Keeper Trait #8 – Prudence

With nothing to do but wait while we stood patiently in line at the local Post Office, we happened to see that there was but one “If It Fits It Ships” box in the rack. For those readers outside the United States, the Post Office here has a product  that lets a shipper send a box for a flat rate anywhere in the US if it fits inside regardless of weight. Normally, there is a selection of several sizes which ship for different rates. In our local office there was only one box.

When we got to the window, we mentioned to the postal clerk that she was almost out of “If It Fits It Ships” boxes.

“Yes,” she reasoned. “I know. As soon as that one’s gone I’ll order more.”

We could not let that reasoning go unchallenged. “Why not order some now so that you don’t run out?”

“But we have one left. We don’t order until they are all gone.”

“But,” we persisted, “if you order now you will never be out and you are out of some sizes already.”

“We have our system,” she bristled. “When we’re out we order more.”

In so doing, she immediately disqualified herself from ever working for me in any capacity in any application (not that she would even want to). The postal clerk happened to be female but her lack of prudence is not gender specific. Either sex can be shortsighted.

Prudence is foresight, the capacity to see what lies ahead and do whatever it takes to be ready for it.

All businesses have future completion dates that must be met. My woodworking business dealt with deadlines every day. But non-production companies do to.

Prudent people do not see only the next step; they see the end result and the steps between now and then. They realize that if something is going to have to happen “then” something(s) will have to be started now.

Prudence has come to carry the meaning of cautiousness as well, but this is seldom an issued in business unless one wants to counterbalance recklessness. Business itself carries risk. We use the term business venture because there is an element of risk. Recklessness does not consider the risk and potential for peril and proceeds anyway. Prudence does consider the risk and proceeds when appropriate because it considers contingencies and prepares to meet or avoid them. The ability to discern whether a considered act is foolhardy or courageous is itself an act of prudence.

Prudent people weigh options and make a considered decision. They have the insight and understanding (I discuss these in detail in my book 3 Essential Skills of Effective Leadership) to reason rationally and intelligently. They allow emotions like desire and machismo to be tempered by foresight and maturity.

Prudent people understand why foresight, planning, and preparation are necessary. They put the pieces together so that customers have flat rate boxes whenever they might need them. Prudent people do not retreat into and hide behind systems or policy. They place the over-riding objectives of customer service and relationships as trump cards. If they are going to supply customer’s needs, they will never run out of flat rate boxes. They will always have an on-hand supply.

Prudent people will be free of debilitating vices, or if not free, have them well under control. In the last post I spoke of the 26 employees I had hired and fired. More than one of them lacked prudence. If you show up for work stoned, you may be certain prudence is not among your virtues.

Finally, prudent people pick their battles carefully. They are neither firebrands nor demagogues. They know that not every engagement is an opportunity for conflict. Prudent people build bridges before they burn them.  They save their strength and resources for battles that can be won.

Trait # 9 – sensitivity – is up next. See you in a few days.

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