This is on my mind because our company has undergone some changes. We’ve had to let some people go, realign work teams and relocate some workers to a site that they don’t much like. Yeah, I know, it’s not a pretty picture.
I’m paid to make tough decisions. And I realize that I’m going to be perceived in a harsh light if those decisions make people angry. That comes with the job.
Liked or respected?
It’s human nature to want to be liked, and when you’re not getting much encouragement, I think it’s only natural to want to spend time with people who don’t give you a hard time every five minutes.
But older, wiser CEOs have taught me that there’s a big difference between being liked and being respected. When all’s rosy and you’re making piles of money, you can afford to be benevolent. But I can’t. So while I won’t make any new friends at work this year, I figure that I can at least earn some respect. That means telling the truth—no matter how unpleasant—and suffering the same pain I’m asking others to suffer.
Here’s one way any manager can gain respect: If you’re weighing a big decision that will affect the lives of your employees, don’t just spend a lot of time huddled behind closed doors with your closest lieutenants. Open up the decision-making process so everyone knows what key factors you’re dealing with.
Plant seeds of knowledge
A lot of people at this company judge me on a 30-second encounter in the hallway. If I don’t say hello, they might start whispering that something’s wrong or that I’m mad at them or whatever.
But I’m trying to direct people’s attention away from my personality—which isn’t all that charming to begin with—so that they focus on learning about how this place makes money. That’s a lot more significant than whether their CEO can double as a game-show host.
The biggest part is education. I get small groups of our people together every month in what we call the “Round Table.” We go over the financials, and I answer questions about what the numbers really mean.
The most important decisions that any executive makes are founded on basic economics. The hard economic reality gets in the way of feelings. Unless employees understand those economic principles, they’ll see what I do in personal terms.
I’ve been given the silent treatment by employees who think, “He did that to hurt me,” when in fact I made an economically prudent decision. I know some people will take it personally anyway.
The best I can do is to keep educating people. With knowledge, everyone can make intelligent choices. We can disagree and they can hate me for it, but at least they’ll know what I’m trying to do.
, “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 20-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $10 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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