I recently wrote about how knowing your “why” is imperative in today’s world of work (some would say, it always has been). Following my promise to back that post with examples – this time, I’d like to share one from a few years ago.
Long before I got exposed to thought leaders such as Simon Sinek and Gary Vaynerchuk, I had an incident that taught me the value of patience and being the bigger person. I was doing a project for a B2B customer, working directly with one of their staff members – let’s call him “M”. For this specific project, I took a subcontractor who was also a bit known in my industry – let’s call her “J”.
“M” was a hard customer do work with. He had a state-of-mind of “squeezing contractors makes you a hero”. That is of course a non-productive approach, and was absolutely not the one his employer promotes. On the other side, “J” had a state-of-mind of “screwing the customer makes you a hero”. That is too, of course, a very bad approach, and is absolutely the opposite from the one I promote.
So, as you can imagine, “M” was squeezing me and my subcontractor “J”, and was unfair with us. Then, when it came to take a leadership decision in order to bring the project to success, “J” was reluctant to do anything beyond her comfort zone (although that’s exactly what I hired her to do), and threw the problem back at me.
In the end, I chose to cover up for “J”‘s mistakes myself, taking full responsibility, and save the project from a disaster. Then, when it was time to confront “M” and his unfair dissatisfaction (I saved the project, and did way beyond what was agreed in the first place), I took all that responsibility upon myself.
After the project ended successfully, “M” clarified to me that “he will show me”, and complained to his supervisors. Then, the payment for both me and “J” got delayed… and delayed… and “M” disappeared completely. “J” was reluctant to do anything to satisfy the customer, and demanded that I will cover for her part, not caring for any later consequences.
That’s where I took my decision: I’m willing to “lose” now, in order to hopefully “win” more, later. I paid “J” her full part right away, and let the company “M” was working for (he already disappeared) not pay me for a few months.
Why? Because it bought me leverage. It made both sides “owe me”, and not the other way around. That company cannot complain about the service (which they had no real reason to, anyhow), since they themselves were unfair by not paying. Next time, they will have to pay more. My subcontractor “J” could never come with future demands, for she was selfish, and just wanted her cut. Next time, she will have to give more, and for less.
And me? I took the risk and believed that every day I’m still not paid – I’m buying leverage. Why? because we are in the same business community. Same market. Same industry. We will all meet again around the corner… So, being the bigger person and doing the right thing will not only guarantee I will get paid eventually – but will also grow my reputation, and what people will say about me behind my back. It is as if, in some way, I chose to get paid later, and invest that money for a certain amount of time to grow my reputation.
This is not just “Kumbaya” and “be a good person” – It’s smart marketing and branding for the longer term. It’s an ROI positive investment.
Here’s what happened, in the following months:
- “M” is no longer working for that company.
- “J” went out of business, and went to pursue a different career.
- They both disappeared from my market.
- I got fully paid, eventually, with an apologize by the company for “M” and his behavior.
- That company became later on one of my biggest, most-trusted, long-term customers.
Therefore, here are my takeaways from this post:
- First, execute and take action. Only afterwards, go talk. Pursue justice from a position of strength, after gaining leverage.
- Reputation is more important than brand. It’s not your logo, or website, not your PR and not even testimonials from customers in your website. It’s what they actually say about you behind your back.
- When you know your why, your industry and market are your community. You are there because you want to, and you are there to stay.
- Therefore, since everybody meets around the corner, you play for the long run.
- You become patient, and it helps you win.