Soon after I became CEO, I made a series of personnel moves that really ticked people off. I had senior managers aiming at my head, ready to take me out like a clay pigeon. I defended everything I did but found myself increasingly isolated and exposed.
Define the stakes
I realized it was time to lead. So I rounded up my senior managers, some of whom bitterly despised me, and said, “Listen, if you really want me out of here, I’ll leave. Really. But on one condition: Identify a problem, state it fairly and give me a chance to fix it.”
I stood up, headed for the door and said, “You guys let me know what you want to do.” Then I left.
I figured that by leveling with them, they’d at least respect my candor and give me another chance to make nice.
It worked, of course. They pinpointed some differences we had and proposed some sensible solutions that I was happy to approve. As time passed, so did the hard feelings.
Look ahead, not behind
Talking civilly to those whom you despise is just the first step to holding onto your power. You have to treat even your most vicious opponents with respect.
I spend a lot of time biting my lip. When an adversary harps on stuff that’s downright false, it’s so tempting to blurt out, “You know damn well that didn’t happen!”
But if I say that, he’ll reply, “So now I’m a liar?” And all hell will break loose.
I just keep quiet, stay calm and focus on the future. That’s better than dwelling on past disputes that do nothing but arouse raw emotion. Why stoke that fire?
Work with even your most alienated, embittered colleagues to create and implement an action plan. It’s really amazing how great results can make everyone buddy-buddy again.
Each month, “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.