Never Make This Fatal Mistake – Do It Once And Lose Forever

I was quite literally shattered last week when someone did something that shocked me very deeply. I was dismayed. Stunned. It hurt me personally, but hurt them much, much more. This person made one of the biggest mistakes we can make in life. Avoid it at all costs. Please. Here it is.

I wrote a post about Australian business icon David Gonski, who once said to me: “Staying pissed off is a luxury in business.” I have had to remind myself of this these past few days. Happily, I am now reconciled. Because I realize the person who pissed me off actually hurt himself far more than anyone else.

Quite simply, this person broke the most fundamental rule to building a business career and –many would say- a life to be proud of. Fail this rule, and you will not be remembered well. To succeed, this must be the basis of everything you do. Here it is:

Be true to your word

It’s a simple as that. If you make an agreement, shake hands on a deal, make a promise, make a commitment- then stick to it. Honor it. Be true to your word. It does not need to be a signed contract. It’s about your word.

This person, despite looking me in the eye a week prior and, literally hand on heart telling me our agreement was on track, knew all the time that it was not. He knew he was not going to honor the three handshakes he’d had with me in preceding weeks confirming his word that we had a firm agreement. He knew he was going to do something quite the opposite. He’d been working on the other direction for weeks, while keeping me ‘warm’.  I could accept his having second thoughts and bringing our discussion to a halt, despite his commitments. But to keep reassuring me of his positive intent while exploring and then deciding on another direction- that sucks! I absolutely reject his outright deception and lack of integrity. He was not true to his word. His handshake meant nothing.

I read a business magazine in my hotel room in Singapore a few weeks ago- an article on the ‘Best advice I was ever given’, with 20 global business leaders giving their view. One said this:

“The best advice I was ever given was from my Dad- who said: ‘Your reputation is your most important asset.’”

This person’s reputation as being ‘trustworthy’ was frankly not good when I started dealing with him, but I stupidly put that aside as I was attracted to the bigger picture of what was possible. Now his true character has been exposed to me, and to my colleagues. The fact is, for the rest of our time, whenever his name is mentioned, we will shake our heads and mutter:” Oh well, he was not made of the right stuff.” His reputation with us is gone forever.

His colleagues are sadly tainted by it too.

As George Washington said: “Associate with good men (and women) of quality if you esteem your own reputation: for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because while we all probably know how critical it is to be true to our word, how character underpins reputation and how important our reputations are, it takes someone to really let themselves down like this for us to get the reminder- the slap in the face. I feel so sad for the person involved. And so damned passionate about ensuring I never forget that my word is my bond. And I wanted to give you a little reminder too.

Truthfully, it has also made me feel better to write about it. That’s because I am small minded and weak- but hell, I do feel better.


I read this quote from Buddha at the weekend: “Sometimes not getting something you really want is a wonderful present.”  That’s how I feel today about the agreement with that person. How lucky am I that I did not get what I wanted!



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37 Responses to Never Make This Fatal Mistake – Do It Once And Lose Forever

  1. Aryeh Sternberg December 5, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    A couple apt quotes:

    “Word is bond, yo.” – American rapper circa 1990’s

    “Dare to be True” – Motto for Milton Academy High School, Boston, MA, USA (my alma mater)

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      You said it bro.

  2. Blake December 5, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    It’s up there in my ‘least desirable traits’ list. Some people believe that the ‘Look after number one’ rule trumps all other decent behaviour rules.

    If only he’d followed Lindsay Lohan’s advice “Say ‘no’ more than ‘yes,’ and just make sure you surround yourself with good people.”

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      Well said! Thanks Blake

  3. John Gardner December 5, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Nice story, Chris. He/She has done you a favour… Buddha was right!

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Thanks Gardy!

  4. Greg Savage December 5, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Well said. And excellent that you shift the failure in this to where it belongs. With the untrustworthy one. Often we punish ourselves for “being gullible” or “not seeing it coming” but in fact basic integrity is the foundation upon which civilisation, not only business, exists.

    I wrote on a similar theme here

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Thanks Greg- great post. Chris

  5. Gerald Richards December 5, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    My Father instilled in me the Latin “Dictum meum pactum” – my word is my bond. Always stood me in good stead and still does. Of course some will take advantage, but one cannot live by their rules and at their level as I’d find the descent too abrupt. But most people will honour their commitments as evidenced by your shock at such treatment. The time to be concerned is when we are no longer shocked or surprised by such behaviour.

    A similar thing happened to me recently. Was contacted by someone who wanted me to present at their January 2013 conference on certain financial aspects. He said I’d been recommended to him and as he didn’t have the financial knowledge would be difficult for him to present the topic. We met and I explained what and how I’d get the topic across . He was pleased and said he’d use me. I even sent an email confirming his order. Now he won’t return my emails or SMS. I suspect he just wanted information and had no intention of using me so, as the trainer, he could present the subject himself. If what I suspect is true, then he’ll be in for a very big shock.

    We’re not talking about the same person are we?!

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Thanks Gerald. No- not the same guy I don’t think but could be!! I love your line ‘The time to be concerned is when we are no longer shocked….’. Well said!

  6. Tony Bonney December 5, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Thanks for this Chris. This was my father’s advice to me as well. He always said if you look after your reputation first you enhance the company you work for and the ideas and people you represent. You are given room to move and occasionally fail because of the trust that develops. It’s been a good reminder for me today. Thanks.

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Thanks Tony- appreciated. I have yet to get the courage to publish that other blog post story I discussed with you at breakfast. I wrote it, even mention you in it but not ready yet to go live!

  7. Mason December 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Nice post Chris. Without integrity we don’t have a business, and it has become a competitive advantage for us.

    We do what we say for our clients and we work with clients who do the same. Funnily enough “clients” who don’t operate that way wonder why they can’t retain their employees or fill their job vacancies.

    Funny that!

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      Thanks Mason- appreciated

  8. Mel Watson December 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Well said Chris. There was one person clearly in my mind as I was reading this – someone who I’d never work for or with as a result of her unprofessional and deceitful conduct all those years ago. I guess we’ve all encountered those people that naively justify their actions as “just business”, without even realising that exact same action is doing irreparable damage to their business and, more importantly, their soul.

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks Mel!

  9. jude December 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Great post. For me the sheer duplicity of his nature is the most telling, just be pleased you can limit your contact with someone of this calibre. And yes, you most certainly dodged a bullet!

    I agree, your word/reputation is one of your truly owned & controlable tools, use it wisely 🙂

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Thanks Jude!!! Hope you are well and happy, Chris.

  10. Conan December 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Another great article thanks,
    I never write back to any of these but I am an avid consumer.
    But this one has inspired me to share my experience of this concept. My first bit of advice in my first “real” job. I was told by a typical Upper Northshore perfumed steamroller that she is not convinced I’m the right person for the job but I’m the best of the bunch. “Here are your areas, here is your booking sheet now off you go”. As I’m walking out of her office dead set on proving her wrong she lets fly with – “young man, let me give you one piece of advice – in business, the only thing you have going for you is your name and the only person who can ruin that is you”. I already new that but having it put in words in that situation has stuck with me. It’s my motto in life and business. It doesn’t mean I don’t bugger things up from time to time. But my clients take confidence in the fact that if I do make a mistake I own up, find a solution and get it fixed. I do this because I told them I would deliver and if I don’t then I have not kept my word. It has cemented more relationships than never making a mistake.
    Anyway, I did prove her wrong – but she told me years later she knew I would. She had my number from the start – that’s what made her such a great operator and mentor.

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      Fantastic story Conan- thanks very much for sharing it.

  11. Tony Monaghan December 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm #


    I couldn’t agree more with you.

    Your reputation arrives in a boardroom, meeting room or office long before you do. It’s one of the few things in life that you alone can take complete control of.

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      Thanks Tony- agree!

  12. Fiona December 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Karma’s always a bitch and i am pretty sure this person will discover what it’s like to be at the receiving end of behaviour like this. Unfortunately we end up meeting too many people who dont think twice about being dishonourable or unprofessional. Dont let it taint your faith in human kind though. Without that belief, we’re all royally buggered! 🙂

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      So true Fiona, so true!

  13. Greg Flynn December 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Good grief! Was the cad [name redacted]? Yes, I thought so. It reminds me of the time [name redacted] advanced across the room towards me, his hand outstretched and [this long anecdote has been edited for length]. A lesson learned, I think you’ll agree.

    • Chris Savage December 6, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Thanks Greg. Time for your pills again!

  14. John December 6, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Hi Chris
    Your article reminds me of a quote a collegue of mine was famous for. His view was “Your reputation arrives on foot but can leave on a horse”. Took me a while to make sense of this but very true in deed. Have a great Xmas . J.

    • Chris Savage December 6, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Thanks John- I like it!

  15. Hugh Fraser December 6, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I didn’t know you were Paramatta’s recruiting manager Chris …

    • Chris Savage December 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Don’t get that one Hugh- I am a rugby union man!

  16. Hugh Fraser December 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Well being a rugby man, surely you’ve read about Folau’s signing for the Tahs, and the shrieks of outrage and betrayal (which seem justified to me) from the leaguies that this gentleman and his people reneged on an agreement and had merely used Parra to get out of the AFL.
    In the spirit of this blog its actually worth examining that whole issue as a great example of how two parties can have a different understanding of the same agreement. And seek to give their interpretation of events.

    • Chris Savage December 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

      Aha! Fair enough.

  17. Jeff Estok December 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    An excellent reminder, but I think there are actually two lessons here–the second one being “trust your gut”. Which you and I have talked about before.

    And in this case, even though your gut was telling you that this was a person of question, you chose to forge ahead anyway.

    Those who achieve success in this industry–and you are certainly one of those–do so by listening to that unerring voice in their head.

    It is those times that we choose to ignore it that we usually get burned.

    Sublesson to your main point, but a point that I felt was worth adding.

    • Chris Savage December 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

      Thanks Jeff. You are quite right of course. It was a mistake for sure. Chris

  18. James December 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Absolutely spot on, again you’d be surprised how many just can’t keep their word.

    I had an experience like what you’ve described a few weeks ago, if there’ no loyalty or trust then you have a group of individuals who are self serving and not a team.

    Also Warren Buffet put it rather eloquently, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

    • Chris Savage December 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Thanks Shamus!


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