How Red is Red?!

By: Yoram Yahav

Regardless of one’s intelligence, self confidence, comfort zone or position in life, we all maintain a “red line” (or a “red light bulb”) which we are not willing to cross. “There is only so much I can bear from that fool”, “there is a limit to how much I am willing to invest or lose,” “he has crossed my red line, I will not let him abuse me anymore” are all sentences that, at one time or another, are familiar to us.

red-lineRecently I have been pondering much about this notion and wanted to share my thoughts about my own red lines. I ask myself: What am I willing to do and where will my red line cross? My experiences around the globe and the type of work I am engaged in today, require me to notice how people around me feel, think and express themselves. But how vital is it for me to worry about their thoughts and statements? When will I shut off a colleague which makes me pass my “red line” of morals or good taste? If my future and livelihood truly depend on it, how far will I stretch my red line? Can I be honest with myself about something so basic and real on the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? These are interesting questions and before I deal with them, I believe it is worth mentioning a few words about fear and my belief that things happen for a reason.

On an airplane one day, while I was traveling to a remote place to meet with some CEOs, I challenged myself by spending hours writing down my personal fears. This paper was seen by no one, but my ego made it difficult for me to jot down my own fears. Surprisingly, dying was not one of them. But the fear of not being able to financially support my loved ones one day was definitely on the list. But what is fear? After all, I believe that everything happens for a reason within the limits of our free choice to change things around us. So, when I did dangerous things such as jump out of an airplane or dive with sharks in the Cocos islands, I did have some anxieties but they did not prevent me from seizing the moment. But even there, I had a “red line” or a certain limit in mind. I set the limit that I will not dive alone or below a certain depth, etc.

So yes, I do have red lines. I will not cross certain lines which involve dishonest employees or colleagues. I do not tolerate corrupt political or economic views or actions. Same goes for lying. Furthermore, no one is allowed to smoke in my home or car, and I will try to do my best to keep a distance from greedy people. I once asked the late Don Robinson, former CEO of Media General (where I was previously employed as “West Coast Director”), how he would react if the CEO of the largest company in America (a potential client) came to his office and wanted to light a smoke. Well, that would have been problematic, he said, because I would have to cross my red line, I would seriously debate whether to permit it or not. One can say, what is a little smoke versus the opportunity of a profitable client? If you were clear-cut about your dislike for cigarettes, would you permit a potential client of such magnitude to smoke in your office? Would you let the fear of loosing a client overrule your values and preferences? These are tough questions for most people, but for myself the answer is obvious.

I wonder my friends if you spend enough time thinking of your red lines. What are you willing to compromise in order to please others? I certainly don’t have any red lines to the number of responses we receive on this newsletter, so please continue to write to us.