Last week I met a guy I’ve known for a long time for lunch. I wanted to meet him because I’ve known him for a long time, and I know he’s struggled with his career. I had once mentioned an idea to him that I thought he could pull off well, based on the little bit I knew about his background, and now I wanted to have a bit more time to explain it to him better.

We get our food and start eating and I tell him my idea and how he could work it. In essence, based on his skills, if he was to try it out it could end up being a career where he could basically set his rate and end up making over $100,000 a year in income as a sole entrepreneur. Of course, this was all based on what I knew about him, which was based on what he’s told me about himself over the years.

He said he thought it was an intriguing idea and that he was going to think about it. In my mind, that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want him to do anything special for me, and if he decided to try out the idea I was ready to become a client of his; it’s just that kind of deal that I think the right person doing it could do well.

Next thing you know he reaches for a folder that I hadn’t even noticed he had brought and says “I wasn’t going to bring this out, but I figure that maybe you’d like to make some money yourself.” I knew where this was going, and immediately the defense shields went up. I’ve heard this opening, or words to its effect, many times over the past 25 years. It was a MLM (multi-level marketing) scheme coming; I just knew it.

And I was right. He was pimping a travel agent business, talking about how for a one time investment I could have a business that could bring me thousands of dollars. He then showed me two scanned “checks” that he’d received recently, one for around $1,500 and another for more than $20,000. He said that he expected to make $100,000 by the end of the year.

I was immediately put off. Didn’t he think I was listening to him at the beginning of our lunch conversation? Didn’t he think I heard him say to me that he’d been out of work for a few months? Didn’t he think I heard him say he had applied for another job because he had no health benefits, and didn’t think he could afford them on his own? Did he really think he could show me fake checks of a lot of money and not have me thinking “if you can make that kind of money then why can’t you pay for health insurance?”

I hate to admit this but I’ve lost a bit of respect for this man. He’s always represented himself in a different mode, and now I’m seeing him much differently. To me, once you’ve lost respect it’s hard to get it back because your credibility is shot.

This same type of thing happens in business all the time. Leaders are always promising something to employees saying that everyone will benefit, but the reality is that’s a lie and the leaders know it. Rather, everyone won’t benefit the same; at least not most of the time.

Employees work hard for a perceived benefit that doesn’t exist. Managers might get something out of the hard work of the employees but it’s not much. The people at the top derive the biggest benefits, as well as the overall organization and thus it’s always in their best interest to promise the moon and deliver a moon pie (do you remember what a moon pie is? If not, see the image above). It’s tasty, but it’s not the moon.

That’s why as a manager I tried to find ways for employees to benefit when we did things well. When our department hit a certain figure we’d have some kind of party or event to celebrate. Sometimes I was able to convince upper management to get into the act; sometimes I paid for it. I knew where my bread was buttered; without the help of people who reported to me I wasn’t going to get anything done. I relied on these folks to make me look good, and I wanted them rewarded as much as I could afford.

Overall these are simple acts. And they didn’t involve giving anyone money. Everyone wants money, but not all the time. People want to be treated fairly. They want to participate in decisions and in company successes. They want the deals leaders make with them to be mutually beneficial. And, as a manager, it’s a smart move if you can get it done.

And you’ll get their respect; that’s always a very valuable thing to have.

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