Thursday, December 13, 2007

Honesty, a lesson from Harvey

Many folks around my age think of Jimmy Stewart and the invisible rabbit when I mention "Harvey". ( Go check out the movie some time.) But this time Harvey is Harvey Mackay who's writings 20 or so years ago helped fuel my career.

This was in my email today:

Live and work like your mother is watching

I had the great honor several months ago of being inducted into my high school Hall of Fame at St. Paul Central in St. Paul, Minn. Previous honorees include Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip; Richard Schulze, founder and chairman of Best Buy; and Dave Winfield, a member of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.

Approximately 500 selected students were invited to the auditorium for the ceremony and to hear a few remarks from this year's recipients. I shared four ideas with students, the first three being: 1) Believe in yourself—even when no one else does, 2) Don't quit and 3) There is no "I" in team.

I want to touch here on my fourth point: Act like your mother is watching.

Let me tell you a true story about Professor Bonk who taught chemistry at Duke University. One year, three students were taking chemistry and all earning a solid "A" going into the final exam. The weekend before finals they decided to go to another school to party with some friends. They didn't make it back to Duke until early Monday morning, in no shape to take the final.

They explained to Professor Bonk that they had been away for the weekend and had planned to come back in time to study, but they had a flat tire on the way back and didn't have a spare, so they didn't get back to campus in time.

Professor Bonk agreed to let them make up the final on the following day. What a relief! They studied all night. When they arrived for the exam, Professor Bonk placed them in separate rooms, handed each of them a test booklet, and told them to begin.

They saw the first question was simple, worth 5 points. Piece of cake! Then they turned to question 2, worth 95 points: "Which tire?"

Unfortunately the business community does not get stellar grades for ethics the past few years. Too many companies have tried to fool the public.

Ethics and integrity must be the cornerstone of your existence. If you want your employees to tell the truth, a company better start by being truthful with their employees.

Let me tell you about our mission statement at MackayMitchell Envelope Company, which is: "To be in business forever."

What does that mean? It stands for no hidden liabilities ... no cutting corners ... no small print under the small print ... no red flags.

We in the business community need to set a good example for our young people. Surveys show that a disturbing number of students cite recent corporate and political scandals to justify their dishonesty.

It's critical to use good judgment so that you aren't hauled up before a court. And I'm talking about the court of public opinion as much as any court of law. If you don't use good judgment, you're already judged—especially in business.

A mother was invited for dinner at her son Brian's apartment. During the course of the meal, Brian's mother couldn't help but notice how beautiful Brian's roommate, Jennifer, was.

Brian's mom had long suspected a relationship between Brian and Jennifer. Over the course of the evening, while watching the two interact, she started to wonder if there was more between them than met the eye.

Reading his mom's thoughts, Brian volunteered, "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you Jennifer and I are just roommates."

About a week later, Jennifer came to Brian saying, "Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the beautiful silver gravy ladle. You don't suppose she took it, do you?" Brian said, "Well, I doubt it, but I'll send her an email just to be sure."

So he wrote: "Dear Mom: I'm not saying that you 'did' take the gravy ladle from the house, I'm not saying that you 'did not' take the gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner. Love, Brian."

Several days later, Brian received an email back from his mother that read: "Dear Son: I'm not saying that you 'do' sleep with Jennifer, I'm not saying that you 'do not' sleep with Jennifer. But the fact remains that if Jennifer were sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the ladle by now. Love, Mom."

Mackay's Moral: Never lie to your mother ... or anyone else.

Miss a column? The last three weeks of Harvey's columns are always archived online.

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