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A young professional recently asked me to explain how to best measure performance of organizations and professionals while discerning true motivations for each in framing solutions to unidentified, often unrealized, problems. The discussion involved a recent ‘seven minute assessment’ speech regarding personality typing and organizational profiling early in the rapport while gauging in potential Clients the desire for lasting, transformational change. After twenty minutes, he paused briefly before his next question surprised me.

How do you know when to lie to your Client? A period of awkward silence fell between us as a bolt from the blue would have left me no less apoplectic. His straight delivery and open body language left no doubt of his sincerity. How to respond?

Those who know me realize my being dumbstruck occurs as frequently as the Chicago Cubs hoisting NL Pennants over Wrigley Field. After gathering myself, my first thought was to answer his question with one of my own, “First, permit me to ask you a question. Do you understand the distinction between the Japanese concepts of ‘face’ and ‘honor’?” His puzzled expression and furrowed brow also left no doubt that we lost each other in the changing of paradigms from West to East. Waiting briefly for a response that would never come, I continued “Permit me to explain”.

The Concepts of Face and Honorkanji-honor
“The Japanese view personal honor or integrity quite differently than Westerners. Subtleties of ancient customs, rituals, and rites imbued in professional expectations in the Far East fill volumes. Oversimplifying the matter greatly for purposes of this discussion, I would ask that you consider two concepts unique to the Japanese – face and honor. Vastly different, though inter-related, I argue these as germane to our current business practices in the United States and pay rich dividends to those that pay heed. Bear with me on this; I promise to bring it full circle.

“Many Japanese consider honor (an amalgam of what Westerners would consider personal integrity, honesty, competence and moral courage) as ‘what is’; more specifically, that which a man possesses internally whereas face is how others perceive honor within that man. Honor requires a lifetime to develop and a momentary lapse of judgment to forever compromise. Losing face from a disrespectful act or slanderous remark by another draws conflict even today. Integrity matters. It remains something worth fighting for. Honor extends through the individual to his family and certainly the organization represented. The idea of acting shamefully is abhorrent. Consider the story of the 47 Ronin and how these men avenged the murder of their Lord, the loss of face within the community and eventually proved honorable when surprising all in avenging their Master. Now, while you may never storm a castle to avenge the loss of your Region Manager, a fundamental truth exists in all of this that I believe lost in our Western world. It encompasses many words; Integrity, Honesty, Character, Courage, Humility, Grace and Gratitude. These signposts mark the path of a professional life worth leading. More likely to be mocked than adopted in any of the curriculum of the major business schools, consider the significance of how friends, family and – particularly for this discussion – clients, perceive those traits.

“Western thought devolved over time to the point where we now consider every experience through a prism of personal beliefs. We reject God for truths thought self-evident. For some, this latitude permits a freedom of thought excusing anything while condoning most reprehensible behavior as a result of differing perspectives – just another hue amongst many shades of gray. These shifting sands of moral relativism compel many otherwise good men and women to marginalize their integrity in justification of vain pursuits, placing personal gain ahead of the Client or organization.

Simplicity and Transparency
“Things change. The pendulum swings back and hope exists as it always does in the wellspring of our youth and new thinking. Though somewhat occluded by the distractions in our lives, we often find ourselves (and others) by remaining true to our calling to serve others while persevering in faith, hope and charity. Simplicity. Transparency. Enduring Transformation. These are more than words. Consider what these should mean to you in all interactions.

“The question you posed, “how do you know when to lie”, struck me as unusual. You knew the answer before you asked. You know now. You’ll know when arriving at a crossroads in your life years hence. It will call to you as clearly as the tolling of a bell. The dilemma faced quite frankly is whether you possess the moral courage to bear the consequences of a just decision. My advice? Take the high road and educate your Client on the appropriate course of action regardless of the professional ramifications. Offer to help an existing Client sign a competitive proposal if that firm provides greater demonstrated value than yours given the same circumstances. Will that change perception? Yes. Clients invariably respect this. Why? Because integrity matters – always.”

This young man will undoubtedly go on to perform brilliantly in whatever role he next assumes. I had plenty of windshield time to think through this conversation and as of this message, I remain unsettled in knowing something deeper may have been lurking in his question. Selling ‘Solutions’ requires deep and broad knowledge to permit Advisors to consult appropriately on Strategic, Operational and Tactical considerations. It mandates constant education, networking and stoking a passion for unlocking latent organizational potential. It involves developing deep and lasting relationships founded on trust. Some fake it and get by. Most perform adequately and earn a reward for the effort. Those few true believers make all the difference.

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