I have been a bully. It is tough to acknowledge; uncomfortable to share.
Growing up I was fortunate to avoid awkward years. I was athletic, smart and engaging. I took advantage of an artificial standing and mistreated others. My serious high school girlfriend – who was kind, respectful and caring – recently shared this with me after we finally connected on Facebook:
You were not the greatest boyfriend. I think our main problem was I couldn’t break up with you (call it what you want love – obsession, etc.) and for some reason you wouldn’t break up with me. And I must admit I have been unhappy with/afraid of you ever since. I will say our history did make me stronger – if a boy treated me badly I got rid of him a lot quicker.
When I started Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) in the mid-1990s, one of my professional mentors was the CEO of a publicly traded company who employed the “or else” management style. You’ve probably worked for that type at some point in your career.
I embraced that approach and burned a number of talented colleagues. “You better get this done…or else,” I would bark. Each of them took a chance to work for a start-up communications consultancy and had to deal with a CEO who lacked maturity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading the Inside Story of a Toxic Culture at Maryland Football, published by ESPN. Defenders of the coaching staff justify the emotional, verbal and physical abuse as what is required to toughen kids up to compete in a college program. That view is so misguided.
As a recovering bully, I’d like to share the four guide posts I embrace to inspire my talented colleagues to deliver big-time results for Strategic’s clients.
- Work together to establish achievable metrics. It is through collaboration and honest discourse that a person will truly assume ownership of outcomes.
- Recognize when these metrics should be adjusted. This year one of our clients was acquired. This created budget uncertainty. I was proactive in reaching out to Strategic’s team lead to reset benchmarks.
- Accountability is a process. It takes time for a person to grow professionally. It’s important to afford someone space to make mistakes and learn, without the specter of failure.
- Life is not a zero-sum game. The coaches at the University of Maryland were so consumed by winning it led to tragedy. A true business relationship is about mutual value.
You probably noticed I didn’t write “be respectful” or “treat people with consideration.” That is the baseline of decency. As a marketer and a manager, your goal should be to elevate your team and their performance. I hope this helps.