Every once in a while, some bright young kid I’m mentoring does something really stupid or really shiftless — something so wrong that it causes me to wonder if I’ve made a mistake committing my time to him. This happened yesterday. PSG temporarily closed a profitable operation so he could take care of some other business. My first reaction was pretty negative. But then I reminded myself to remember how I was at his age — in my middle 20s. I recollected with flinching clarity all the shiftless, irresponsible, and downright rotten things I used to do to my bosses and mentors.

Like approving editorial products I knew weren’t very good. And spending money on promotional campaigns that were late, flawed, and halfhearted. Like coming to work Monday after Monday hung over and nodding in my office. Because, too, I remember RP, a very successful competitor who was once a very mediocre employee of mine. By Jack Welch’s classification (Message #569), RP was a D. He neither embraced the culture of the business he worked for nor produced the work that was expected of him.

Still, I sensed in him the seed of someone who could be successful, and, for that reason, I worked with him — until, finally, I could stand his crap no longer and let him go. He struggled for several years working for other people and hustling to make ends meet. Just as he was about to go under, something clicked and his business took off. SA is another example. There was a point at which I thought he would never get it and almost told him so. But, I decided to give him just one more try, and now he’s one of the most successful people in his field.

Generally, I’m in favor of cutting bait if an employee doesn’t start out shining. But what do you do if he begins like a young Jack Welch and then — every now and then — acts like Bozo the Clown? You bring the kid in, dress him down, and tell him that you believe he has a choice: He can change his basic view of work and go on to be amazingly successful — or he can go on acting like the goal of work is to get away with doing as little as possible and end up a loser. Tell him that he is standing at a crossroads or at the bank of a river.

If he takes the right path or crosses the stream, his life will immediately and forever be better. He will see his energy level rise. He will be able to make quicker, smarter decisions. His judgment about almost everything business-related will deepen. And he’ll feel the difference. Immediately. Remind him that once he is completely engaged — mentally and emotionally — his experience of business will improve enormously. He’ll be happier, more excited, more enthusiastic.

Problems that seemed insurmountable will drift away. The jobs he is working on will begin to move forward with more rapidity. And then all the good things will start to flow — money, recognition, respect, and power. Tell him this because it will help him. Speak with conviction because it is true. Look him in the eye and show him you care about him. Sell him on making that change — that one, simple but profoundly big change — and you will both reap rewards from it for a very long time to come.