Oswald Letter

Good People Are Good People to Know

Last week I spent a few days with members of the Employers Counsel Network, a group of people that our company works with closely on a regular basis. We tend to get together formally as a group once each year to catch up, discuss business, and strengthen our bonds. It’s a great meeting that mixes business and pleasure, and which I look forward to each year.

As I spent time with the individuals who comprise this group, I was reminded once again of how terrific they are individually and collectively. It’s a group filled with bright, energetic, and well-intentioned individuals. And I’m just proud to be associated with them. If, like they say, “A man is known by the company he keeps,” then I raise my stature just by being associated with this group.

Confucius said, “Associating with good people is like living in a room full of orchids; associating with bad people is like living in a salted fish store. After a while neither smell is noticeable.” Well, it’s clear to me that with this group I’m living in a room full of orchids and I come out smelling like a rose!

In the 1997 movie, “As Good as It Gets,” Jack Nicholson plays a misanthropic author who is also obsessive compulsive. His character is so miserable he puts off his neighbors and just about everyone he comes into contact with. Each day he visits the same restaurant. There he takes an interest in a waitress, played by Helen Hunt, because she is the only server at the restaurant who can tolerate his behavior.

Ultimately, the author falls for the waitress. When he finally confesses his feeling for her, he does so by saying, “You make me want to be a better man.” You see, he knows he is flawed. Yet her mere presence affects him so greatly that he aspires to be a better person as a result of being around her.

Isn’t that true for all of us? We rise or sink to the level of those around us.

Often in sports an athlete’s game rises or falls based on the competition. There are times when an athlete only performs as well as is necessary to win. A weak competitor can bring out the worst in an athlete because he takes the victory for granted, fails to prepare, and often plays to the level of the competition. And sometimes the result is a loss to an inferior opponent.

The opposite is also true. A strong, capable athlete can bring out the best in his opponent. Some of the best rivalries in sports are the result of two very good, even great, competitors facing off. They bring out the best in each other and their performances can be incredible when they compete.

It’s the same way in business. You are judged by the company you keep, and your performance can rise or fall based on those around you. So here’s what you need to do:

  1. Surround yourself first with people who share your ethical and moral standards. You want people who will represent you and the company well regardless of the situation. And you want people whose higher standards will inspire you to keep yours.
  2. Find bright and talented people who can make a contribution. Look for people who are even smarter and more talented than you, and see how far they can take you.  You will raise your game to match theirs, and everyone will benefit.
  3. Finally, make sure you work with people who are willing to work. You want people who have a strong ethic and are really able to pitch in to achieve the collective goals. Hard work will inspire more hard work as each team member doesn’t want to let the others down.

I’ve been lucky enough to be associated with some really great people and I’m better for it. I’ve also had the misfortune to have dealt with people of lesser standards. Some of the best times and biggest successes have been tied to good people, while the lower points in my career have come as the result of making poor choices when it comes to people. Don’t ever settle for anything less than working with good people — the results will speak for themselves.