Principled Principals

Principled Principals - image for article by Greg Alder

This is a story of two business principals, one principled, the other not.

The story starts with Rachel. Rachel owns a consultancy. A short time ago, Rachel was approached by a business principal to help with his business. Later that same day, a second principal approached her to help with his business.

Something that Rachel learnt a long time ago is that life is so much easier when she works with business owners whose values align with her own.

Before Rachel accepted the invitation, she took a look at the stated principles of each of business.

It just so happens that the principals of each of these businesses are identical twins.

Like many business owners, both Peter and Paul have defined the values that they believe define their businesses.

Perhaps not surprisingly, being twins, each selected the same set of values for his business.

The Peter Company’s values are loyalty, integrity, empathy, transparency and working for mutual benefit. Ditto The Paul Company’s.

These are worthy values. Rachel decided that she’d want to consult to a business that had these values. And so she engaged with Peter to work on The Peter Company’s business and she set about helping Paul with The Paul Company.

As Rachel now knows, whilst Peter and Paul are identical twins, and their businesses seem to share the same values, there is a critical difference between the two. One principal is principled. The other is not.

Of course, Rachel couldn’t know this from meeting Peter and Paul. They’re both charming. She couldn’t know from their stated values. They’re identical.

This difference only revealed itself when she started working with The Peter Company and The Paul Company.

Here’s what Rachel learnt about each of the principal’s principles.


Both businesses were startups. As startups, they relied heavily on the loyal passion of foundation staff and business partners. Like those staff and partners, Rachel knew that money might be tight. One of Rachel’s principles is that loyal partners remain loyal, even when money is a temporary issue. What she learnt was that Peter, the principled principal, would do whatever it took to pay those loyal partners. The unprincipled principal, Paul, would find ways to keep Rachel loyal whilst delaying payment.


Because her own business had once been a startup, Rachel understood that cash flow often plays havoc with a startup’s business development. Even though her invoices weren’t being paid, Rachel continued to work on each business. She figured that if her contribution helped each business succeed, it increased the likelihood of her invoices being paid.

When Rachel broached the subject of unpaid invoices, she got two quite different responses. Peter would be upfront. He’d confess that he couldn’t pay right now, but would do what he could to pay what he could as money came in. On the other hand, Paul made promises of paying her next week. Then next week. Then next week. Rachel lost track of the number of times Paul promised payment next week.


When Rachel mentioned to Peter that his inability to pay her invoices was causing her own cash flow crisis, Peter sympathised, apologised and found a way to pay, if not all of her invoices, then a part – enough to help her pay her own creditors. However, with Paul, the response was a little different. If Paul understood her plight, he didn’t show it. He promised to pay her next week.

Mutual benefit

When Peter decided that one of his business’s values was to work for mutual benefit, he was thinking about being a beneficial long-term partner to his business’s clients. However, he also kept in mind that working with The Peter Company should be mutually beneficial for his own staff, consultants and suppliers. With The Paul Company, Rachel began to feel that it was a one-way street. Paul would find ways to keep her delivering – and promise to pay her next week.


One of the things Rachel grew to value when working with Peter was that he’d share everything with her. His honesty was total. It mightn’t have always been the good news Rachel wanted to hear, but at least she felt she could make decisions armed with all of the facts. With Paul, on the other hand, what at first she’d accepted as truth often turned out to be a lie. Before long she didn’t know what was true. She started to wonder what else was being covered up.

This is what Rachel has come to understand. It’s very easy for a principal to write a list of values. But they are valueless unless they’re applied.

Both Peter and Paul talked the talk. Only Peter walked the walk.

Today, Rachel’s respect for and loyalty to The Peter Company is undiminished. Not so The Paul Company.

Defining your business’s, your brand’s, values is important. Acting on them is critical.

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