A small number of people have suggested to me that I have made a career out of being contrary and at times unreasonable. This always makes me smile and nowadays I accept it as a compliment. Like a friend once told me, “you don’t get a nickname like The Bull from baking scones on a Sunday afternoon!” Seriously, most times I respond to this by enquiring whether I have made a valuable difference and left the business in better shape as a result of my involvement. Most times this truncates the discussion. The bottom line is that I believe it is important to pursue the truth in any business situation because uncovering it allows better decisions and choices to be made.
Usually this doesn’t involve confrontation, but sometimes it does. It’s actually not a bad thing to ruffle people’s feathers if they stand in the way of forward progress. Sure it’s best to find a diplomatic way to get difficult matters solved but if you can’t then you should be prepared to strap on a hard hat and push for the truth, no matter where it leads and how difficult it might be to get there. Let’s be clear – the goal is not to annoy people or make them angry. It is to do the right thing when you need to, irrespective of potential criticism or fallout.
Great leaders understand this point. They are responsible for the prosperity of their group and know that some decisions they take will make some people unhappy. This is unavoidable. Leadership is unfortunately not a popularity contest and for that reason most leaders walk a lonely path.
The great ones surround themselves with people who think differently to them and challenge their beliefs and actions when required. They don’t want their own views repeated back to them as company gospel; rather they want their people to express themselves freely and stand their ground on issues that they believe in, even if they know it will be unpopular to do so.
Poor leaders, on the other hand, surround themselves with people that pander to their whims and needs. They want people to think exactly the same as they do and they covertly discourage contrary discussion. They like being the boss for all the wrong reasons and typically have an attitude that screams, “I’m the boss damnit and when I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.”
A few years back I recall a heated discussion with a CEO I was working with. He was a minority shareholder and as CEO had overseen a major performance decline over the past few years. Desperate for help he called me in. Early on he became increasingly agitated by my probing questions and after a few days it became clear to me that he valued his own interests way ahead of the company’s. At one point, frustrated by my relentless probing for the truth, he blurted out, “I think you should remember who you’re working for!” I calmly responded that, of the two of us, it is NOT me who has forgotten who he is working for. Ouch!
What would you rather be remembered for – doing small safe things and coasting through life? Or putting your heart and soul into doing big things even if you risk failure, attract criticism and have to butt heads from time to time? If the cost of this approach is to be occasionally referred to as contrary and unreasonable then it’s a small price to pay for the forward progress you can make.
Have a great week!