A kindly old woman came upon a very dangerous, poisonous snake lying on the road near death.  Feeling compassion for the snake, the old woman brought the snake to her home and over the next several months nursed the snake back to good health.  When it came time for the snake to leave, it viciously bit the old woman filling her with poisonous venom.  As the old woman lay dying, she said to the snake, why did you bite me after I was so kind to you?   The snake simply replied, you knew that I was a dangerous snake when you took me in, what did you expect?  The moral of this story is that you will not be able to change a person’s basic nature no matter how much you try to help him.

For example, a dangerous, anti-social person will continue to be dangerous no matter how well he is treated.  This is a fundamental truth that many well meaning but misguided social reformers fail to understand.

Another application of this rule can be found in the workplace.  A person who is not ambitious and industrious by nature cannot be motivated to be otherwise no matter how much you praise or reward that person.  No amount of opportunities that could be bestowed upon that person will make a difference in his lack of desire to succeed.

I experienced this first hand because I failed to understand this simple principle when I came to USFSB.   In my world of practicing law, ambition was a way of life and everyone I encountered seemed motivated by the opportunity to succeed and prosper.  I did not know the USFSB employees very well, but believed that everyone could be motivated to work hard and be ambitious if properly rewarded.

With that in mind, as USFSB became more profitable, I gave the employees very significant year-end bonuses not based, necessarily, on their efforts but on my belief that the reward would motivate them to be better employees.   Of course, this did not work with everyone since, as I eventually learned, you can’t change someone’s fundamental nature with rewards.

People who are ambitious and take pride in their work are that way by nature and not simply because they were encouraged by rewards.   After a few years at USFSB, I finally realized that you can reward ambitious people but that you can’t instill ambition with rewards.