Business Mimics Life, and Vice Versa

The late Mark McCormack, the legendary founder of IMG, once famously said, “Let me play one round of golf with an individual and after 18 holes I can tell you much of what that person stands for.”

A few years ago, funnily enough I was playing golf in Tagaytay with an individual I was meeting for the first time. Like any round of golf, everyone keeps track of their own scores in an honor system. This guy rarely saw a fairway! He was always in the rough or in the water! It was not a good day for him.

But interestingly, multiple times when we would close a hole and call out for scores, he would lie. Despite being in the water and taking a supposed two-stroke penalty, and three and four putting, he would shave a few strokes off his final score. It was incredibly irritating but nobody called him out on it. I would estimate that by the end of the round, he had taken at least 15 shots off his real score!

About a year after that round of golf — the only time I ever played with this individual — he was apparently caught in some kind of ethics scandal at his workplace and had to be unceremoniously relieved of his role. I have to honestly say I was not surprised. If you cheat like crazy at golf, among your friends, you are probably going to push the moral boundaries in other areas.

What McCormack was saying in simple terms was that golf, like business, family, or any other part of life, is just that: it’s life. We don’t have differing personas at our core as we transition from one part of life to another. Who we are on the golf course is who we are in life. If we are dishonest at golf and cheat our friends, we won’t be immune to making ethically poor decisions in business. Every golfer I know who threw clubs or tossed his putter in the lake was also a hothead in life. It’s not like they transformed themselves once they left the golf course!

We humans are amazingly consistent at our core. As we cross from different roles in life, we more or less maintain the same values and characteristics. And business is no different. Business mimics life. Or life mimics business. Take it either way.

An example: Over the years I have had a number of people work for me who struggled with finances in their personal life — balancing their checkbook, managing money, those kinds of things. And each time I would have that individual run a budget, there were — no surprise — major issues. They would have budget overspending or lose track of budget progress. Things would be spinning out of control. I should not have been surprised. If you can’t manage a budget with your own money in your private life, you aren’t going to morph into another person once you set foot in the business. You are going to be the same person, with the same flaws and struggles. Business mimics life. Or vice versa.

An interesting corollary to this discussion is the whole topic of “jumping,” which means moving from job to job very quickly, maybe even as fast as a few months, all under the guise of “seeking new challenges” or “new opportunities” or however one wants to spin it these days. The psychological principle of “post-decisional dissonance” states that humans tend to post-rationalize and conjure a means to justify their actions no matter how inappropriate or wrong they are. For example, every person I have ever caught in a fraud case in a company had the same explanation: “The company screwed me out of a promotion or a raise, and all I was doing was getting what I rightly deserved all along.” This is post-decisional dissonance in action. They never just admitted the truth: that they are a thief and little more.

So it is safe to say that any “jumper” who moves between jobs like Paris Hilton changes boyfriends is going to justify their jumping, no matter how justified or not it may be.

I just saw an interesting post on Linked-In from a jumper, bemoaning how “archaic” HR professionals are judging him based on his frequent job changes. And how actually job jumping is a good thing and helping him grow.

I also know of a recent case here in Philippines where a young executive is jumping jobs after a mere two months (Two months! I mean, I wonder if the guy even knows the names of the team he works with, let alone claim any kind of contribution to the business!) and feels it is totally “okay”!

Clearly, these folks cannot see the other side of the coin. The fact is, despite us living in a microwave society (we want everything cooked fast!), some things like acquiring real skills and making sustainable contributions to a business take time. Some things just don’t have shortcuts and some things can’t be solved by Googling the information. Learning a business, building a business, and adding value all require time. When one jumps roles, they deprive themselves of this kind of learning, which is the most important of all for future success.

Business mimics life. Or vice versa. One has to wonder if the jumpers are really jumping to something great or just jumping away from a tough situation? In my observation many are running away from a challenge. It is hard work to endure tough times. It is hard work to learn and really grow. It is hard work to make yourself better. It is hard work to honor a commitment when there is an easy way out. But for some, the expedient way is to jump and run away from the problem, all camouflaged under the guise of, “This is the new world and it is all about seeking new opportunities.”

In some of the cases I know intimately, what I see is a person developing the habit of quitting. Of leaving when things get tough. Of failing to finish anything. Of lacking the discipline to focus and stay on task to completion. Life becomes a whirlwind of constantly looking for the next “jump” and failing to honor commitments. Failing to complete tasks. Failing to make sustainable contributions. Failing to ride out tough times.

And, as business mimics life, one has to wonder if these tendencies won’t translate into other parts of life. Will they stick with relationships? Will they bail out of tough personal situations and jump? Will they truly ever accomplish anything they can hang their hat on — a project they took from start to finish?

Jumpers should not be surprised they get tepid reactions from business leaders. Because business mimics life. Or vice versa. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to marry a jumper. I wouldn’t have faith in a jumper to take on a challenging task and stick with it to completion. I wouldn’t trust a jumper to stick around when sticking around was crucial to the success of anything. So why would I hire a jumper, invest money in them, and end up on the losing end of the bargain when they leave before doing anything sustainable and meaningful and paying back the investment made in them?

Business mimics life. And vice versa. And no amount of post-decisional dissonance or self-rationalization can get one around this fact.

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