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House of Cards

Posted on Thursday, March 1, 2018 in Small Business Today Articles

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago watching the UNI basketball team play Loyola. It’s a long story, but I ended up taking the Megabus back to Des Moines. Truth be told, I was expecting an adventure with at least one unusual story to tell. However, it was an uneventful ride. Two stops, and we even arrived early. The most exciting problem I encountered was conserving the battery life on my phone.

That was important to me because in order to pass the time during the six hour ride, I decided to binge watch a Netflix series. People have told me that “House of Cards” was an interesting show so before I left home, I downloaded the entirety of season one. I got through eight and half episodes. In case you are not familiar with the show, according to Wikipedia, “House of Cards is an American political thriller web television series created by Beau Willimon. It is an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, based on the novel by Michael Dobbs.”

The series centers on a power hungry politician, Frank Underwood. Frank and wife his have no moral compass. The fictional piece shows how Frank uses any and all means to get what he wants, which is to become the president of the United States. He forms alliances with different characters to move his scheme forward. Other politicians, journalists, business people all become pawns to him. Frank uses them by promising things that they want, and by forming bonds of trust. Unfortunately for the other characters in the show, the trust only lasts as long as they can deliver for the crooked politician.

As I finished an episode where a significant piece of the story line was about trust and proving that one party can trust another, I got to thinking about trust. It is obvious in this story that trust was merely a word that was thrown around, there wasn’t any real trust among the characters. Dictionary .com defines trust as the “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing”. That definition didn’t satisfy me so I looked up integrity. Again according to, integrity is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Now when we understand integrity, we understand trust.

The characters in House of Cards lacked integrity and therefore were unable to deliver trust, even though they talked about it a lot. As small business owners and managers, trust and integrity are essential for being successful long term. Sure we can lie about our products and services to make a sale. Or we can threaten our employees to get them to produce more for a while. But those are short term gains that cannot last. Customers will not give us repeat business and employees will eventually find better places to work causing long term losses.

The one characteristic that was obvious to me in all of the characters in House of Cards is that everything they did had a selfish motive to it. They did favors in order to get favors in return. To effectively build trust we need to act in the best interest of our customers and employees. Sometimes that means that we have to sacrifice, which also builds trust. That sacrifice is typically temporary, but the positive results, including the trust we build with others, lasts a long time.

Since my bus trip I have several more episodes of House of Cards. The more I watch the more I shake my head and wonder how much truth is reflected in this portrayal of our elected officials. It makes me happy I live in Iowa.


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