Dr. Gary North – The Greatest Single Character Flaw in Otherwise Decent People

Dr. Gary North – The Greatest Single Character Flaw in Otherwise Decent People

Guest post by Dr. Gary North

They start. They do not finish.

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)

They promise. They do not fulfill. They make others dependent on them. Then they quit.

But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you (Matthew 21:28-30).

They do not count the cost.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).

It would be great if we could spot these people in advance and therefore never do business with them. But I have learned over the years that this is not possible. There are too many of them. They start out just fine. They do not finish.

If the world really is structured in terms of a huge Pareto distribution, then those who are in the 80% who produce 20% of the output are these people.



These people turn their work in late. They show up late. They make excuses.

This is the pattern. They do not govern themselves in terms of a time schedule. They make others dependent on them, and they think nothing about failing to deliver. They just do not care.

Here is their bottom line: their word is no good. This does not bother them.

Some people do shoddy work, but they do it on time. Maybe they can be taught to do better work. If they refuse to be taught how to do better work, and if they cannot be re-assigned to another task in which they are competent, then you should fire them. Do not feel bad about this. They refuse to meet your standards.

Nevertheless, I would rather keep a man on the payroll who does predictably shoddy work than keep someone who does excellent work sporadically. I can work around shoddy work. I can put someone on the job who does shoddy work in a low-paid task that is marginal to the operation. I can hire somebody else to come in and clean up after him. Because he is predictable, he is employable.

It is risky to work around sporadic work. I never want to work with someone who is not predictable. I will let somebody else take on the responsibility of becoming dependent on a person who is not predictable.

Another indicator is this: a person needs to be nagged. He will not perform as he agreed to unless you nag him. He must have preliminary negative verbal sanctions in order for him to produce predictably. He is psychologically incapable of imposing negative sanctions on his own behavior. He does not plan his work on the assumption that the negative sanctions will be that bad. Somebody will nag him. Somebody will remind him of his obligations. In his view, the other person is responsible for his lack of performance. The other person must keep track of what he is doing, and when he is clearly not going to be able to perform on time as agreed to, will intervene and nag him.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I resent being nagged. I have always hated it. Being nagged means that someone does not trust my word. Being nagged means that someone thinks I am unreliable.

On rare occasions, I may forget an appointment. That is why I have my wife put it in her calendar. She reminds me. If I am writing intensely, I tend to lose track of time. So, I do have someone to nag me. But that person is not my employer. That person is part of my overall production process, and has been for 49 years.

Because I regard nagging as an insult, I have always found it difficult to nag employees. I don’t insult them. I give them a task, and I expect them to fulfill the task. Sometimes I get disappointed. But if this disappointment becomes part of a pattern, I fire the employee.

If I had somebody on the payroll who did need to be nagged, I would force him to turn in preliminary reports on how he is doing. I would not become dependent on him to deliver, as promised and on time, a major component of a productive operation. I would break it down into smaller tasks, each with an annoying requirement: turn in a report.

Turning in a report saying that he had done something when he had not done it would be grounds for his dismissal. That is not incompetence; that is lying.



I believe the greatest single key to success is self-discipline. The self-disciplined person is likely to wind up in the 20% of the population that produces 80% of the output.

It begins in school. The self-disciplined student begins working on a term paper as soon as it is assigned. He writes down the deadline in a Day Timer or its equivalent. If he is exceptionally wise, he breaks the assignment into sections, and each section has a deadline. Not many students do this, but those who do are the ones who will wind up in the top 20%, and have a shot at winding up in the top 4%.

These are habits that reflect an outlook. The outlook can be stated simply: “I will finish what I start on time. I will pay the price.” We are back to those three steps to a successful career:

Do what you said you would do.
Complete the project on time.
Do it at the price you agreed to.


These parallel three questions that you should ask yourself in advance:

What do I want to achieve?
When do I want to achieve it?
What am I willing to pay?

The earlier in life that a person comes to grips with these two sets of parallel criteria, the more likely he is going to be a success in whatever he decides to do with his life.

In this life, the go-to guy is the can-do guy. The can-do guy is the always-has-done-in-the-past guy. There are not many of these people.

Within this group, there are some high achievers whose output is exceptionally good. These are the 4% people who account for two-thirds of the output. These are the Price’s law people. I have written about them here: https://www.garynorth.com/members/21248.cfm.

If you are such a person, you will probably wind up in a decision-making position in the corporate hierarchy. I do not know if that is where you want to be, but you will tend to move up in the system. That is because there are so few people in the system who are capable of being promoted into decision-making positions.

If you are such a person, and you do not want to rise in the hierarchy, then never sell more than 40 hours a week to your employer. Start a side business. Develop your own reputation within the industry. At some point, you may be able to earn a living as a consultant or an expert witness.

If you can find somebody under your authority who is such a person, pay that person top dollar. Do whatever you can to keep that person happy. He may not be entrepreneurial. He may not want to move up the chain of command, but he also may not want to start a side business. If you could have your entire department filled with people like this, your department would get large annual bonuses. But these people are rare. You will not fill your department with them.



The good news is this: you do not have to be gifted in order to be an above-average performer.

You have to be self-disciplined. You have to show up on time. You have to turn in your assignments on time. You must do competent work. It need not be spectacular work.

If you need to be nagged in order to achieve these goals, you had better work on this aspect of your personality. The need to be nagged is a character flaw. But it is not a character flaw on the scale of not finishing what you start.


The original article was published here

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