CEO Coaching: The Lady’s Not For Turning
— Colin Powell
It’s nice to be liked and loved; it’s just not an effective goal for a leader. If more leaders worried less about pissing people off (that’s the last time I’ll use the “p” word, lest I upset you!) the world might be a better place in the long run.
I was a great fan of Margaret Thatcher, but we all gravitate toward people whose beliefs we share. I don’t know exactly where mine came from. They could’ve come from being a business owner, risking my own capital. Maybe from working in a union environment in college and watching people game the system. Perhaps because capitalism has saved many more lives than socialism. Maybe because I’ve seen successful, ethical businesses provide gainful employment and lots of joy for thousands of workers. Regardless, I think Thatcher was one of the most effective leaders of our time — and she had to p…, err, upset people to do so. By the way, she wasn’t perfect, only successful.
Thatcher gets dinged by some for her handling of the coal miners’ union. The union workers I worked with were overpaid and underworked. Slamming a six-pack of beer on break and then getting back on a forklift was common. Threatening those who worked too fast — yes, I was one of them — probably seemed like good practice for them to keep others employed. They weren’t bad people; a bad system misled them. They probably didn’t think about how their work habits affected the price you paid for the product we distributed. They didn’t mine coal, but Maggie would’ve justifiably kicked their rear ends, and it would’ve made them mad.
Clarity of vision, strongly held beliefs and consistency in action are exactly what we want from our leaders, whether in business or government. Avoiding short-term pain to the organization’s long-term detriment is milquetoast in elected officials (all parties!) and business leaders. I’m sure there’s a special place in hell for those who kick the can down the road.
Business leaders aren’t hired to make friends; they’re hired to get results. Getting results through collaborating, sharing rewards, having fun, being transparent and fostering commitment rather than compliance are good techniques! However, this doesn’t mean using these practices will make everyone love you.
Your mother wasn’t evil because she made you eat peas, and Thatcher wasn’t evil because she made hard decisions for the long-term benefit of the country she loved. Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” If she’d been a businessperson, she might’ve said, “Being loved is a nice concept unless you want the organization to prosper over the long term.”
Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email email@example.com.