Be Careful Whom You Like

Think about what people do that ticks you off. People who whine. People who are critical. People who always have a problem. People who do not get with the program. Doesn’t it irk you when there is some smart ass who asks, “Why are we doing this?” To react negatively and dislike these people is natural, but for a business owner it is also dangerous.

It is human nature to like those who agree with us; it is also human nature to dislike those who do not agree with us. Call it arrogance or pride, we all know the emotional reaction.

Those business owners who can get past this emotional reaction and evaluate the differing opinions they encounter, often find their perception of reality altered and the decisions they make becoming better. This trait of humility is one of the most important leadership qualities.

The parable “The Emperor Has No Clothes” is about an emperor fond of dressing well who is swindled by two “weavers” saying they could weave magnificent fabrics invisible to anyone unfit for office or stupid. The weavers began to weave the fabric, and, even though none could see the fabric, no one would admit it, since such an admission might be viewed as a confession of being unfit for office or stupid. The ruse develops to the point that the emperor marches through town wearing the new clothes. Finally, when an innocent child proclaims that the emperor has no clothes on, the people watching the procession are willing to state that the emperor has no clothes. The parable illustrates a very common human trait prevalent in business.

There is something else at work in these situations – something quite destructive of business morale. There are people who will try to manipulate these situations, and I use the term politician to describe these people. A politician is a person who will say whatever is in his or her best interest without regard to the reality of the situation and the welfare of the business. Why is this behavior so destructive? Because most of the time, the politician wants the ear and access to power of the policy-making group (often the owners) of the business and is prioritizing his or hers best interest. The politician’s message will be a combination of what the policy-making group wants to hear and what the politician deems is in his or her best interest. If the policy-making group can be flattered and is looking only for agreement, the politician has a fertile field to grow influence and power. A policy-making group that responds to the counsel of people liked by members of the group may be succumbing to the influence of politicians. Moreover, where one politician is successful, there will be others emulating that behavior. Honest employees will feel undercut where politicians are rewarded for their behavior.

Dealing with reality is not pleasant. But people who tell you what you do not want to hear are not your enemy and should not be disliked for that reason. Their interaction through conversation and discussion should be encouraged not discouraged. On the other hand, if a colleague is consistently assuring you of your wisdom and sagacity, you are probably listening to the counsel of a politician, and that person truly is not your friend. Upon that discovery, you would do well to consider the real motives of a politician.

Those who tell you what you do not want to hear certainly have self-interest motives. However, they are not using the basic human response to flattery and your own lack of humility to manipulate you to achieve those personal interests.

The best business practice is to embed a decision-making policy that requires the consideration of a variety of perceptions of the business reality from all groups in the business. This group decision-making policy will help prevent the influence of politicians, who would divert those in the policy-making group from understanding business reality to enhance their own personal interests.