Patrick Steel | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Patrick Steel

Background:  

POLITICO is a global news and information company at the intersection of politics and policy, with publications based in Washington, D.C., New York and Brussels. Since its launch in 2007, POLITICO’s mission has been to help sustain and vastly expand nonpartisan political and policy journalism. Patrick Steel joined POLITICO in 2017, after 16 years with FBR Capital Markets, where he raised capital and provided financial advisory services to a wide range of businesses.

The Mistake:

The mistake was enduring certain relationships for too long when your values don’t align.

One of the things I wish I knew sooner is that you get to decide who you work with and who you do business with. When you’re young and working your way up, you’re assigned to work with clients. But as you move through organizations, you do get to decide who you want to work with. It’s absolutely the most critical decision, in terms of the colleagues you work with, but also the people you do business with.

Early on in my career when I worked in investment banking, there were clients I worked with that I didn’t think were totally ethical. When you work with people who aren’t totally ethical it’s really hard to reach agreements. Trust is so important in any agreement, in putting together any deal. My mistake was enduring relationships and not realizing quickly enough that you can never get past that misalignment of values.

If you’re working with people whose values you share, whose personal ethics you share, you realize you can solve any problem. You can always reach an agreement that works for both sides when you’re working with decent people. It’s just simply not the case when you’re working with people who are dishonest or not ethical. And that’s a lesson you only learn when working with people whose values you just don’t share.

As you gain experience and you have exposure to a variety of different kinds of clients and coworkers, you do realize that you can be more effective and efficient and successful by focusing on just working with great, talented people. Once I realized that’s the recipe for success, I was able to be much more focused in terms of the people I wanted to do business with.

From my perspective, life is too short to not work with great people.

The Lesson:

The lesson is you have to trust your instincts. Trusting your instincts when you’re assessing people is really, really important. It’s a difficult thing to teach, but as you hone your instincts and make personal values and ethics central to your decision making, it really informs who you spend time with, who you work with, and who your customers are.

At the end of the day you know what your own personal values are. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re working with people whose values you don’t share, that’s a really strong signal that you need to move on. One of the keys is quickly identifying people whose values conflict with your own. In the process of quickly doing that, you’re able to focus your energy and efforts on getting things done.

There are a lot of people in the world. There are a lot of great people, professionally and personally, and a lot of not so great people. When you work with great people, you find so much more success. From my perspective, life is too short to not work with great people. You’ve got to keep looking until you find them, but you will find them, and you’ll find much greater personal and professional success when you do.

POLITICO is on Twitter at @politico.

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