How often have we heard the maxim, “You have to be a dick to be good in business?” Many businessmen (investment bankers, real estate moguls, attorneys) fresh-faced and bright-eyed, ravenous to carve out their path in the world have taken this approach to heart and fully digested it. They seem wholly convinced such an approach will grant them immunity from being their competitor’s din-din. Such men and women know what they want and will stop at nothing to get it – preferring to be a shark in the game rather than a hapless minnow; or at least that is how they perceive themselves to be if they are….oh, I don’t know….nice. Let’s also consider if they were to be respectful in their business dealings, or honest. What would happen if these sharks were to, hypothetically speaking, introduce application of the good ‘ol Golden Rule to their lives which also includes <<Gasp!>> business practices. So Bernie Madoff, how’s that working out for ya? What about you Kenneth Lay? Have any regrets? We would be here for days if we were to shine a light on all of the greed, corruption and egocentric practices in business that have, at the end of the day, blown up in their faces.
Can we really afford to separate the universal laws of cause and effect, of “Do unto others as you would have done to you” from our business dealings? Do universal laws such as “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” simply fly over anything having to do with business and accumulating money? Do such laws only apply to personal relationships but not professional dealings? Of course not. To believe such a thing is not only naive but completely ignorant. The reality is if one is unethical in his business practices it may “seem” like he is getting away with nefarious, self-serving acts, but the negative repercussions will inevitably manifest themselves in some way at some point in the future. From the most subtle manifestations of “dickdom” to the most blatant, let’s examine a few and analyze how truly effective they are.
How many managers have we worked with or under who are downright abusive, volatile, moody and who justify their behavior as being necessary to “get things done?” How effective is this? The differences between getting things done and using fear and intimidation tactics to sublimate employees are stark. There is very clearly an error in thinking which confuse so many into using this “rookie” tactic of being a jerk. Having high standards and expectations need not be synonymous with acting like an unscrupulous, careless, “Me-focused” child throwing temper tantrums at will or steamrolling over those in his path with no acknowledgment or responsibility towards his treatment of another human being.
To be sure, this “rookie” practice of not taking responsibility for how one treats others in business seems to largely come down to insecurity. When one deems himself as outside of the universal laws of cause and effect he eventually gets a wake-up call and will take a hit to his business in some iteration or another. Compare this with the manager who has always been honest and ethical in his business dealings, grown slowly and accumulated the trust and respect of both his employees, and yes, even his competitors. Who do you think will have the longer staying power? When systems fall and collapse that we have had a hand in creating, it behooves us to look at why they disintegrated and take responsibility for our part in such negative manifestations. Will we continue to breathe life into a system or code of business practice that has failed us? Or will we soberly examine how it was our principles and ethics (or lack thereof) that led to the demise of the model. Whether it be the shame around AIG, or a company’s high employee turnover due to mistreatment, such companies will take a hit in some way. To believe that certain universal principles don’t apply to sharks in business who succeed at the expense of the customer’s loss is an illusion.
Conan O’Brien, on his last night of his 7-month stint on the Tonight show, exemplified what it means to be successful in business as well as to be successful in human affairs. He went out with class and expressed not his bitterness but his gratitude for the opportunity and that kindness and hard work are always rewarded. This is why his fans love and respect him. It is easy to be a jerk and to react in a small or selfish way in business dealings. This is the way of a child. It is not always easy to think of others before ourselves when the holy carrot-and-stick called Money is hanging over our heads tempting us to breach our own codes of conduct. At the end of the day, it is the Conan O’Brien’s and spiritually-driven SalesForce empires who reap the rewards – not necessarily the short-term rewards, mind you, but the long-lasting ones. These are the people who can look themselves in the mirror at the end of the day with dignity, with integrity and can be proud of the example they are setting for their employees, their successors and even their children. How many children do you know who would feel proud bragging to his friends, “Yes, daddy drives a Lambourghini and I will easily go to any school I want, but he’s in prison and I can’t play ball with him like the other kids and their daddies.”
To inject the Golden Rule into business dealings might seem to some trite and naive, but to ignore this rule carries with it a steep price, ill health, unwanted stress, embarassment and a loss of respect. The most successful businesses are focused on service, good will, honesty and deep appreciation of their employees. Southwest, Google, SalesForce.com are some examples to name a few. The Bernie Madoff’s of the world may win the battle but they will lose the war. And for what? Spirituality in business is not some New Age frou-frou concept, but a necessary ingredient for long-term rewards, respect and success. To attempt to deny as much is a fool’s errand.