Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, was occasionally accused of altering baseballs to create more movement on his pitches and make them harder to hit.  When asked if it was true that he used a “foreign substance” on baseballs, Sutton replied, “Not true at all.  Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States of America.”

Cheating and integrity are back in the news big time, as we hear about the Houston Astros and possibly other Major League Baseball teams having used technology to steal signs of their opponents, causing irreparable damage to the game.  After an extensive investigation, it was determined that the Astros video replay room was decoding opponents’ pitching signals using a centerfield camera and relaying the information to their batters via various signals.

Like the college admissions scandal, it will have far-reaching effects for years to come.  While it should be easy to verify credentials and performance history online, it should not be easy to lie about test scores or use technology to misrepresent one’s accomplishments.  Yet it happened, and it came at a price much greater than the donations were worth.  Respect was on the line, and reputations were destroyed.  The parents and students learned a hard lesson, and yet got no college credit for their efforts.

The statistics are alarming when it comes to cheating on tests and homework, plagiarizing and copying papers from the Internet.  A stunning 95 percent of high school students in one survey admitted to some form of cheating during their high school years. 

I recently heard from a college professor who was trying to figure out how to deal with a former student who posted his old tests (as well as other professors’ tests) online, and the current students who benefitted from ill-gotten answers.  The proposed punishments went from losing course credit for current students to taking away the perpetrator’s degree.  That’s a high price to pay for an already expensive college education.  

Ask any human resources manager how many resumes contain a little – or a lot – of creative but not quite accurate self-promotion.  Then ask them how many of those cheaters land the job.  Or if they actually got hired, how long it took to expose their lack of qualifications.

Wikipedia defines cheating as “various actions designed to subvert rules in order to obtain unfair advantages.  This includes acts of bribery, cronyism and nepotism in any situation where individuals are given preference using inappropriate criteria.” 

But the rest of the definition has longer implications:  “A person described as a ‘cheat’ doesn’t necessarily cheat all the time, but rather, relies on deceitful tactics to the point of acquiring a reputation for it.”

Is that a reputation anyone wants attached to their name?

As any businessperson knows, when you cheat at business, you lose business. 

In sports, there is a referee or umpire to make sure participants play by the rules, and consequences of violations are usually immediate.  But it’s different in business.  Regulations and watchdog groups do their best to guard against malfeasance, but those decisions are rarely swift enough to benefit affected customers.  Cheaters can drag out complaints for months or years of court proceedings.  And the beleaguered client often feels doubly cheated when they have to wait for resolution.

We’re way beyond the butcher with his thumb on the scale here, although even those misdeeds are inexcusable.  Little acts of deception often lead to bigger acts.  As Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what a dangerous web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

My advice is to play by the rules, no matter how hard or expensive or lonely it may be.  Set your code of conduct higher than the rules, so your customers know that you will never cheat them, and they can trust your word and your products and services.  Your reputation as a person and a businessperson should line up.  And if all else fails, ask yourself, would you want someone to treat your grandmother this way?

Once when Abraham Lincoln was censured for his unwavering policy, he gave this answer to his critics:  “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.  I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.  I must stand with anybody that stands right; stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.”

Mackay’s Moral:  If you have to cheat to get ahead, you’ve already lost.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.