Comments from Charles Brook, Partner at Poppleton & Appleby
You can read all the biographies you like and listen to every TED Talk ever broadcast; there is one single, inalienable truth about life and, therefore, business – everything is relative to your unique perspective at that specific moment in time.
What you see, hear, believe, comprehend, trust/distrust, sense, and save to memory is time and chronologically specific to you. I’m making this point because I don’t believe for a second that there are a particular set of lessons that we must learn to be successful in business; these are just some of mine.
In a lifetime career (and I mean that literally), I have experienced and learned more valuable business lessons than I could ever stand a chance of distilling into a memoir as slender as the collected works of Tolstoy. As a child, I unwittingly absorbed my parents’ work ethic and a purposeful view of every moment for which I will be eternally grateful and rueful in equal measure. But, I suppose that was the joint first of two lessons that I got from home. The second was to respect and be considerate towards the situation of other people.
Inevitably, that background was bound to lead to my third important lesson; people will disappoint you. How you deal with that disappointment will create the signature of your personality for the remainder of your life.
There is no distinction for me between “business” and “personal”. I cannot justify bad business behaviour based on it being “just business”; it’s just bad behaviour. No matter how often I’m disappointed, I’ll take that any day over an attitude of constant cynicism and always look for and expect the best in every business relationship that I form.
If you need to talk, talk straight. As a fresh-faced youngster, I was torn between bravado and uncertainty; I thought I had to have an opinion and often spoke without really thinking it through, concerned that circumspection showed ignorance or immaturity. A topsy-turvy view is one of the ironies of how Western business culture has built the archetypal strong business leader’s icon.
Maturity makes you realise that it’s OK to be uncertain, it’s acceptable to be considered, it’s appropriate to respond with a question and, saying that you don’t know, but you will find out can be incredibly reassuring.
When you do find out, talk straight. Being clear isn’t about being blunt; it still involves being considerate but, try to be direct. It’s a form of honesty that can bring immense rewards. Arrogance isn’t the same as confidence.
People say “walk the talk”, but I don’t think that is enough. You must believe and do what you say. It takes no thinking about and underpins the most essential element in any successful business career – don’t be the person who disappoints. Be trustworthy, be honest, be decent, be reliable and be human.
There’s no value in being the wealthiest man in the graveyard if nobody wants to attend your funeral.