First Time Boss – The World Is Now Not What It Seems


First Time Boss – The World Is Now Not What It Seems

Any new parent will tell you, life changes when your first child arrives and business owners will tell you, life changes when your first staff member arrives too.  

When both finally appear, a rite of passage seems to feel completed, and you begin to see the world (and business world) around you as a less than welcoming environment.

Your job now, your responsibility … no, your new found purpose is to find a safe path through for your team. Every new opportunity is now more carefully scrutinised, every process reviewed and the question changes from, “Is this good enough for me now?” to “Is it good for the whole business in the future?”

My business doesn’t sell widgets; it sells advice about intangible complex financial services. As part of the continuing ongoing training, I attend many conferences about many lengthy technical issues, some lasting for several days.

My staff can attend as well for their own professional advancement. With remote multi-day conferences, I encourage them to feel free to bring their family members too, because our company’s depth of expertise depends upon the ongoing health and happiness of our people.

When you can’t make up your mind, you’ve made up your mind.

Recently, when considering whether I would make a major change to my business supply chain, I met with a potential supplier’s CEO as part of my assessment. I was impressed by their capacity, interested in the opportunity and our businesses seemed aligned in many helpful respects.

But that was some time ago, and I still haven’t made my decision; the decision delay is costing me money, and them, opportunity. It’s also taking up valuable mental space better used for growing my business and looking after customers.

So why the decision delay?

  • Am I concerned about their technical standards or capacity to deliver? No.
  • Am I concerned about a negative impact on revenue? No.
  • Am I concerned about any past practices? No.
  • Am I taking it slowly because I’m a conservative person? No.

So what is the reason for my delay?

My Rule #1 – Never require your staff to be braver than you.

After learning more about their culture and hearing their leadership expression, I’m uncertain about two issues:

  • I’m not sure if my current (and future) staff would feel comfortable working with them and feel safe to continue to bring their whole selves to work, and their families to their conferences.
  • I’m concerned either myself or my team would constantly need to be the bigger person and ‘educate or make allowances’ for the attitudinal behaviours of the supplier’s culture.

And I’m not prepared for my team or myself to do that. Have a strong understanding of what you want and the type of person you have to become to get it. My reluctance to use the new supplier is based solely upon how my staff would feel if they had to work with this supplier.

There’s a direct correlation between internal conflict and customer satisfaction, and in today’s connected world, both my staff and customers have a very refined ability to pick up on what’s really going in the social and professional relationships around them.

Put another way; what’s bad for my people, is bad for my business.

A business doesn’t actually exist – apart from a collection of systems and policies, and the people driving them.

My Rule #2 – If it’s not my fight, still do what’s right.

Some time ago while working with an advisory board and arguing for the inclusion of more female insight on decisions and requesting discussions with existing customers, to better understand their behaviours, my timid but well-meaning sycophant colleague would incredulously plead with me, ‘It’s not your issue, so why are you making such a fuss about it? Can’t you just ignore it for a while?’

While not everything is important to me, everyone needs to be important to me.

Blinded by privilege and the comfort of ‘it’s not my issue’.

The problem of privilege (and being an educated, tall, white male working in financial services), is it makes us blind to the needs of others and tricks us into being reactive to only what we see, and what affects us personally.

And there’s no bravery required for that. There’s often a misconception in the business community that ignoring is the same as accepting. But pretending not to see a difference is choosing not to understand the difference.

The temptation is to ignore what doesn’t relate to you personally and let your staff have to carry any burden if there is one for them to carry – even when it really should be a clear leadership conversation and decision, about what’s acceptable, from the start.

Why it becomes my fight.

Let me tell you something you already know. How you treat my staff and friends has a lot of impact on how I perceive you and how your business would treat me. If my team wouldn’t feel safe or respected by you and your business (or their reputations safe with you when they’re absent), I’m never going to introduce them to you and your brand.

In fact, I’d probably feel ashamed of my workplace and the obvious disconnect. So, to balance my unhappiness I’d need to distance myself professionally and emotionally from you and what and who you represent. That’s a clear recipe for instability and a direct threat to the business bottom line. The uncomfortable truth is ‘most people don’t leave businesses; they leave their bosses’.

The one skill leaders need to refresh daily.

The one essential personal quality needed (if you want to be anything but average) is the skill of choosing to be brave.

No, I’m not talking about feeling brave, but being brave.

Bravery needs to be conquered every single day. It’s not a one-off achievement you get to declare done. Bravery requires a deliberate effort to overcome our self-doubt, lagging motivation, overwhelming frustrations and dealing with disappointment – every day.

“I’m not funny. What I am, is brave.” – Lucille Ball – Actress, Comedian and Television Producer (1911-1989).

Brave to take the lead, brave to stand up first for what’s right, brave to ask the hard questions both personally and professionally and publically, brave to go commercially where none have gone before, brave to take others on your journey, brave to share your vision, and brave enough, so your team doesn’t have to be braver than you.

While there will always be a barrage of issues vying for your attention with varying levels of relevance, whether you’re a boss with a team or a leader with a vision, even if it’s not your fight, still do what’s right.

And you know that supplier I was thinking of taking on board earlier? I think I’ll just have to be brave and do what’s right and find a better opportunity for me, my staff and my future staff.

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