It's been said that one of the most frightfully sobering moments a newly elected president experiences comes at the first national security briefing. That’s when the next occupant of the White House discovers just how many people are planning, or are already in place, to do bad things to this nation. Innocence suddenly lost, this new leader must then go out before the public, smile, and speak optimistically about the future—all while our nation’s security details work nonstop to ward off threats. That's a profile in courage.

Lots of remodelers remind me of those newly elected presidents before that first briefing. They waft along in a state of innocence, failing to implement security practices because nothing bad has happened to them or they can’t imagine a problem ever occurring. Here’s an example: I was speaking recently with a husband-and-wife remodeling team that uses the old—and potentially trouble-causing—practice of billing one-third up front, one-third in the middle of the project, and one-third at the end. I explained that lots of experts argue you’d be much better off billing more often and setting up the schedule so the final payment is no more than 10% of the total job. 

We don’t see the need to change, they replied. Why? Because in their half-dozen years of business, they had never had trouble collecting, except for one case in which the husband refused to write a check so they asked the wife to pay instead.

“It’s never happened to us” doesn’t mean it never will happen. Likewise, “I’ve never heard of that happening” doesn’t mean it’s never occurred, just that you haven’t been in a position to learn first-hand. I get that sense of discovery all the time at educational events like The Remodeling Show on Oct. 22-24 or JLC Live Northwest in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 3-5. There, longtime consultants like Leslie Shiner often give hair-raising stories of skinflint Customers From Hell and of angelic employees who embezzled from their companies for years. Some attendees pile on by telling their own painful stories. All leave with a more realistic attitude of what it takes to assure your business doesn’t get sideswiped.

Characters like Candide or Pollyanna—types who never see bad in people or events—are entertaining to observe, but only in the fictional world they inhabit. You’re better off modeling yourself after real leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. They knew that people for the most part are good, but that didn’t stop them from watching out for trouble.