The New Rules of Leadership Starting With “Please Everyone!”

Running a business is hard. Running a business with a triple headed monster on your heels (Covid, an emotionally supercharged political environment and racial tension) is beyond hard; its nutty! If you are CEO, you know what I mean. If you are not, try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment.

Here we go… you now have the CEO title. You would like to just turn off the news, but you can’t. The stories you now hear and read might leave you to believe that there are completely new rules to govern leadership, such as:

  • Strategy is no longer about how you will profitably address a market; it is about pleasing everyone.
  • All stakeholders have equal rights in every decision.
  • You must appease all points of view in your company culture.
  • You must adopt leading edge (or flash in the pan) language as fast as it is germinated.
  • Good intent doesn’t count; you must strive towards political correctness instead.
  • Freedom of speech means you must tolerate all aggression in your office.

Nutty!

I’ve had several CEO clients get backed into a corner as they have struggled with these new “rules.” Actual examples I’ve seen are:

A CEO holds a town hall to discuss racial inequality—trying to do the right thing—and gets yelled at because the food he provided came from a source with an allegedly conservative ownership group. 

A CEO who is struggling to stay afloat and keep people employed in the Covid environment has a group of coworkers who are demanding that the business devote resources (time and money) to correct society’s ills—beyond legal, ethical and moral practices.

Several CEOs I am engaged with have been taken to task for their sincere messages in support of racial equality because they didn’t go far enough and were not distributed in public forums, outside the company.

Several CEOs I interact with have been dissed for not using cutting edge language around sexual identity or people of color. (I try to stay current but had to look up a few of the terms that they were berated for not using.)

I’ve noticed a surge in the number of consultants who will help you employ these new rules of leadership—most who’ve never run anything. Ahh the pendulum swings! 

If you foster or allow an environment that discriminates against people based upon their skin color or sexual orientation, you should get your ass kicked. If you are not open to the fact that you may have some blind spots around differences in people, you’re foolish. However, if you are doing your best to treat people with respect, run an ethical and morally sound business and vow to keep learning, as you strive to profitably address a market, you should keep doing it. You can’t lead well if you are running scared! 

You’ll screw up once in a while. Apologize and move on! You’ll use the wrong word occasionally. If it is widely accepted as wrong, apologize and move on!

I’m seeing leaders who are now afraid to talk to their teams. That’s not going to work! Running a successful business provides employment and tax revenue. That is one of the highest orders you can bring to society! 

Everyone has their own perspective on current events, but they need not become significant distractions at work. For instance, I am glad that peaceful protests are occurring. I am glad that widely regarded offensive language is getting called out. I am pissed off that we are doing an awful job of preserving our environment. I am damn proud to be an American, but disgusted that the president of our country encourages division and hatred. All of your coworkers have perspectives as well and acknowledging them is one thing, but your workplace does not need to become a cage fight. 

By all means, do the right thing. But spending your days trying to keep everyone happy about all issues and losing sight of how you profitably address your chosen market doesn’t help anyone.