Only lip service to honesty?

A few years back, in the company where I worked as Marketing Head, we had a very capable and efficient Administration Officer. Actually, Mr. AO was our one-man Administration Department! In addition to being capable, hardworking and efficient, Mr. AO, who was in his fifties, was extremely loyal and trustworthy.

One afternoon, since all our Service personnel were busy at customers’ sites, I had assigned to Mr. AO the task of visiting an electronics parts dealer to take delivery of some spare parts that we needed urgently. I had ordered the parts over phone and, in view of the urgency, had agreed to the dealer’s terms of delivery against cash.

About two hours after he had left the office, Mr. AO entered my room, sweating profusely, trembling uncontrollably, and on the verge of tears. As he walked in, he said, “Sir, something very bad has happened.” I immediately seated him on a chair and offered him a glass of water, which he gulped down. He was still sweating and trembling, but less than when he had entered my room. I asked him if I should call a doctor, but he said he was fine. I asked him if he would like to have a cup of tea or some more water, but he declined. Again, he said, “Sir, something very bad has happened.” Fearing the worst, I replied, “Mr. AO, if you are feeling up to it, please tell me what has happened and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

Mr. AO replied, “Sir, there’s nothing that you can do. I am very ashamed. I have betrayed your trust. Because of my negligence, I lost the money that you gave me to pay for the spare parts.”

“How did this happen?” I asked gently.

Mr. AO replied, “I went from our office to the dealer’s shop by bus. I had kept the cash in my bag. Before entering the dealer’s shop, I decided to transfer the cash from my bag to my shirt pocket. But, when I opened my bag, I found the cash had vanished. Then, I realised that somebody has slit my bag and taken away the cash.” He showed me the bag and the slit. It was obviously the work of a professional pickpocket.

“How much cash was lost?” I asked.

“Rs. 8,000,” he replied.

“Was anything else taken?” I asked.

“Nothing else was taken. Please forgive me for my carelessness, sir. Please deduct this amount in instalments from my salary, sir,” Mr. AO pleaded.

I did not reply. I opened my briefcase, took out the cash that I had withdrawn from the bank that morning, counted Rs. 8,000, handed it to Mr. AO, and said, “Mr. AO, this is obviously the work of a professional. It is not your fault, so you need not suffer personally. There is absolutely no need for you to be so agitated. I’ll speak with our MD and see how to account for this amount. Please do not discuss this matter with anybody else.”

Mr. AO was overwhelmed! “Sir, you are very large-hearted, but how do you know I’ve told you the truth? After all, it’s not a small amount.” he said.

I replied, “Mr. AO, I know it’s not a small amount. But, you are not an ordinary person. You are so trustworthy that I can never dream of doubting your word. Compared to the trust I have in you, Rs. 8,000 is nothing!”

Mr. AO was speechless!

We praise many people for their honesty, but do we back our compliments with actions when the need arises? Or do we restrict ourselves to lip service, quoting ‘rules’, ‘procedure’, ‘protocol’, ‘precedent’, etc.?

It is not sufficient to pay lip service to a person’s honesty. When the need arises, our actions must demonstrate our trust in that person. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words!”

This post was written in response to Vidya Sury’s post Celebrate National Compliment Day at WRITE TRIBE.

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12 thoughts on “Only lip service to honesty?

  1. As auditors we are trained to believe that “everyone is dishonest until proven otherwise.” For us the dividing line is extremely thin.
    The call that you have taken was very appropriate “considering the facts and circumstances of the case.”
    Not everyone is a cheat. It takes time to judge who’s who!

    • Yes, it does take time to correctly assess the level of a person’s honesty.
      My seniors in that company unanimously and wholeheartedly endorsed my action because, like I, they all had 100% confidence in Mr. AO’s honesty.

  2. Given the circumstances, I’m truly impressed by your verbal reaction as well as your gesture. It is easy for people to preach, but most of us balk when it comes to action. Kudos!

    • Mr. AO was a normal human being. He had his weaknesses. But, all who had interacted with him had 100% trust in him. I was only acknowledging this fact. However, I do agree that not everybody would react the way I did. Unfortunately, while we are very quick to criticise, we are very stingy with praise.

  3. This example demonstrate a real leader in you, which in these days is very rare.

    It is through these gestures of treating people positively, rather than elaborate or expensive tactics, a more productive work place can be created. Can imagine how much happy the officer would have been with this action.

  4. “We praise many people for their honesty, but do we back our compliments with actions when the need arises? Or do we restrict ourselves to lip service, quoting ‘rules’, ‘procedure’, ‘protocol’, ‘precedent’, etc.?” This makes me ponder!

  5. Respect. Most of us would hesitate to make tangible the words we give.
    And, it’s easier to disbelieve, then get proof, make a song and dance about the how of it all, and finally grudgingly accept. That is what happens most often.
    Kudos, Sir!

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