Notwithstanding his four foot eight inches frame, Mr. B (a real business owner) was a powerful little man. He was able to secure exclusive North-American distribution rights for a major line of industrial-quality appliances. He was successful by any standards we measure except for one: he was a failure when it came to leadership.
When you criticize someone who is “successful” you are likely to confront the typical response of, “He must have been doing something right, look how much money he has,” to which you can counter with, “Imagine how much more successful he would have been if…”
When you rule by intimidation because your employees need a job, they have to show up and play the employment game. But don't kid yourself: they are not really working for you.
Mr. B's favorite saying was, “You may be right but I don’t think so.” Meetings were an exercise in futility with the same outcome each time; affirmations that although you had an opinion, the “Bernie way” was better because he knew better.
We were successful, relatively speaking. We kept our jobs, the company was growing, and lucky for us, our niche business was a human necessity and we were not subject to seasonal or economic trends.
Luckily, we had competitors. We were also tough on our national distributors and demanded results. If you wanted to keep the line, you had to sell. Bernie would personally call non-performing distributors and read them the riot act. The company had creative financing, a good sales team and aggressive marketing. So what was wrong?
If you just wanted a job, this was a great company. If you wanted to feel fulfilled with a sense of professional accomplishment, Bernie wouldn’t allow it. He just knew better, and no matter how hard you tried, you ended up at the same spot every time: "you may be right, but I don't think so".
Employees need to be employed. But employees must also have a strong sense of self-worth. Then, and only then, will they show up to work because they want to, not because they have to. Forget “empowerment” or other meaningless jargon.
The old adage was, “I’m a Company-Man.” What it meant was, “I do what I'm told“ (as long as you pay me, of course). I punch-in and I punch-out (mentally and physically).
Even though the Bernies of the world still exist, their long-term chance of survival is minimal. Treat your employees as entrepreneurs. Give them the opportunity to fail without worrying about finger-pointing rituals. Encourage them to think for themselves. Let them make decisions and experiment while knowing that they have your support. Avoiding failure is an exercise in futility. Embracing failure and learning from it is the basis for long term success.
If you are a small business owner and you think that the business cannot function without you, take a vacation to a remote place with no internet. You'll be amazed how well the place ran when you return.
History will show that not only did the company survive without you, sales actually increased while you were gone. Imagine that. And please don't get tempted to do a CSI on your business and hope to find out how many wrong decisions were made while you were out. Get over it. The Company does not need you.
Call everyone into the conference room and tell them how proud you are. Then, plan your next vacation.