When It Comes To Business, Sometimes Nice Guys Do Finish Last
When I first started my company, BodeTree, I swore to myself that I would be a kinder, gentler sort of leader.
My goal was to always resort to reason, rather than force when dealing with employees, partners, and customers. I consistently tried to be nice in the hope that people would respond in kind.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that I was wildly naive. My attempts to always be a kinder and gentler leader have backfired more times than I care to recall.
This isn’t to say that every business situation requires a forceful, aggressive approach; far from it. However, I’ve come to realize that I cannot be afraid to be firm and put my interests, and the interests of my organization, first.
Sometimes, you have to hold the line
I’ve always worked to view the world in shades of gray, rather than absolutes. After all, more often than not, people have their logic and reasons for the decisions they make. While I may not agree, I can often understand where they’re coming from.
Of course, this attempt at understanding isn’t always rewarded. While in some instances it results in mutual understanding, more often than not it leads to unnecessary concessions and long-term frustration.
It’s possible to talk your way out of almost any situation. However, as a leader, I’ve learned that certain situations require you to hold the line.
It turns out that most people appreciate a firm response and point of view. When leaders offer soft approaches that allow for interpretation, demands tend to get out of control.
When leaders inevitably try to pull back on these demands, the interaction tends to take a turn for the contentious.
Leaders must never be afraid to stick to their proverbial guns when dealing with matters of principle. You cannot be afraid to be aggressive and vigorously defend your interests.
Recognize that you’re going to be the villain in their narrative
It doesn’t matter how hard you try as a leader; you’re going to hurt some feelings. There’s simply no avoiding conflict in leadership.
I’ve had plenty of situations where I’m forced to make a change with underperforming employees. Even in the most egregious situations, I’m viewed as the “bad guy” in their minds.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I still take staff issues personally. I hate being viewed as the bad guy, and that has gotten me in trouble in the past.
The worst situations have been when I’ve had to let people go. When you’re firing someone, you want to have a “clean kill,” so to speak. Quickly and succinctly articulating the reasons for termination allows for a clean break.
Unfortunately, I’ve struggled with being as blunt as I need to in these situations. I try to sugar coat things, which only serves to make the separation even more painful.
In the end, I’ve learned that I have to accept that I’m going be viewed as the bad guy by the people on the receiving end of the bad news. They’ll think less of me, but that is part of the job. After all, employees need a leader, not a friend.
Pursue “enlightened self-interest”
With all of this being said, I still believe that a broadly altruistic approach to business pays dividends, both regarding the spiritual side of work as well as the material.
Leaders who are too aggressive in pursuing their self-interest or the interest of shareholders to the detriment of their team end up causing more harm than good. Key employees leave, productivity slips, and value is destroyed.
That’s why I believe in pursuing what I call “enlightened self-interest.” It is the idea of taking a long-term view of things and doing what is right, rather than what is expedient at the moment.
For example, providing extra latitude to a struggling employee, or forgiving certain transgressions may not help the bottom line right here and now, but the long-term impact on your reputation and team morale more than makes up for it.
By pursuing enlightened self-interest, leaders can strike a delicate balance; being as “nice” as possible, but refusing to be walked on or taken advantage of.
I realize now that my desire to be the “nice guy” boss was misguided. In my attempt to do good, I ended up making situations more complicated and was often taken advantage of.
Now, however, I’ve grown comfortable with being more firm in my approach. I may be the villain in some people’s narratives, but at the end of the day, I can sleep well knowing that I held the line and struck a delicate balance.