Integrity Matters
November 14, 2007

Be at your kindest -- anyway

Question: (E-317)
How ought leaders behave in hard times to gain success?


There are two schools of thought in this area: ruthlessness versus respect. Allow me to make the case for each.

First, ruthlessness: A brutal operating style is, for many, the “new” admonition managers employed by the “macho” private equity firms. In the Nov. 5 issue of Business Week, the counsel is ruthless: “Only the most tenacious executives can survive private equity’s rigors. Steven Kaplan, a professor of finance and entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, studied 150 private equity CEO’s, based on assessments from a leading recruiter, Geoffrey Smart, confirming that CEOs who bring ‘hard’ qualities such as aggressiveness, persistence, insistence on high standards and the ability to hold people accountable are significantly more likely to succeed. Those who offer primarily ‘soft’ skills that are often effective at public companies — like listening, developing talent, being open to criticism, and treating people with respect — are unlikely to work out. Successful private equity CEOs are cheetahs.”

Top-level performance standards are demanding and uncompromising. Profits and not people are often the focus. Unfortunately, what is being proclaimed as the effective way to operate, in these early years of the 21st century may be an early warning of what might become the acceptable operating system that will be required in other business activities — extending into the public sector. Fulfilled promises, commitments, underscore that performance is key — regardless of the human toll.

Short-term forcefulness, combined with interpersonal insensitivity, is being proclaimed as the right way to generate monthly and quarterly returns, while burning out “expendable” colleagues and risking longer-term organizational viability.

In contrast, others who have created successful track records profess that respect, strengthening relationships, is a key to building and sustaining productive organizations — in both public and private sectors.

They know that “in the final analysis”— as formulated by Kent M. Keith in “The Paradoxical Commandments”:

  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  • If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  • Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  • The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway
  • People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  • What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

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