, my dad would have to provide the lender with a brand-new Cadillac.
Do the math…that doesn’t work unless you’re looking at a credit card company as a comparable business model.
While it didn’t take 2 years for my father to realize he had made a deal that was blinded by his own ambition, it did take 10 years for him to repay the loan.
And while Dad was never the biggest fan of the lender, he always managed to do what he verbally committed to do. Sometimes it took longer than expected, but he ALWAYS honored his word. No contract and lawyers fees were required.
In so doing, his word became valuable – not only to others – but to himself, resultingly he learned he was not so free to make promises one week that the next he didn’t have the integrity to honor.
He understood that integrity was his and his alone, and even if when it hurt him, he didn’t spin the circumstances to renege on a cheque his mouth had written.
All too often, today’s leaders lean too heavily on the rules created by those who have the most to gain in conflict- enter the legalese.
All too often, the willingness to disguise the shortfall of integrity with the catchall phrase “that’s just how the game is played …anyone else would do the same” seduces men who at earlier points in their career could claim integrity as their only asset
They sooth themselves with false nobility saying: “I get paid to make the tough choices” and then after cutting expenses, go out and get a new car.
But that’s where the rubber doesn’t meet the road ; often those “really tough choices” involve cutting the expense in the interest of making more money.
And last time I checked, we measure success quarterly in the corporate world, in 3 month periods- 3 MONTHS!!! Is that really the period we feel comfortably defines a legacy?
Maybe if the rules of business extended deeper into the eternal nature of the spirit (legacy, honor, or whatever term you wish to use to define the intangible) reaching beyond the rush of the quarterly bottom line, the model might shift from a continuous struggle and lament between employer/employee toward actually fostering the loyalty and heartfelt passion of a team.
Now, I’m not saying the captains are the only source of blame, remember the statement “if there was no market there would be no snake oil salesmen”?
The same thing applies if to those who choose to work for someone- if people didn’t mimic the pursuit of more! More! MORE! there would be a much smaller market for lopsided deals that handcuff great talent to the limitations of the vision of the leader or at least perpetuate a cycle of Metro-Boulot-Dodo (DM a Quebecer to translate that for you)
It’s on all who play the game to fearlessly challenge and openly discuss the brokenness of the capitalism model. To actively invest in moving this vehicle along its evolutionary path.
The challenge is the balance of power obliges that this metamorphosis must start with leaders accepting to do more for less in the short term by learning and believing that true value comes in the long term. That is super scary and can feel like pulling a rabbit out of a hat within the A.D.H.D climate that permeates the traditional model of capitalism in it’s current iteration.
Now don’t think I am advocating abandonment of capitalism in favor of some mamby-pamby-everyone-gets-a-share-regardless-of- individual-contribution-or-risk.
Not this serial entrepreneur!
I still love the thrill of the challenge of adding value to goods and services to sell for a little more than was paid.
I’m just suggesting it’s time for leadership to understand its role in creating new rules, practices and objectives for business, that extend beyond the old adage “Buy low/Sell high.
For example, I am inspired by increasing presence of “social enterprises”. These organizations that have shifted their raison d’etre from making so much money that they can choose to give some away, toward a new breed of enterprises that start with the specific intention to change some part of this connected ecosystem we all coexist within.
These leaders often savvy in the traditional sense of the game, orient themselves and their talents to make a change in the world and leverage the power of capitalism to do so. And because piety is not the objective, they can exist free from judgment to actually drive a Cadillac if they so choose, because their intention was spawned from a will to use the vehicle to make good for something beyond their own ego.
With this shift they look at every product sold as an opportunity to make an impact on something beyond themselves rather than making that a an afterthought or worse yet a marketing opportunity.
When the union showed up at the shoe factory there was a court appearance for ratification of their presence.
My father drove me down with him to testify.
The union lawyer thought himself crafty when he asked: “Mr. Wallace, what kind of car do you drive?”
I remember the direct transparency, and shamelessness in his voice when he replied: “A Cadillac- why do you ask?”
“Mr. Wallace, how many others in your organisation drive a Cadillac?”
“I don’t know what they drive at home, but I don’t see any others in the parking lot”
The lawyer then went for the jugular- “Are you comfortable with that?”
The room went quiet and I will never forget his answer:
“Perhaps a better question might be ‘how do you compensate your employees compared to your competitors, or how many of your employees own their own homes?’. I have tried to create a business that can provide people with a chance to grow and then I get out of the way to let them choose their own path as I did. Now I know, from personal experience, that in some cases my Cadillac inspires people toward competitive growth and in others it fuels collaborative growth but as long as I build a small vehicle for people to grow, my business serves the purpose I intended– to provide a chance for people to go beyond the hunger I felt when I borrowed the money to take the risk and start the company”
Afterwards, on the drive home, I asked my father for the answer to the question he referred to, without pause he told me the company paid 18% over industry standard and more than 35% of his factory floor team owned their own homes and three of his top employees had left to start their own competitive business. This was at a time when the gap between management and factory floor was very broad.
But how did he know this? Because his true intention shone through when he had co-signed on several mortgages, when other employees trusted him enough to seek his counsel and to share their moments of joy with him.
And therein, I learned the true value of integrity:
People rarely give their whole heart (and passion) to Leader who changes their word when it becomes painful and puts his own gain and desire to win as the primary objective.
It is about the leaders’ true INTENTION – Is it to see oneself in the fancy car or is it to pave the road just a little more so someone else can drive comfortably on it too?
But how did we get here?
Well…for that you might want to tune in to part 4.
In the meantime if you feel this is shareable I hope you will so we can move this along – together