You are Represented by the Values of the People You Associate With

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 5a
September 1, 2018

By Dan Coughlin


There has been a trend lately for famous leaders to say, “I didn’t do anything wrong. That was my ____ who did it.”

We’ve heard:

“I didn’t know there were strippers in the dorm for four years helping with our recruiting. That was my assistant coach’s fault.”

“I didn’t know we paid $100,000 to a high school player to come to our school. That was my other assistant coach’s fault.”

“I didn’t know my college assistant coach allegedly hit his wife. I didn’t know he had sex with a member of our football staff. I didn’t know he took high school coaches with him to a strip joint. That wasn’t me. That was all on him.”

“I didn’t know that I paid a Playboy Model and a porn star over $100,000 each to stay quiet. That was my lawyer who did it.”

Eventually Their Values are What You Become Known For

Any of us can be associated with someone who does something wrong.

However, when it happens three times or more over an extended period of time with multiple people it’s no longer about the other people as much as it is about us. People will start to assume:

  1. We are a terrible judge of character.
  2. We have no credibility because we’re either ignorant or lying.
  3. Or we really do share the same values as those people, and we just keep blaming others for our own values.

What is NOT the Primary Question We Should Ask in Choosing our Associates

When you are hiring a new employee or choosing a new service provider or deciding to work for a new boss, there are questions that should not be your primary question.

Your primary question should NOT be, “Will this person help me make more money?”

Your primary question should NOT be, “Will this person help me win what I want to win?”

Your primary question should NOT be, “Will this person help me get away with doing certain things?”

Your primary question should NOT be, “Will this person improve my career?”

Your primary question should NOT be, “Will this person make me look good to other people?”

The Primary Question When Deciding Who to Associate With

The first question you should ask yourself is, “Will this person’s values represent me in the way that I want to be represented?”

Values are what a person believes to be so important that they drive the person’s behaviors on a consistent basis.

You can get a clear sense of a person’s values by observing his or her behaviors and his or her decisions over a reasonable amount of time. If you are dissatisfied with the person’s values, you can talk about them with the person to see if you can affect them in a positive way. It’s unlikely you will change them, but you can at least try a few times.

Once you’ve determined that the person’s values are not what you want to be associated with, then you need to move on from the relationship. You need to fire the person or walk away from the person. You need to DISASSOCIATE yourself from that person. Do that as soon as you realize the person’s values are not going to change and you don’t want to be known for those values. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

This can be incredibly hard to do, but it is necessary. People find a thousand reasons to stay associated with people who have terrible values. They’ll say, “I don’t want the person to lose his/her job.” “I don’t want to have to find a new job.” And then there’s the ultimate classic, “The person’s values really aren’t THAT bad.” Really? How bad is too bad?

People rationalize with themselves until one day the other person’s values represent them in a very public and very humiliating way. And then the person says, “I should have dissociated myself from that person sooner. I just didn’t realize how bad that person’s values really were at the time.”

Yeah, good one. No one is believing that. You knew, and you didn’t move on for a lot of reasons, but it wasn’t because you didn’t know the person’s values.

Long-term success is largely determined by the values of the people we choose to stay associated with. Choose very, very carefully.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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