Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Most Important Attribute

We all know people who aren't really going anywhere or doing anything. We look at them and we think "why don't they just do this?" or "if they only did that, they'd be all set." For some reason, they just can't seem to get ahead and get out of the rut. Alternatively, we know some people who for some reason just seem to be unstoppable, they're heading straight for the sky on a rocketship. What separates these two types of people?

We think well they must have a good attitude, that's why they're so successful and all those people who are stuck in a rut have a bad attitude about things and that's why they are where they are. The problem with this is that we ignore the reflexivity of the situation: that perhaps the person has a bad attitude because he's in a rut, or the person has a good attitude because he's on the up and up.

So where does each of these situations arise from? I like to think that each person's situation is, at the core, a result of one attribute. This attribute is the most important factor in both business and personal relationships and creates good fortune for you through others consistently into the future. That attribute is integrity.

When we say "integrity," we're talking about the definition of ourselves as a person, how reliable we are to others, and how we go about our lives when nobody is looking. Probably the most important component of these is the reliability factor.

When we think back to the past, we all start out perfectly trusting of others and then at some point we got burned. It hurt us so much that we resolve that we can't trust anybody anymore, we'll just get hurt and we're not going to put ourselves in that position again. But our very nature as humans is to want to trust people (that's how we got burned in the first place!), we just have developed this "shell" along the way to protect ourselves.

Instead of thinking "never trust anybody" and concentrating on the symptom, let's focus on the cause and work on that. When we work on ourselves first from the inside, we have the power to change our world on the outside. If we strive every day to work on our do what we say we're going to do, to be there for others when they are relying on us, and to live by our own standards, we are putting things into motion on the outside. People over time will begin to see us as someone they can trust and someone who actually gets things done, and in return they will want to be the same back.

Let's look at an example of how vital integrity is. Let's assign a scale to integrity: if we always do what we say we're going to do, we'll say we have 100% integrity. If we are credible most of the time, we'll say we have 80-90% integrity. If we are credible some of the time we'll say we have 60-70% integrity, and so on and so forth all the way down to 0% integrity.

So let's say we are at work and figuratively speaking, we have a 100% integrity (unlikely as unexpected events do occur and nobody's perfect!). If we say we are going to do something by a certain day and we  don't, we have just gone from being credible all of the time to being credible most of the time. Now on the surface that's not too bad, we might say "well nobody's perfect, John. We're still reliable most of the time" and that'd be correct. However, if we look at the scale we've assigned, just from missing that one deadline we've now dropped our credibility 10-20%! That's huge! You tell any investor they just lost 10-20% of their money and they would be fuming. That's because they know that in order to get to their original goal of a proper return, now they will now need to earn back 30-40%! A lot harder to do than just the original 10-20% they needed.

It works the same way in personal relationships. If we show ourselves to be unreliable in any situation, we no longer have to show that we are x reliable, we now need to show that we are 2x reliable. If we let a friend down, we now have to work harder to earn that trust back. Why put the extra workload on ourselves?

The dichotomy of the situation is that in the social world, being unreliable can actually create social value on the surface. Social value in the sense that if we cancel on someone or don't show up, we are inconspicuously communicating "hey I've got options, I'm wanted by people, I'm not always available." However, how long do you think that person is going to put up with that before we just start to look like a jerk?

I remember I used to always be about creating social value. A few years ago I had just started to date this girl, and when I would compliment her, I used always do what's called a takeaway. A takeaway is when you give someone a compliment but you in effect, take it away at the last minute to leave them wanting more. My favorite one I used to use was "don't let that go to your head." So I could say to her "you know, you really know how to hold my attention...but don't let that go to your head." In essence, what this is is a protection mechanism that says in less obvious terms "I think you are this, but don't start taking advantage of me now that you know that because I've got options."

The fact of the matter is that a takeaway works on the surface, it does create social value no matter who you give it to. However, there came a day when I was on the phone with her and I gave her a compliment and did the usual takeaway and I'll never forget what she said to me. She said "you don't need to do that anymore, we're past that now." I was floored, but I learned something valuable. That as relationships begin to deepen, all those little social value mechanisms we use start to lose effectiveness because they now know who we really are.

The point I'm making is this, that if we decide to show who we really are from the beginning, we can create an even bigger impression on someone. That while others may be doing these social value parlor tricks and backflips with us all the time, we remain consistent in our integrity and in our belief of who we are. When the relationship does begin to deepen and the players have to show their cards, your cards are what you have been representing to them all along. This makes such a huge impact on people and inspires a great deal of admiration because they think "wow this person was exactly who I thought they were from the beginning." How often can we think that about the people we meet?

That makes us inspirational because they have just learned something valuable from us through example. And what would you rather people think about you, "hey they are pretty cool" or "wow, they are really an inspiration"?

I think the difference is clear.