I was 8 years old when I wanted to make my first bet on a football game. I was excited! There was going to be $1 at risk. My dad grudgingly agreed.
I eagerly stuck my hand out, “Dad, we have to shake hands on it to make it official.” There was a pause . . . “Marc, if you can’t trust a man without a handshake that handshake doesn’t mean much.”
Trust. Character. Two incredibly important factors in any of our relationships. Yet how often do we focus our attention on them in business? Or personally?
Personally, we can get carried away thinking a fancy job title . . . a big raise . . . or a new luxury car is what will impress clients or friends or family. Are they really impressed?
Professionally, we want to connect with the top dog, the decision maker, the one with authority. But authority and character are not the same thing.
It’s often said that character takes a lifetime to build but a moment to destroy. We can all think of people who had lots of authority and no character. As a recovering politician, I’ve met plenty.
A good question to ask yourself when interacting with potential business partners, “Are they someone to be trusted without the handshake?”
Contracts are important, and I’m not advocating entering business relationships without the proper protections. But you want to work with people who would do the right thing even without a contract. If there wasn’t a legal document to fall back on, would you still trust this person to act with integrity?
If there wasn’t a contract for others to fall back on, could they still rely on you? Are you someone they can trust without a handshake.
Character isn’t complicated. It’s simply doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. When that’s truly impossible, character is letting all parties know the situation has changed and doing what you can to make sure no one is negatively affected.
You can assume every business relationship will be tested at some point. People aren’t perfect. People mess up. You know you can trust someone, not because they don’t make mistakes or occasional stupid choices, but because they handle those situations with transparency and humility.
Some goes for yourself.
Trust is easy when things run smoothly. Character isn’t questioned when everything’s working. How do you handle your mistakes? Do you let failure paralyze you? Do you do everything possible to hide your mess, thinking you’ll never recover if people know you messed up? Or can you own your mistakes and demonstrate your own trustworthiness in doing so?
Look for people you can trust without a handshake (or a 20-page contract), and be that guy yourself.