02 June 2018

Stu!! How can you label a business manager an arsehole!?!


Lets face it, "arsehole" is a pretty insulting term, even in Australia where we tend to be a bit less politically correct than other places around the world.

The general rule is to never label a person, but instead focus on the bad actions or behaviour.  It's good advice.
Everybody stuffs up, however sometimes, it's not the behaviour that is in question but a characteristic of a person's viewpoint and long history of that behaviour that really stinks.  I regularly tell people I lecture MBA students in the hope that it might mean one less arsehole in management.  So what do I mean when I use the term?

For me, an arsehole isn't just a bad person, somebody who lacks interpersonal skills or even somebody that makes decisions that upset others.  In fact, I'm pretty sure nobody has perfect people skills and I don't think it's even possible to manage a business without upsetting somebody.

My definition of an arsehole is actually quite specific:

  1. The person is happy to take responsibility for the successes of their decisions.
  2. The person may even be happy to accept responsibility for their failed decisions.
  3. But - and here is the rub - they are not willing to be responsible for the collateral and ongoing consequences of their decisions.
  4. They do this on a regular basis and blame shift or counter-attack if challenged on it.

Everything is connected

Businesses are complex, interlinked environments.  Given that, no decision can ever be made in isolation.  Every choice will have direct and indirect impacts, sometime in the strangest and most unexpected ways.
  • So a manager that over-invests in something and then complains that the lack of cashflow is somebody else's fault is being an arsehole.
  • When a manager sacks a high performing team member and then blames the downturn in productivity on laziness and lack of loyalty, they are being an arsehole.
  • An MBA graduate that triumphantly fixes a long-standing problem but creates six more problems in the process is being an arsehole.
  • And when a sales person regularly sells something that doesn't exist or takes massive manual work and then blames the delivery team for bad customer service...you guessed it. Arsehole.
Now resources are limited and from time to time we all need to make hard calls. I have done it myself, sometimes knowingly and sometimes accidentally. That doesn't make us an arsehole. However, when we do impact others, lets all try to avoid the label but not just taking responsibility for the mess we made, but as leaders, keeping the conversation lines open about why they happened and how we can resolve or at least manage the fallout.  This is critically important as often we won't be aware of the negative consequences and the fact we just caused one of our people to have to work 3 nights a week for the next 2 months.  Involve the experts in the decision so you know the collateral damage before you act and then keep listening to them.  The CEO I currently work for is particularly good at this.

It is our job as leadership to not just make hard decisions, but understand the full impact of them. That doesn't just mean good planning. It means being ambiently aware of unpredicted impacts along the way.

So be transparent and sell the trade-off to your stakeholders, even if it's a painful one.  Your people and customers need to feel they can come to you with problems, especially those that you caused.  If you do it right, you might even walk away with more respect and trust from your team and your customers.

NOTE:  All names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. Any similarities to people either living or dead are purely coincidental and no animals were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

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