The late General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But, if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” In a survey 1,300 senior executives identified integrity as the human quality most necessary to business success. Seventy-one percent put it at the top of a list of sixteen traits that executives needed to be effective. Character matters.
To lead a successful small business it’s necessary to build trust among your team members and customers. People want to work for people they trust and respect. It’s been pointed out by others that people don’t really quit their jobs, they quit their leaders, and I believe there is a lot of truth in that. People also want to do business with people they trust. Who wants to do business with someone they know will lie to them or steal from them? Trust is essential for long-term success in any endeavor, and it’s certainly true in small business.
How do we build such trust? We do what we say we will do when we say we will do it. We tell the truth even when the truth hurts. We under promise and over deliver. We admit when we’ve made a mistake and correct the problem. We follow the Golden Rule and treat others as we would want to be treated. We don’t misrepresent our products or services. We don’t fudge on the financials. Each of these are character issues.
When people ask me to sell items for them at auction they sometimes ask what I think an item will bring. My answer is usually the same. It depends if there are at least two people there who want it. If so, it might bring a good price. If there’s only one who’s interested in it, the item may not bring very much. Sometimes when they ask that question I’ll respond by asking what they hope to get for the item. One lady had a piece of jewelry, and when she told me what she expected to get for it I suggested she take it back home with her. I knew it wouldn’t bring nearly that much. Her sentimental attachment to that item caused it to be worth much more to her than it would to someone who might see it at an auction. In another situation a person asked me to sell several items and told me what she hoped to get for them. Again, I knew it was highly unlikely they would bring even half of what she wanted and told her so. She thanked me for my honesty and decided to not sell them. I lost the opportunity to make a commission on selling these, but I also knew that both of these individuals would have been very disappointed in what they would have received.
While talking to one person about possibly having an auction for them they expressed concern about the cost of advertising. They knew a person who was charged an excessive fee for advertising by an auctioneer who had sold their property. I explained that I always explain the advertising costs prior to signing a contract, and if the client wants we can set a maximum amount that can be spent on advertising. If I go over that amount the difference is my responsibility. I make sure that all expenses, including advertising, are clearly understood before we sign an agreement. That way there are never any surprises after the sale. Character matters. To soil one’s name in order to make a profit will not lead to long-term success.
There are certain hotel chains I prefer to stay in when I travel because I know I will receive good value for my money. There are airlines I prefer, and some I avoid if at all possible. I take my cars to the same mechanic I’ve used for years because I trust them to do what needs to be done and charge me a fair price. There are restaurants I go to because the food and service are consistently good. There are others I wouldn’t go to if you were buying my meal! Does this mean that I never have a bad experience in any of these businesses? No, there are occasionally slip-ups in all of them, but because I’ve had many good experiences in them I’m willing to overlook the occasional mistake especially when they own and correct the mistake. Character includes accepting responsibility for the occasional mistake and resolving it, and these institutions do that well. So should we.
Character matters. Be a person of character, and you’ll never have trouble finding the right team members to work for you. Be a person of character and you’ll not only have customers for life, they will even recommend you to their friends.