One hundred steps. It doesn’t seem like that much—I’ve probably walked more than that around a gas station. But, as it turns out, 100 steps can teach a pretty powerful lesson.
I learned that on a recent trip I took with my son to finish out his lacrosse season. One of the events was on a gorgeous campus in Newport, Rhode Island. The whole day was a chance to play games, practice, and have fun in some clinics.
As my son and I walked back to our car from the fields, there they were: people in big Suburbans tailgating like professionals. They were clearly enjoying themselves, decked out with tables, chairs, and food that made my mouth water. Most impressively, though, they’d somehow gotten what seemed like the best real estate in the whole parking lot.
“How’d you get that spot?” One of the lacrosse players yelled the question over to his teammate, who was with the tailgaters. I couldn’t help but listen for the answer. Maybe they had some awesome technique that I could use next time to save myself a little walking, too.
Then the truth came out. The teammate sang back that his mom had just moved the cones that had been set up out of the way. Pretty cool, according to him.
NO BIG DEAL?
The mom’s move is exactly what the dark side of the business world—maybe even culture in general—drills into our brains. Cut corners. Cheat a little. It’s not like it’s a big deal, so just move the cones. Get what you want, even if it means breaking the rules and watching other people take more steps to get to where you already are. After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you won’t really win unless you play a little dirty—which, of course, everyone else is absolutely going to do, too.
Examples of moving the cones aren’t hard to find. People fudge their resumes to look more impressive. They take credit for a coworker’s effort and results. They ask their accountant to increase a few deductions—just a little. It’s everywhere.
Even worse, once people save themselves 100 steps, most of the time after that, they don’t even want to walk 50. Cheating becomes a habit. The stakes get higher. And, as all of this is going on, guess what’s happening?
Other people are watching.
MOVING THE CONES PUTS OTHERS IN DANGER
Just like my son and I saw the tailgaters breaking the rules, and just as I’d momentarily hoped to become an insider to their magic secret, the people who work around cheaters see what they do. They have a model of cutting corners and disregarding others to get what they want. Unless that model has a powerful antidote, it can spread throughout an entire organization or group. Trust withers. The culture sours and becomes more toxic and rancid than the sweaty sports gear my son carried in his bag.
This toxic spread can happen fast—so fast, in fact, that people can look back and wonder what in the world happened. But, if they go back to the very beginning and look a little harder, then it’s usually pretty evident when the cones first moved and who did it. And then, everyone has a choice. They can either take accountability and put the cones back where they’re supposed to be, banning the cone mover from future events, or they can turn a blind eye and deny reality until the reputation of the company is worth less than dirt.
TAKING THOSE EXTRA STEPS BUILDS INTEGRITY
Fortunately for my son and me, we both strongly value integrity. I have to admit I felt proud when he gave his opinion about the situation in the parking lot: “Pretty uncool if you ask me. Just follow the rules and stop being show-offs.”
That, of course, is what you would tell people like this in the ideal situation. Even though I highly recommend that you speak up when you see someone cheat, realistically, you probably won’t be able to fight every cone mover you encounter in your life. Sometimes systems, politics, and bad circumstances are like that. But, being able to walk away knowing right from wrong, being able to walk out of that lot fearlessly with your chin still high because you had enough sense not to idolize the cone movers, is priceless.
So, don’t get lured in. Don’t copy the people who move the cones. Walk the 100 steps, and park where you should. The scarcity of integrity is what makes you stand out when you show it, and you never know who’s following along behind you.
Brendan Keegan is CEO of Merchants Fleet, transforming the company’s business model and creating a new fleet industry category known as FleetTech.