MVP Seminars Blogs

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

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“Right is right, even if none be for it, and wrong is wrong, even if all be for it.” – William Penn

But how do you know what’s right?

I’ve been reading, enjoying, and learning from Gus Lee’s memoir, With Schwarzkopf: Life Lessons of the Bear, perhaps the best book on leadership I’ve ever read. One of Lee’s stories took me back to early 2005. In the summer of that year I was a brand new real estate agent with a rental property of my own I was ready to flip. The work on the house was done. It was time to get it on the market.

And sure enough an offer came in. But as I read the offer I realized that something was very wrong. It was as if the buyer’s agent had written it on my behalf. Almost every negotiable item was written to my benefit.

Think back with me to the summer of 2005. The Denver market in which I practiced had not yet started the spectacular decline that was already on the horizon. The economics were still fairly well-balanced, unlike today as I write in 2018 with the market heavily tilted in favor of sellers. So back then there was no reason for a buyer to make a particularly generous offer. I was puzzled.

As I looked more closely it became clear that this agent was new. Not only were the terms poorly-written, but there were technical errors, lots of them, in the way the contract had been prepared.

This was my very first transaction as a licensed agent – I had no idea what to expect from other real estate professionals. But it wasn’t my first deal. Over the years I had acquired and sold multiple properties as an investor. So despite my “greenness” in the agency world, I was able to recognize that this agent was exposed. Were I of such a mind, this would have been an opportunity to take advantage of her inexperience. I could just see some of my fellow investors licking their chops.

But it didn’t feel right. I was after a fair deal, sure. Maybe even a “good” deal. This, though, had the potential to cause harm to the buyer. And that reality hung me up. Because this was my own property, I could do whatever I wanted. Ultimately I would completely re-write the contract.

But what if I were negotiating on behalf of a client? Having just graduated from real estate school I was powerfully aware that my fiduciary responsibility would have “required” me to negotiate the absolute best possible deal for my client regardless of what I might do on my own.

I didn’t want to be that agent. You know the one I’m talking about. The hard-nosed, hard-driving stereotype of an agent who takes advantage of every unintentional slip without any regard for good faith.

I needed guidance. Newly minted, I didn’t have the tools. And having recently hung my shingle with the largest real estate company in Colorado, I feared that they would expect me to be… aggressive. Still, I went looking for advice.

Unfortunately it was a Saturday. The broker wasn’t in. The agency trainer was enjoying his weekend as well. So I went to the front desk receptionist to ask who was taking agent questions. She pointed me down the hall to a senior agent whose name I didn’t yet know.

His door was closed, but the light was on. I knocked. When the door opened I was looking up at a mountain of flesh with a face of thunder who was clearly wondering why I’d interrupted his desk work. My palms started to sweat. Quaking, I stammered out my dilemma.

I’ll never forget his answer. He didn’t roar at me. He was actually rather gentle. In the voice of a father, he said, “you know, Mark, it’s simple. Just do the right thing.”

Do the right thing. He didn’t ask for numbers. In fact, he didn’t ask for any details at all. He didn’t care about the commission split to the company. He only had one concern: do the right thing. Not necessarily easy. But simple.

If up to that point I’d had any reservation about whether I’d made the right choice of agency to join, those doubts evaporated in an instant and I knew I was home. And as ethical questions came up during my years as an agent I found great comfort as well as utility in his advice.

In his book, Gus Lee reminisces about Schwarzkopf telling him, “every real question in life comes off as a tough ethics question. And the answer’s always the same to tough questions: do the right thing.”

Of course, the point here is that those “real” questions are called “tough” for a reason. The right thing sometimes requires personal sacrifice. And The Bear had plenty to say about army “careerists” protecting their own interests at the expense of the “harder right.”

Still, as humans living in the real world we naturally want to avoid that. And our own interests can be legitimate. It’s ok to be as fair to ourselves as to others. In the case of my first real estate transaction, it wasn’t really all that hard, partly because I was a principal to the deal, partly because I knew that even if this particular deal failed another buyer would come along.

Which takes us back to the “tough” part. Sometimes, the right thing has nothing to do with us. Had I been working for a client it wouldn’t have been so easy. The client’s interests would have been at play. And the agency under whose license I toiled always had a say. Multiple interests, sometimes in conflict, make it harder to discern “right.”

So here you are, facing a tough question. Maybe you’re involved in the problem, maybe you’re not. Regardless, you’re the decision maker. How can you know what to do?

Again from Schwarzkopf: “Character means you have to do the right thing all of the time. Character guarantees competence because to do the right thing you must acquire and develop your competence.” In other words, the better you get at what you do, the easier it becomes to know what’s right.

Finally in this regard, The Bear referenced the cadet prayer from West Point. Part of it implores, “…strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.” He then taught that “you need fine judgment to know the harder right. You get that judgment by practicing and by learning from errors.”

I imagine that General Schwarzkopf might suggest you face today’s difficult decision by sifting through the issues in search of the harder right. And then move forward with admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking. Not without fear of making the wrong decision, but with the courage of knowing that if you make a mistake you will learn.

Doing that will lead to your best decision today and will make hard decisions easier tomorrow. Learning begets competence; competence begets judgment. The more you practice the better you will become. And in time you will become the one to whom the new folks turn, because you will know where to find the harder right.

And you’ll hear yourself saying, “It’s simple. Just do the right thing.” And then you’ll lead the way.

Thanks for reading!

The Symphony of Your Life



Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: 720.840.8361
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How many times have you witnessed your team stuck in their problem solving attempts? Were you able to quickly move them through their blockages, or were they too bogged down by their inability to move forward? As a leader, it is your responsibility to find a way to get through to your team members and to keep them moving forward even when they refuse to budge. Some of the major issues that keep teams from moving forward are competition among team members, unclear direction, lack of support, internal politics, and fear of making mistakes. When you notice the team divided and incapable of high productivity, your first step is to find a reason why they should want to resolve the issue. If there is not a big enough why behind the resolution, your team members will not care enough to work through the challenges. Perhaps the incentive is to receive additional vacation days, a salary bonus, or an additional half hour exercise or relaxation period. IDENTIFY THE REAL ISSUE The next step is to identify the real issue. This could become complicated if your team members are uncertain what the issue is. To discover the true issue, you might have to do a little digging. Three successful methods to identify problems are:
  • Spend one-on-one time with the team members who are most capable of understanding team dynamics.
  • Have your team members anonymously list the three things they believe are creating the issue.
  • Do a brain-storming session where no reactions or judgments are allowed.
DETERMINE THE FACTS After you have identified the problem, take the time to determine the facts. This is problematic because facts can sometimes be people’s perceptions. Keep the perceptions separated from actions. When your team members share the information with you, have them relay only what they know, not what they thought they saw or heard. Begin the conversation by giving them the instructions: “Please convey factual information without commentary on how you feel about it. While your feelings are important, I am attempting to distinguish the facts.” ESTABLISH A VARIETY OF SOLUTIONS Once all team members have had an opportunity to share their facts with you, encourage the team to offer solutions. During this time, direct them to come up with at least fifteen different solutions. This causes them to stretch their mind outside of normal thought processes. After the fifteen solutions have been identified, determine the top five. Have your team members discuss the pros and con of each solution to uncover which solution best fits the scenario. SEAL THE AGREEMENT Make certain all parties have agreed to the solution. Ask them to write down what they are willing to do to maintain their part of the bargain. It is crucial at this time to ask if everybody feels good about the solution. If you notice people averting their eyes or showing signs of reluctance, ask them if they have concerns they would like to discuss. “Mary, I feel you are reluctant with the solution. Is there something we’ve missed?” Let the team members know that if they will have the opportunity to evaluate the solution. The solution might need to be modified or scrapped if it does create the outcomes desired. Keep the attitude that solutions are an ongoing process. This process might appear to take longer than giving directives, and it is. It is also more apt to gain the outcomes you desire by making your team members take ownership of problem-solving. Once they have invested time and energy, they will be more invested in keeping the agreements. The key is for them to see you as part of the process, and not the process.  
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Have you ever been on the receiving end of a problem that no one would help you solve, even if they had the authority to do so? You provided data and observations about the problem's existence and explained how it impacted production, cost, earnings and/or culture. You talked to the person or persons that had authority over the problem, but those individuals either denied that the problem existed, washed their hands of it, or said that it was someone else's problem to solve (even if there was "no one else"). Right now I have a wireless internet problem that does not seem to have an owner. This problem is preventing me from backing up some data, which is kind of a big deal. Every company that I talk to says that it is out of their control - the internet provider, the router company and the company that made the device that I am uploading the data from. The problem is real - I have data that I have collected on speeds and have narrowed down the scope based on what the data shows. I have shared that data and was told that the problem was "out of our control". I have not given up and continue to escalate the problem to a higher level, hoping that I can get some assistance but do not know if I will be successful.

I could give many examples where management chose to ignore a problem, even though that choice was tied to a production loss, higher costs or a loss of trust. In addition to these losses, the person making that choice ALWAYS lost credibility with others in management and/or the workforce. Management priorities would change if we could quantify the losses associated with choices to ignore problems. But... before we track the losses (financial and cultural), we must first stop accepting this choice as "management's discretion". Until we change our perspective on what we are willing to accept as "OK", unrecorded losses will continue and the people directly impacted by an unsolved problem will continue to work around it the best that they can, knowing that it's "management choice" that they continue to struggle with the issue.
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•   When you listen with energy and animation people will believe that they are being heard.

•   When people feel that you are really listening to them, they will be able to trust you more.

•   When people have more trust toward you, they will be more willing to hear from you.

Remember to Listen with Your Heart AND Your Head

This is precisely the power great communicators have come to know – the power of genuinely listening or, “active” listening, with the heart and not just the head. Practice this type of listening and you’ll be amazed at how well you’ll be able to engage people, giving you even more success as

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Most of us work for a living. On or off the job we are bound to encounter a wide range of, shall I say, challenging personalities? Bullies, intimidators, hypocrites, backstabbers, underminers, instigators, complainers, gossips, withholders, and know-it-alls just to name a few. Their presence can be distressing and distractive. Many of us are ill-prepared to deal with their ever unpredictable behaviors yet are quick to hold them accountable for making it even more impossible to perform our already demanding jobs. As in all relationships, the interaction between both parties contributes to the dysfunction on the job. Therefore, it is imperative to first examine the self for any improprieties. Take a moment and reflect upon the following: ~ Am I guilty of any of the preceding behaviors? Unless I am able to identify my own destructive behaviors I have no right to complain about others nor do I have the ability to improve the dynamics. I am responsible for my own actions and must first be willing to change myself. ~ How is my attitude? Have I always been polite and respectful? Was I in a bad mood the day we had an issue? Did I say or do anything that may have provoked the other party now or prior to the incident? ~ What is my history with this person: amicable or hostile? What is their personal history? Is this an isolated incident? Is this behavior out of character for them or typical? ~ Am I blowing things out of proportion? Have I taken personal offense to an issue that is not about me? Am I the only one in the office who has an issue with this person or does he/she behave the same way with all of  us? ~ Is this impacting my performance on the job? It is causing me significant distress? Do I need to address the issue with the individual? Can I let it slide? Do I need to enlist the aid of another person such as my supervisor to help resolve this? Only after I have thoroughly and honestly examined my role in this incident can I take action with (not against) the other party. (Attitude is key: you are coworkers, not adversaries.) There are several keys to dealing with individuals who exhibit the above characteristics: 1. Carefully and objectively assess the situation and determine its level of seriousness. A minor incident may be well to overlook while one of a more critical nature needs to be addressed. 2. Determine if this is something you are comfortable and qualified to handle on your own. Involving a third party might jeopardize the other's anonymity and sense of safety. 3. Choose the proper time and location to discuss the issue. 4. Utilize a firm yet fair approach, speaking with confidence and clarity. 5. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Ask questions rather than make assumptions or accusations. However, be certain to hold them accountable for their actions. 6. Listen open mindedly to their response or explanation. Consider their point of view. 7. Set guidelines and boundaries if necessary. 8. State your position and what changes need to take place. Ask for the same from them. 9. Reach a mutually agreed upon settlement and put the issue behind you. 10. For those issues or individuals who will not change, accept what is and do the best you can under the circumstances. Not every incident will be resolved the way you had hoped for. Remember that whatever course of action you choose to take or not take, do so with dignity and integrity. Your behavior reflects your character and the example you set may be just enough to surreptitiously resolve the issue.  
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