Do Not Take Your Buddy’s Paycheck For Granted

Recently a long-time friend retired as Chief of Police. After he had been at home for a few weeks, he called me.

“Hi!” he said.

“Greetings, my Friend!” I replied.

“I need your help with a little thing. You see, I am increasingly concerned that my wife is going to kill me in my sleep.”

“What?!!!” I responded, knowing his wife for many, many years and amused at the thought that she might be fully capable of such a thing.

“Oh, apparently I’m getting on her nerves around here. She says I need to get out of the house and let her run the house the way she has always ran it. So, you have anything I can do?” (By the way, this happens a lot more than you might expect … )

“Well, there are a couple of projects that might interest you and would certainly benefit my clients,” I told him. “Come to my office when you have some time and we’ll look at them. In the meantime,” I said, “sleep with one eye open and keep your guidance to yourself, eh?”

He visited me at my office a few days later. During that visit I presented an organizational development project idea to him which, as it turns out, was one he always wanted to implement in his own department.

“So, you’ll be happy with this one?” I asked.

“Absolutely!” he responded, continuing to look through the outline. After a few minutes he looked up and said, “Great! I’m ready to get started right now!”

“Then, have at it,” I said.

“By the way,” he said, “what’s my budget for this?”

I could do little more than to look him square in the eyes, trying not to laugh out loud.

“Budget?!” I said. “Budget?! My friend I have no budget for that project. Your job, if you want to be successful in the private sector is to make me a proposal so compelling that I will stop spending some money in one place and reinvest it in your project. That is the first lesson of the private sector; quite different than the perspective you’ve had your entire career.”

I continued, “See, that’s your problem, my Friend. You’ve only ever signed the back of a paycheck. You have never known the sheer anxiety and terror associated with having to find ways to sign the front of someone’s paycheck … something I wrestle with every day of my business life.”

We had a few cups of coffee, planned the thing carefully and he made it work in a most superb manner.

In a parallel story: Regardless of the actual signature on the front of your paycheck, that person is signing, symbolically, on behalf of The People Who Pay The Bills Around Here – The Taxpayers of your jurisdiction.

Why do I note that? Because it’s their money. It is not the Mayor’s money, nor the Legislature’s money, nor the County Commission’s money, nor the Undersheriff-Major-Captain-Lieutenant’s money. It is, as I have noted elsewhere, always The People’s Money.

The days are gone – gone – when any employee can get away with simply and only “signing the back of their paycheck.”

As a member of a team, I OWE each of my fellow employees and those who have not yet been hired. I must do the best job I can with every public interaction, every on-duty and off-duty choice, so my Team will continue to get the FRONT of their paychecks signed.

I know of no rule in the Universe that gives any organization a charter to be in business forever. I know of no mission for any agency that says, “Our mission is to give people jobs.”

You get to keep your organization just like I get to keep mine. You get to keep your job just like I get to keep mine. The day I fail to show value added for the services I provide to clients is the day I am out of business and out of a job.

So, no more, “How much money can I spend?”

Replace it with, “I have the personal honor of turning this into more value than the original investment.”

No more, “I’m just here to collect a paycheck.”

Replace it – and anyone who selfishly thinks like that – with, “I and my co-workers are here to add value to families, students, neighborhoods and businesses; to contribute to this community’s reputation as a safe place to live, work, learn, play and visit.”

If you want to “have your buddy’s back,” make those choices.

Expect those choices.

Require those choices.

Tell your Investors every day that you are committed to those choices. It is, after all, their money.

Oh, and as I will relentlessly remind my friends, students and clients: listen to one another.

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Article written by

Stephen L. Kent, founder and president of The Results Group, Ltd., has more than 35 years of leadership, training and facilitation experience. As a leadership & training consultant, he specializes in helping organizations design and implement programs to improve personal, leadership and organizational effectiveness, strategic planning, issues management and community engagement. Steve is a dynamic speaker who is known for his straight talk that gets right to the heart of key issues. He is the author of Strategic Planning & Organizational Culture For Public Safety Agencies and the novel, Covered With Montana - both of which may be purchased on He and his family reside in Oro Valley, Arizona.

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