Ethics is Not a Choice
To justify my title, let me start with two assumptions:
1. You are in your current industry for the long-run. You want to be in the same industry for the next 30 years.
2. You would like to make as much money as possible given the same time and workload.
If those assumptions are untrue, then disregard this article. If they are true, pleas read on.
If you plan on being in a business for an extended period, you have no choice but to be honest and ethical in all of your dealings. In an ever-shrinking business world, reputations are more global and more fragile than ever in human history. Privacy is a luxury that most people can no longer afford. Since we live much of our lives on the internet (I’m looking at you Facebook and Twitter) and every bad deal, misquote and scam can be looked up instantaneously through Google, everyone knows almost all of your business whether you want them to or not.
So, if you think you can lie to an employer, a client, or even a janitor, think again. It will come back to you sooner or later.
I happen to work in commercial real estate in Atlanta, and in a massive city of almost 6 million people this business is actually a small, close-knit community. If you rob Peter to pay Paul, Paul is going to find out about it. So will Frank, Joe, Tom, Dick, and Harry. There is nothing you can do about it. Sooner or later they will find out that you scammed someone in a deal. Do you think that makes them more likely to do deals with you or less likely?
In most of the deals I have seen, there is almost never just one bidder. Many brokers bid for listings. Several buyers bid for property or note purchases. Multiple lenders chase the same loans. So if Company A is competing against Companies B, C, D, and E, and I know that Company A scammed one of my competitors, they are automatically off the table. Even if their bid is 10% better than everyone else’s. No price is worth dealing with unethical, immoral, or dishonest people. Those headaches and sleepless nights are just not worth it.
I think the same logic applies in an interview. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I am a hiring manager at a local real estate firm. I sell real estate widgets. You come in to interview with me and tell me that you have always wanted to sell real estate widgets and your life’s dream is to be the best real estate widget salesman on the planet. Ok, I buy it and I hire you.
Then, all of the sudden you leave our company after 6 months (or however long) and do retail leasing for Jim’s Leasing Shack. That is completely the opposite of what you told me. So, when you said you wanted to be the world’s greatest RE Widget Guy, you were lying to my face.
Down the road, when I own a few key shopping centers and I am looking for a good leasing agent, do you think I will be calling you to see if you will lease my property? Fat chance.
The key here is that skill sets at a certain level are relatively even. For example, 40-year-old leasing agent A has the same basic skill set that 39-year-old leasing agent B has. There is very little difference between the skill sets of the two agents. So I have to differentiate with other criteria. Sure, you can lease some space, but do I trust you? Will tenants trust you? Do I really want someone who would lie to my face to represent me and my center to potential clients?
So the overarching moral of the story is that the world is so small and this community is so close, that you really have no choice but to be honest and ethical in all of your dealings. If you are not, then be prepared to watch your competitors pass you by as people hear of your flim-flammery. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but, mark my words, sooner or later it will catch up with you and your business will suffer.