The Honest Woodcutter, one of Aesop's fables, tells the story of how a woodsman is richly rewarded for telling the truth to a friendly water spirit. You might recall the tale from your childhood. Here's how it goes: a woodsman accidentally drops his ax into a deep pond. The man is deeply distressed because he depends on the ax for his livelihood.
A water spirit appears, learns of the man's plight, dives into the water and emerges with first, an ax made of silver and, subsequently, one of gold. He inquires whether each, in turn, belongs to the woodsman.
The man claims neither. The spirit dives back into the pond and emerges with the plain wooden ax the woodsman had lost. The man affirms the plain ax is indeed his implement.
The spirit not only returns his ax, but also gives him the golden and silver axes in appreciation of his truth-telling.
A single act of truth-telling doesn't qualify you as an honest person, of course.
Integrity must underlie every interaction you undertake. And honesty practiced consistently over time cultivates trust, an important ingredient in successful relationships, whether personal or professional.
In business, long-lasting relationships translate into enhanced profitability, a truism not lost on savvy merchant level salespeople (MLSs).
A few "bad apples" who don't practice the "honesty is the best policy" approach to business have created negative stereotypes that upstanding MLSs, who are in the majority, must overcome. But this is not a truly significant obstacle for MLSs who act honorably; it is only a career killer for the ones who offer false promises in an effort to make quick deals. Another part to the woodcutter's story illustrates this point:
On the way home, the woodcutter meets another woodsman to whom he tells his tale of good fortune. After hearing the story, the second woodsman, coveting the axes of silver and gold, runs to the pond and drops his ax into its depths.
When the spirit appears with a silver ax, the less-than-honest woodsman quickly claims it as his own.
How does the story end? The spirit disappears, and the second woodsman's own ax remains at the bottom of the pond.
Was the first woodsman in the fable honest? Given that he told the truth simply because it was the right thing to do, not because he anticipated some type of personal gain for his candor, he probably was an honest person. His motivation stemmed from a set of principles.
In the end, when it comes to your career, it's not how many deals you've done, but how many you've done the right way.
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