One of the most basic human virtues, and the most often overlooked in business, is honesty. Most people, professional or not, develop a cynical view of business, and people involved therein; they base their actions on the belief that businesspeople will, given the opportunity, take advantage of others for personal gain.
Unfortunately, this attitude is sometimes justified, but even more unfortunately, more often it is not. Cases of dishonesty, both in and out of business, and their impacts live vividly in our memories, leading us always to question the motives of others.
These cases, from Bernie Madoff to Tiger Woods, demonstrate the importance of honest dealings. Honesty is, however, a two-way street: Just as it is necessary to ensure that you deal with good, honest people, it is as important to always practice honesty when dealing with others.
Many crooks and criminals focus on the short-term benefits of dishonesty, namely the “quick buck.” Rather than dedicating the time and loyalty to building sound relationships, these crooks prefer to take the easy road, never stopping to consider the ramifications of their actions, even the possibility of prison in the case of those who act outside the law.
What many crooks never ask what they will do when their reputation is destroyed, and their relationships ruined. After all, once someone lies to us, how can we know, at any point down the road, that they are being honest? Once someone has betrayed our trust, how are we ever to take them again into our confidence?
This is, unfortunately, how most marriages break down over time. Most start off with a small lie, which often beget larger, more significant deceptions. Once the first lie is told, it only gets easier to deceive further, often to protect the original lie.
To borrow a common truism, a bell cannot be un-rung. This is even truer in today’s society, with the prevalence of technology. In years past, people could cover-up their transgressions, which often faded into the annals of history. Today, a simple Google search, from anywhere in the world, can resurrect a person’s past. When it comes to our histories, we cannot run, nor can we hide.
The drawbacks to dishonesty are hardly limited to those who do wrong; they also cast a person’s associates, colleagues, and family in the same poor light. Madoff, for example, has hurt the reputation of nearly every person working in the investment field, just as a few crooked politicians have bred skepticism of the whole lot.
For specific examples, look no further than the 2004 Presidential Election, and John Kerry’s highly publicized experiences in Vietnam. Likewise, is it likely that Al Gore will ever live down the reputation he earned for claiming that he invented the internet? Can George W. Bush ever go back and correct some of the comments he made that have become famous on YouTube?
The bottom line here is that everything we do nowadays is extremely well chronicled. We cannot erase our past, or even edit it. As a result, our reputations are likened to first impressions: we only get one. As such, it is infinitely important that we guard it well; and always act in the way we want others to see us, both now and in the future.
This blog is written weekly by Dock David Treece, a registered investment advisor with Treece Investment Advisory Corp. It is meant to share insight of investment professionals, including Dock David and his father, Dock, and brother, Ben, with the public at large. The hope is that the knowledge shared will help individuals to better navigate the investment world.