A Simple Plan

In Scott Smith’s novel, A Simple Plan , small-town college graduate Hank Mitchell and his good-natured but dim-witted brother Jacob stumble upon a small airplane that has crash landed in the snowy woods of rural Minnesota.

Cash in on good manners.

In the plane, they find $4.4 million in unmarked bills. Their “simple” plan to return to the plane and keep the cash spins dramatically out of control.

It’s a fantastic book, and the movie (by the same name) is equally compelling.

The ironic lesson in this tragic story is that dishonesty is never simple. One lie needs many more to back it up. Plus, it’s hard to keep a secret.

Now, I doubt that anyone reading this Week-Ender will discover millions in cash while walking in the woods this summer. (If you do, maybe that new dining hall will become a reality…) We will all, however, have opportunities to be honest and open.

In my book, that starts with a hello, an introduction, a firm handshake and good eye contact. Simple, right?

You’d be surprised.

My travels this summer have been a study in contrasting politeness. When I arrive at some camps and summer programs, staff take the initiative to approach me, say hello, state their name and give me a firm handshake with good eye contact. It’s a solid, kind and welcoming feeling that says I’m proud to work here and I’m glad you’re here. It also says I’ve got nothing to hide and everything to share, so come join our community for a while.

When I arrive at other places, I sometimes pass four or five uniformed staff without any of them stopping me to ask who I am or introduce themselves. Setting aside security concerns for a moment, I’ll simply say that I don’t feel particularly welcome in that context. I have the impression that the staff lack confidence. They certainly lack initiative.

Whatever was on my training schedule for the day now takes a back seat to training the staff to take charge of warm welcomes whenever a visitor arrives on site.

The good news is that staff are eager to learn the simple and powerful etiquette of polite and poised greetings. The even better news is that they’ve learned a skill that will probably get them their next job.

I don’t mince words when I’m training people to be youth development professionals. I tell them: “No one will hire you if there is a single typo on your resumé. If you can’t take the time to proof-read the single sheet of paper that showcases your qualifications, then you’re not a professional.”

I also tell them: “No one will take you seriously if you don’t greet them with a firm handshake. Offering up a limp fish in place of a firm grip says, I don’t take myself seriously, so you shouldn’t either .”

Some staff laugh nervously when I say these things. Then they realize it’s true and the mood becomes serious.

Then they realize what a simple plan it is to take the first steps toward true professionalism…and they smile again knowing that the next opportunity they have to make a first impression will feel a whole lot different than the last.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is the school psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy and the co-founder of ExpertOnlineTraining.com . Learn more by visiting CampSpirit.com .