Tom Hagen once said, “This is business. It’s not personal.” That memorable line was uttered in “The Godfather,” arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, cinematic masterpieces of all time.
My passion for that film and the characters it created put aside, that line is a lie.
All business is personal, both fortunately and unfortunately. The personal relationships you establish in business will follow you around for years to come, and they mold the way you are viewed by your peers, by potential employers, and by the world around you. If you treat people fairly, with honesty and with integrity, that will reflect upon you. If you treat people with condescension, a lack of sympathy and a disregard for mutual respect, that will come back to you. At least this is true most of the time.
I see two kinds of people in our business. On one side are the people who value time over personal relationships, and on the other side are the people who value personal relationships over time.
As a student of people and the industry, I honestly have trouble determining which is the right path for success. There are the people who will sit and discuss business with you only when they see a personally beneficial reason why. In most cases, if you don’t pay this person to sit there, he’ll never give you the time of day.
On the flip side are the people who’ll sit and discuss a topic of interest with you for hours. These people have a way of making you feel appreciated in that moment; they give of their time freely because they know a good conversation with someone leads to mutual respect, which could come back to them down the line.
These two dichotomous personalities represent two sides of the coin: the immediate versus the long-term benefit -- or, perhaps, cash vs. karma.
Which side of the coin you represent depends somewhat on how you view personal success. If you see success as a monetary goal, then you’re apt to treat every interaction as a cash register. If you value personal relationships as wealth more important than money, then you tend to lean toward the karmic view of the world. In business, you rarely get both out of someone, but when you do it’s an amazing experience.
Both kinds of people can be successful and certainly deserve and earn your respect, but the latter are the people you tend to like more.
There are many people in this business whom I like, but far more whom I purely respect. Conversely, there are people whom I have immense respect for, but I don’t have many nice things to say about them because they have never made me feel as though they valued my time when we spoke.
If you read “People On The Move” or any of the related news items that reach us daily, you see the results of both strategies on display. Both tracks of people will get new jobs and get promoted.
From my perspective, this business is all about the people. If you’re going to succeed, you had better find the right balance of appreciating and treating the people around you with respect, valuing them as people, before you just monetize your day.
That’s why I could never be a full-time consultant. Not to knock them at all, but in the consulting world it’s a mistake to take free meetings and give away knowledge when you know you should be getting paid for your time.
I like speaking with people. I like writing these articles. I like trying to be analytical about ideas without getting immediate monetary return – a strategy typically at odds with the world of consulting, where every hour is billable.
I personally feel the more you can challenge your own way of thinking, the more you will grow and develop as a person. The more you develop, the more effective you will become -- and hopefully the happier you will be with the path that you lead in life.
Of course, you’ll make mistakes, and there’ll be setbacks along the way because no one is perfect, but at least you’ll try, and you’re self-aware enough to know who you’re trying to be. That sense of being genuine can never be taken away from you.
So the next time you interact with a salesperson or a client, think which path you want to take. The next time you take a cold call from a potential partner or the next time you meet with a referral from a friend, be aware of how you want to be viewed and how you want to be treated. And remember: Business is personal, and that’s probably a good thing.