Monday, November 15, 2010

Relationships and Red Flags - A Learning Experience

About 20 years ago, I met a wealthy retired executive who liked what I was doing so much he decided to help me succeed. He had inherited a thriving soft drink bottling business from his father, and by marketing it to South America he grew the company significantly. Now he enjoyed playing golf and helping entrepreneurs go to the next level. His interest and friendship were affirmations that meant a lot to me as I was growing my own business.

He introduced me to a company that was opening up a new market in Atlanta. The president of this company was his son. It took me a while, but after sorting through the nuances of organizational politics, I discovered that he had "bought" this position for his son.

His son was in over his head and was little more than a figurehead. Eventually they removed him, and my friend moved on to other opportunities, always trying to find an executive position for his son. Unfortunately, the son had no fire in the belly. I attributed this to growing up in a family where everything was given to him. He had never had to strive.

Ultimately, his daddy got tired of this project, and the son had to cram to get his real estate license.

Along the way, my wealthy friend said he was going to get me a position teaching at a university. I was qualified, but it's not something I wanted to do. I asked him, "How would you do that?"

He replied that he would endow a chair and have me fill it.

I told him that I preferred being in the business world and besides, universities select their own professors, regardless of who endows the chair.

He disagreed. He honestly felt that money talked, that he could call the shots.

This was a red flag, flapping away in my face.

The flag raised itself again when he wanted me to help a company do strategic planning. He wanted me to help them create a vision based on the strategic plan he had created for them.

I told my friend that the sequence was wrong. Visioning comes first. Then the plan. Besides, companies need to develop their own plans. You can help them, but they have real-world experience in the business and they need to buy into the plan.

Then it hit me. He had invested in this company, and they were letting him do this. They would ignore the plan after he left.

The red flag was waving. My friend was bored in retirement and loved dabbling in business. It made him feel young again. But he had no idea what he was doing.

When the recession of 2001 hit, I had to restructure my business. That meant deferring some of the plans I had made with my wealthy mentor. When he expressed outrage, I realized he thought he owned me and he expected me to do whatever he said. He accused me of being disloyal.

The red flags had always been there, but I had ignored them. It was hard to face reality when what I needed was encouragement, which my friend was always quick to give.

Since then, I've been more respectful of red flags. Even yellow flags.

And I'm much more thoughtful about my relationships.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Anonymous said...

Excellent -- but it is so hard to recognize those types of red flags (and it seems they usually start as yellow rather than clear red) when they first appear.

Bill Browning said...

I think I am always aware of the red flags, but have a tendency to ignore them and think I'll deal with them later when they show up more. Always creates problems.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This was interesting, Denny, and an important reminder. I sometimes ignore the red flags. Sometimes, I see what I want to see, instead of what IS, and that's a dangerous thing.

Love to you and Kathleen,


Diana said...

This is a good example of not trusting your own intuition. I think we all do this sometimes--we talk ourselves out of what we know is right. Thanks for the post. It is a good reminder.

Anonymous said...

Thx I'm seeing red flags with one of my friends now. I just cut her out of my life. She is so charming, yet lacks integrity!