In the arena of business, I’ve met a lot of people who start off conversations by asking future employees or other entrepreneurs how much money they’ve earned. The discussion could include additional possessions, like cars, boats and houses, as if these are medals awarded for valor on the field of capitalist battle.
But asking someone how much money they made doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the whole story. So I prefer another question.
“How much money have you lost?”
Knowing how much money someone has lost not only reveals to me how much net worth they might have, but also the level of risk that they’re willing to live with. Further, if someone has lost a considerable amount of money, or has endured numerous life-failures, and yet they’re still sitting in front of me as a successful person, that tells me a great deal about their individual fortitude and personal character. They’re willing to put things on the line, pay the price if they go wrong, and work themselves out of the hole.
I call this loss judging.
Losing money, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, is never fun. It’s not something we like to brag about either. Who would? There’s certainly something to be said for steering clear of people who habitually tank institutions, organizations or themselves. But when considering a new hire or partnership, assuming the person has something to bring to the table, knowing what they’ve had to go through to get where they are helps paint a more clear picture of who they are.
The same assessment can also hold true in other aspects of life. Much of the time we write off people who’ve made poor decisions, finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. How many times have we passed homeless people who actually have degrees in a highly prestigious fields? And yet we give jobs to young 20-something’s fresh out of college, with no experience whatsoever, mind you, and a mountain of debt.
I judge someone who’s lost a loved one—as a different example—as someone who knows how to endure grief. They’ve had to stare mortality in the face and move on, most often at great expense. For those who’ve lost family “out of time,” meaning a son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter, I have even more respect.
Perfect track records can tell you a lot about people, sure. But loss judging not only tells you who a person is, but who’ve they’ve fought not to be. It tells you they’re still in the game. That matters.
Not all loss is bad. And not all gains are good. Our job as leaders is to try and perceive the value of people sitting across from us so we all can move forward in strength. The more scars a person carries, the less your team may have to suffer.