Character: Taking The Long View

It was the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open. On the 11th hole, his shot landed just short of the green. He would have to pitch onto the green from the rough. As he approached the ball, he began to line up his club. Ever so slightly, his club brushed against the grass. The grass, in turn, pushed against the ball–causing a barely noticeable movement. No one noticed…except for him.

The golfer took the shot and nonchalantly approached his playing partner and the USGA official overseeing the match. Without hesitation, he insisted that he would be calling a penalty on himself. The officials fought him on it, as the slight movement clearly did not affect the ball’s relative position to the hole. Nevertheless, the golfer insisted that he had broken rule 18–which forbade players from moving a resting ball. The officials had to relent.

The stroke Bobby Jones called on himself ended up losing him the U.S. Open, as it forced him into a playoff in which he lost the match. Any mild sports fan, though, remembers the incident as a beacon of true sportsmanship. No one saw the stroke except for Bobby Jones himself, but that was enough for him. When he was approached by reporters and praised for his heroic gesture, he brushed it off and famously retorted, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”

No one can peer inside of the mind of Bobby Jones to see what his motivates were for such a declaration of honesty and legendary example of character. But what we can see is the results. Some people may remember the name of the 1925 U.S. Open’s champion—Willie Macfarlane. But few people forget the name of the one who lost. Bobby Jones didn’t win the match, but he won his place in history.

Having a sense of character in business is the same way. It isn’t about one sale, one quarter, or even one year. It’s about how your organization will be remembered—and how you will be remembered as a leader within it. Character is about taking the long view—being willing to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term gains. It’s about turning down the customer who isn’t right for your business; it’s about pushing hard to get the customer who is right for your business.

As mortgage professionals, we can get so bogged down with regulation that we start looking for shortcuts. We start looking for the easy way out rather than holding fast to what we know is right. If you ever find yourself asking, “Which way is easier?” Take a step back and rephrase the question. Ask yourself instead, “What is right?” Is the choice you’re making today a choice that you will be ashamed of tomorrow? Will a dishonest gain now increase the likelihood of a loss later? These are the questions that character asks. “The true test of character,” it has been said, “is what you do when no one’s watching.” Character takes the long view. Because you can be sure that, even if no one else sees what you’re doing, the future is watching and waiting to give you what you deserve. What kind of character do you have?

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