Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why Integrity Is the Foundation for Trust

I was riding a shuttle to the airport after attending a marketing conference for entrepreneurs. The 20-minute ride flew by as I engaged in a lively conversation with “Nathan,” a fellow attendee I’d met the evening before at a networking event. As the shuttle pulled up to the terminal for Nathan’s flight, we exchanged business cards and agreed it would be a great idea to stay in touch.

Nathan handed the driver his credit card to pay the $20 fee. The driver explained that he couldn’t take credit cards, that Nathan would have to go to the shuttle ticket counter to make payment. But my new acquaintance was running late, so he turned to me and asked, “Can you loan me $20? I’m going to miss my flight if I have to go way over there and buy a ticket!”

I hesitated for a moment. Could I trust him to pay me back?

I’d just met Nathan and knew very little about him. He’d been talking about the success he was having in his business and I concluded it was a low risk. It was only $20, after all, so if he didn’t end up sending me the money, it was no big deal.

I dug my wallet out of my purse and handed him a twenty dollar bill. He said “Thanks so much,” gave the money to the driver and hurried into the terminal.

A few weeks went by and I heard nothing from Nathan. Then one day he called and said, “Hey, I owe you money! Where should I send the check?”

I gave him my mailing address, and he thanked me again for bailing him out at the airport that day. The check arrived within a couple of days and the next week I deposited it.

I felt good about my decision to help Nathan out…and about him… that is, until I got a notice a few days later saying that his check had bounced and my bank had charged a $10 fee to my account. So now I was out $30!

I called Nathan and told him what happened. He sheepishly responded, “I know.”

You know?! You mean you already knew the check had bounced and you didn’t have the guts to call and tell me? You took the coward’s way out and let me find out from my bank so I had to call YOU? What were you thinking?! 

I screamed all this inside my head, not to him. Because his next words were, “I’m not very good at managing my money. It turns out I didn’t have enough cash in my bank account to cover the check.”

How could you send a check to someone you hoped would refer prospective clients to you - and not be certain if the money was in the bank? Do you have any idea what kind of impression you’ve just made?

What I actually said, after taking a deep breath, was, “Gee, Nathan, that’s too bad. What needs to happen now is for you to send me a cashier’s check or money order for $30, to cover the $20 you owe me, plus the $10 bank fee. I’m not willing to risk getting another personal check from you. I’m sure you can understand.”

“Yes, of course. I’ll get that to you right away,” he assured me.

Two weeks passed. Nothing. 

I left a voicemail message and also emailed him. No threats, no angry words, just a reminder that I was expecting a cashier’s check or money order and had not received it.

No response.

It was no longer a matter of the money. It was the principle. His actions violated one of my core values: Honor your promises. Do what you say you’ll do. 

Two weeks later I left another voicemail and emailed him again. This time he actually called back.

“I mailed the money after we spoke last time. You didn’t get it?”

“No, Nathan, I didn’t. You’ll need to send it again,” I said flatly. I didn’t believe him. His previous behavior caused me to have no faith in his words.

He promised to put it in the mail right away, which confirmed my suspicion that he’d never sent it in the first place. It took another month but I did eventually receive his check.

Do you think I’ll ever send any business his way?

You may be shaking your head, thinking, I’d never do anything like that.

Yet there are hundreds of moments in your own life where you prove to others through your actions that you’re trustworthy—or not.

  • You say you’ll meet someone at 1:00 for lunch, and you arrive twenty minutes late because you didn’t plan well or consider the impact on that person.
  • You agree to call someone you met at a networking function, but you never get around to it.
  • You tell a colleague that you’ll complete your part of a project by a certain time, but you miss the deadline because you procrastinated.

Think carefully before you make commitments that will affect someone else. Your relationship and your reputation depend on your integrity. Use this wisdom from Warren Buffet as your guide:

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


  1. Great post, and a wake up call to me.


  2. Dear Meredith,
    I appreciate your work to have this story shared and set, as an example to help someone out there not be a victim of a person like Nathan.
    The truth of the matter is that unfortunately there are so many Nathan's out there that belong to a different level of society.
    Nathan's like the one you had to deal with have no honor, no commitment and are very low in morals, thus we must be aware of.
    Thank you- Ari. twitter A_balia

  3. When I finished reading this article a guy who I lend money called by mistake but he never mention any thing about my money lol

    It has been more than 3 years since he called lol

    Strange but I totally know how you feel!


  4. The moment i finished reading this post i remembered a childhood story of mine that i would like to share with you if you allow me to . When i was a little young boy i had this troubling habit to steal money or sell my personal objects to satisy my desires especially from the people who were close to me like my parents and family members with whom i spent so much of my time at this period of my life but never once wait .. maybe few times at the supermarket where i loved to hide from the cameras and get candies into my pocket without any body of the security staff notice it i never ever tried to do this with strangers or persons who could possibly and easily lose confidence in me i'm not justifying my past comportments but i learned a lot from them because the way i was treated when they found out what i did made me realise that love was more important than a ego desire andi decided to never ever do it again . People in business like in relationships should think twice of the consequences of such behaviors for they risk to loose big opportunities for growth that what you said in the above post & wich may be more illustrated through real stories from people in almost every field and domain. Thanks Meredith !

  5. I would like to add that my childhood and teenagehood were the best days in all my life i never experienced lack of anything but it didn't prevent from doing it . Now that iam almsot anadult i value integrity to bethe foundation of trust & apply this principle in my life with the people i meet . I hope you enjoyed reading me any feedback is welcome .

  6. Sam,

    Thank you for sharing your life experiences and lessons learned. I appreciate your honesty about things you did in the past. I'm sure we all have things we did as children and young people that we're not proud of. The key is to learn not to repeat them in the future, just as you learned.

  7. Just as folks can disappoint tremendously, I've had the opposite, too. Once I ran out of money crossing over into Austria (before the euro) and it was just me and my two kids...Before ATM's, too, and late at night. A man offered to house us at his villa (condo) but I declined, so he helped me get a room and without my knowing, he paid for it...He expected nothing. Another traveler bumped my ticket up from coach to first class when I traveled with a little one--just because he wanted to show me first class was pretty wonderful (he usually flew that but on that occasion, flight was overbooked, so he got stuck in tourist class) These two were amazing folks whom I never forgot--thanks for reminding me that along with the wastrels are these nuggets of gold......

  8. Colleen, thank you for sharing the other side of the coin. Yes, thankfully, there are lots of examples of people who do the right thing - and even go above and beyond what you would hope or expect. They are the people who warm your heart for the rest of your life.

  9. My first reaction on reading this was "yep, been there", as I have.

    But I thought about the times when I have needed help and strangers have helped me out. SO I would still do it again.

    However I think the point of the article is in the part where you mention that Nathan was looking for referrals from you, should he expect any of those? Let's all ensure we do everything to enhance our reputations :)

  10. Such a great point here, completely agree with the point in your final paragraph - the 20 minutes late. That really gets to me,
    I think it just ruins any credibility you had. Mainly because our time is precious, if it's "just 5 minutes" well, tell me before so I can get my phone out and work for those 5 minutes.

    Such a shame he didn't think to just pick up the phone and tell you. He could have made a lot more than $20!


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