December 8, 2004
Excerpts: Herb's Hints - Part VI
Popularity contests are nice, but theyre no way to run a business. A lot of leaders fall prey to the desire to be popular by letting bad results slide in order to remain well liked. They think, Dont get tough, people wont like you. That kind of thought process might win you friends, but you wont keep them for long when youre in the CEO ejection seat. There has to be substance behind your strategy, and your strategy cant only be about making people like you. This was a change I had to make halfway through my business career.
Ive seen colleagues of mine make dumb decisions based on their need to be liked. Mostly it comes in the form of giving poor performance one more chancelike letting key executives consistently arrive late for meetings. It shows disrespect for others time. Now I just lock the door! Make no mistake about it. If you let mediocrity continue and strive to be liked at the expense of being a good leader, it will disrupt the objectivity and momentum of the organization. When a CEO fails to act, and fails to show personal strength and fortitude, he or she begins to lose credibility. You have to remember that you cant please all of the people all of the time. Dont try.
I lived through this at Dial when we made a business decision to shut down one of our two employee cafeterias and turn it into a fitness center. There were a lot of employees who wanted a more balanced life, and the idea of an on-site fitness center excited them. They could have lunch in the cafeteria in one building, and then walk over to the other building to work out in the fitness center when they wanted to. In the building with the fitness center we planned to have employee refrigerators so they could bring their own lunch if they wanted to, in addition to high-quality vending machines, and even a delivery service for food. We did an employee survey and the response was overwhelmingly in support of the fitness center. Yet when we shut down the one cafeteria to make room for the fitness center, we got a lot of employee complaints! We had hit a crossroads. It seemed like no matter what decision we made, someone was going to be upset.
At that point I suppose I could have tried to make everyone happy, by deciding to have two cafeterias and a fitness center, or two fitness centers, but neither would have been practical, affordable, or realistic. In the end we made the best business decision for all employees, by having one cafeteria and one workout center. Not two workout centers and not two cafeterias. One of each, where they had a choice to eat, or workout, or both! You cant please everyone all of the time, so you just have to do the best you can and forget about the popularity contest.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.