Learning Leadership From a Scam Artist

As embarrassing as this is to admit I have to be honest- I got scammed today. If you’d asked me the odds of this happening to me before today I would have told you next to none. I’m a well-educated young guy with a nose for those kind of things. I’ve turned down countless email offers to receive a Nigerian Prince’s inheritance. I’m not supposed to fall for this stuff.

But fall for it I did- and hard. I’ll spare you all the gory details but this particular scam involved a company calling themselves “Corporate Warehouse Supply” who kindly offered to send me some extra toner for our office copier before the price of the toner went up. Which sounds all right until you receive said toner carrying the modest price tag of $492.90!

As soon as I saw the bill I knew I’d been had. Fortunately though the company didn’t have any payment information from us, so I wasn’t worried about ever actually needing to pay the bill. So I made all the preparations I needed to make to call and insist on a return. So far, so good. But it’s what happened next as our conversation began that surprised me.

Shortly after confronting the person on the other end of the call with their companies deplorable practices I had the tables turned on me. The company representative took issue with my tone and insisted they were just trying to be helpful. Additionally I was assured that I had been told the price of the toner repeatedly thus making the problem mine and not theirs- a blatant falsehood.

And you know what happened next? Almost without realizing it, I started to apologize. You read that right. As the phone call went on I found myself apologizing to someone whose sole purpose for doing business with me was to deceive, and ultimately disenfranchise me.

I was frustrated with the whole situation until I uncovered a great leadership lesson hidden inside it: the people who would harm us most demand the most of our time and energy. Or you could flip it around.

Beware the scam artists.

As leaders we’ve all got people associated with our organizations who we know have ulterior motives in their dealings with us. Some of them wear those motives on their sleeves- a promotion that wasn’t given or a clear difference in management philosophy perhaps. Others do a better job of hiding them but their hearts are the same, for their leaders agenda to be stymied, not advanced.

The Scripture has a great word for people like this, people who “…take no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing their opinion” (Prov. 18:2). It calls them fools. While that word may rub our modern sensitivities wrongly Scripture’s wisdom of how to deal with fools is clear. For Solomon memorably urges in Proverbs 26:4,

‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him yourself.’ Argue with a fool and you become one.

But don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that as a leader you can just willfully ignore anyone who pushes back against you or makes your job more difficult than you feel it needs to be. Nonsense. Every leader has to learn to live with those kinds of individuals one way or another. But balance is key.

Don’t let the scam artists of your organization demand more of you than they’re willing to give in return. Prioritize investing in those relationships that bear fruit. Feel no shame in minimizing your interactions with those who have proven they do not have your best interests at heart.

The more time you spend apologizing to them for what you’re not the less time you have to lead effectively as who you are. And that will only cost those you lead in the long run.

Question: Have you ever been guilty of giving too much time to a “fool”? What did you learn from that experience?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Huntington City Resident

    I want you to know that around the same time last year, Corporate Warehouse Supply called me. They already had our office’s make and serial number and said we were on schedule for our toner order and asked if I wanted to order early before prices went up. I embarrassingly consented, being new and assuming this must be our copier support company. I got an invoice for over $800. I called back and informed them we were under contract with our copier company and that we weren’t interested in their business. I get a similar phone call about once a month now. thanks to your message, I’ll keep my cool.