Who we are — part deux

If you read my first note titled “Who are we?”, you might have deemed it too altruistic for the workplace, too rose-colored glasses… but it’s important to underscore the corollary to the story I presented there.

The corollary is that there are a lot of assholes in the world as evidenced by the negative impact they impart on their worlds. We see them on the roads, and in stores, but most often in the workplace. Pick your flavor: micromanager, political boot licker, malevolent dictator, and so on. I had the notjoy of experiencing one of the world’s biggest assholes in a job a long long time ago, and those of you who know me know to whom I am referring.

So my choice to strive for being a good person inside and outside the workplace, as measured by how much positive impact I have on those around me, was born as much from seeing the yang of that philosophy up close as it was from some naïveté or innate idealism.

In the workplace, managing by inspiration beats managing by intimidation. That’s at the core of my belief system, and it has been battle-tested under both styles, across decades, industries, large companies and small. If you’ve hired the right people, then set a clear course and let them drive the business, and ask how you can help. Remove obstacles they can’t handle themselves. Sure, kick their ass if they make a mistake. But do it privately behind close doors. Praise in public, teach in private.

Case in point, and I’m sure I don’t have it perfect but I have the gist: John Reed started the credit card business at Citibank a million years ago. It lost a lot of money early on, because Citi basically mailed a gajillion people cards and a bunch of them defaulted. FICO scores didn’t exist yet, so who knew anything about predicting payment behavior?

John was summoned to his boss’ office. He half-expected to get fired, but the legend is that Walter Wriston said, “why would I fire you? I just spent 80 million dollars training you.” John ended up succeeding Wriston as CEO in 1984.

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