Editor’s Note: No Mercy/No Malice is a column from Professor Scott Galloway, where he shares various reflections on business, tech, and life each week.

I’ve struggled my whole career with getting the easy stuff right. Rallying a team to pull together an insightful, hard-hitting presentation and then showing up to that presentation 15 minutes late and pissing everyone off. After the meeting, getting an email from the client about additional work or another opportunity, only to not respond in a timely fashion and lose momentum. Not following up with people when I should. In general, a lack of professionalism and bad manners have reduced the slope of my trajectory. Strange, as I know when I’m doing it, and know how to fix it… and I still don’t.

The lesson here? Easy. Don’t be a fucking idiot like yours truly. Get the easy stuff right.

I believe most people are especially repelled by attributes in others that remind them of things they loathe about themselves. Below is a story that was my first brush with internet fame.

I teach second-year MBA students. One time, a student was late to class. I kicked him out, and some drama unfolded (our email exchange was forwarded to some news sites). One article got 700K views and 305 comments. At one point, the Dean’s office at NYU Stern was getting an email about our exchange every two minutes. Most were supportive, some not… at all (“I’m not letting my son register at NYU this fall”). The exchange is now part of my syllabus. I’m fairly certain it’s the most-read late policy in the history of academia.

Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:15:11 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Brand Strategy Feedback

Prof. Galloway,

I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6 p.m. Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.

As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.

I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.

Regards,
 xxxx

— MBA 2010 Candidate

NYU Stern School of Business

My reply:

From: scott@stern.nyu.edu To: xxxx Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 9:34:02 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific

Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback

xxxx:

Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.

Just so I’ve got this straight… you started in one class, left 15–20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class, which “bothered” you.

Correct?

You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening professor is teaching Judgment and Decision Making or Critical Thinking. In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks, or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you, and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause… REAL pause, xxxx, and take to heart what I am about to tell you:

xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a work/life balance… these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility… these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right, xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back, and you will not achieve your potential, which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late, xxxx…

Again, thanks for the feedback.

Life is so rich,

Scott

P.S. The year’s PR winner and my attacks on yoga on today’s Pivot.


Originally published at www.l2inc.com.