Early in my career as a young leader I discovered that those people who cut corners, told little lies, was shady on how they managed their personal business were most likely the same way in business. I learned to avoid them in my personal life and steer around them in my business world.
I believe that character, integrity, judgment, and class are not something you turn on and off based on if you are at work or not. It’s just who you are. I believe people can change and people that make mistakes should be given more chances but character issues are hard to look past.
Here are a couple of stories that stuck with me over the years.
I played in a customer golf tournament when I was a young leader and had the President of a retail chain in my foursome. I was an above average golfer but a guy who worked for me was a great golfer. The president always found a way to have the two of us in his foursome. (That was the first sign of trouble) At the first green we had about a four foot putt for birdie and he grabs the ball and says, “good”. I thought ok maybe that’s the way they play here or they were trying to keep the pace of play a little faster. The next hole it was the same thing, there was a putt with some work to do and he yells, good.
As we made our way around the golf course we were taking extra shots if the first one did not go where we wanted it. We were picking up eagle putts. There were plenty of foot wedges from the rough to the fairway.
At the end, surprise, we won the tournament. It felt bad to go pick up the trophy. Everyone in the room knew we cheated and I really did not want to be associated with it but did not know what to do about it.
Later as I got more enraged in making business decisions with this leader I found him unresponsive, was not reliable, did not remember what we talked about and generally a pain to work with.
A few weeks later I was in another golf tournament with a big customer (yes it was a gig with fun benefits) The guy’s name was Marion Sullivan and he was the EVP for one of our large supermarket chains. He was a great golfer and loved to play. It was the same format with a foursome playing a scramble. At the first hole we had a 2 foot putt for birdie and one of the guys was going to pick it up and Marion yelled at him, “cheat at golf, cheat in life”. Needless to say we putted out every hole, there were no foot wedges, no mulligans, or extra shots. We turned in our true score and got third. That third place finish was 100% better feeling that the first place a few weeks earlier.
When Marion and I worked on new contracts together he was a tough, hard and smart negotiator. He was into every detail, incredibly response. And at the end of each deal we both felt we did all we could do. Marion was tough but fair, honest and professional 100% of the time. I got to be friends with Marion and we did lots of deals together and played in a fair amount of golf tournaments until he retired.
Many years latter my son Joshua was being awarded his Eagle Scout award a year or so after Marion retired. Marion somehow found out about it. One day a package came in the mail from Marion. It was a poster with about 15 Hall of fame football players on it all signed by them. These were the players that Marion felt had the highest integrity. It was extra special and of course my son love it.
Not only did Marion practice integrity on the golf course and in business he also played it forward after he retired.
I will never forget Marion yelling at the guy, “cheat in golf, cheat in life”
I think my buddy Marion was right.