1. Be on time.
2. Be polite.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Keep your word.
That’s all it takes to achieve greatness in one’s life. Follow those rules and good things will happen. That has been the focus of our discussion over the past two weeks and yesterday afternoon I received a call from Michael who wanted to tell me a story of his grandfather, a man who lived his life by those four rules.
Michael’s grandfather was born in Russia and emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. He lived in New York State and entered adulthood during the depression. His working career began with menial jobs that he took to with enormous enthusiasm because he wholeheartedly believed that each successive job, regardless of how menial, was a stepping stone to the great legacy he knew would be his one day.
After many years of hard work and struggle his grandfather was beginning to experience success as an entrepreneur. He had started several businesses from scratch, built them up to be prosperous and then sold them.
At one point his grandfather entered into an agreement to sell one of his properties for a specified sum of money. Between the time of the verbal agreement with the buyer and the time it came to formalize the agreement in writing some 12 months later the economy had soared and the value of the property had almost doubled.
The buyer approached Michael’s grandfather and said to him that while he understood that the building was now worth far more than it had been at the time of their original negotiation, he felt that as they had, in fact, reached an agreement in principle he was willing to offer Michael’s grandfather a premium of approximately 50% above the originally agreed upon price which represented a huge gain for Michael’s grandfather but also somewhat of a savings for himself.
In telling the story Michael paused for a moment and told me that his grandfather had hammered home to him the importance of The Habit of the Four Rules of Greatness, particularly the last one, Keep Your Word.
His grandfather, upon hearing the offer from his buyer, shook his head and said, “I cannot accept your offer, it is indeed a generous one but we shook hands and made a deal for me to sell you the property for a certain price. I gave you my word I would do so and my word holds true today. I cannot accept your offer to buy the property at 50% more than we originally agreed but I will accept your original offer to buy my property at the price we agreed upon 12 months ago.
Some might call Michael’s grandfather a fool, others might simply shake their heads and make reference to how that might have been then but this is now and nobody does that kind of thing today.
None of that would make any sense to Michael because many years after that deal was done, in telling Michael the story, his grandfather used it to illustrate that our value as human beings in life is not measured by how many dollars we have by the word we hold.
Michael’s grandfather may well have walked away from a great deal of money on that deal but his act but the buyer repeated that story for many years to many people and Michael’s grandfather became the kind of person that people sought out in order to do business with us.
His integrity earned him many times the amount he turned down, in other business transactions over the years.
His word truly was known to be his bond and people flocked to do business with him.
With a smile Michael went on to tell me that one could set a clock by his grandfather’s punctuality; that if he agreed to meet you at 8 o’clock, at that exact moment he would appear as if magically transformed from somewhere else.
His grandfather knew no demeanour other than pure politeness. He treated everyone; friend, colleague, business acquaintance, adversary, nemesis with equal dignity, respect and politeness.
Michael also remembers being chastised by his grandfather one day when he set out to complete a math homework assignment only to find it more difficult than he had anticipated and he left it unfinished. His grandfather was visiting that evening and upon hearing of Michael’s non-completion of his homework, took him aside and sent him back to his room with firm instructions to stay with it until he had figured it out because, in the words of his grandfather, “If you started it, you gotta finish it or you ain’t no man.”
One cannot argue with logic like that.
Michael’s grandfather sounds like the kind of person we would all love to have as a mentor in our lives and while he achieved enormous financial success he remained a quiet, humble person who believed strongly in giving back to his community. He spent his final volunteering his time to a host of needy organizations.
I don’t know Michael, I’ve only talked with him on the phone but his quiet assurance and undoubted reverence for his grandfather tell me that he has adopted those same enviable traits and while Michael would not reveal much about himself, I’m sure his life will be as filled with joy and success as that of his grandfather.
The Habit of the Four Rules of Greatness. Don’t leave home without it.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.