The new role didn’t feel anything like it was supposed to — and the commercial world suddenly is not what it first seems

Life changes when your first child arrives, life changes when your first staff member arrives too.

You start to scan the horizon for threats and may even begin to see the business world around you as a less than welcoming environment in which you have to find a safe path through for your team to thrive.

In this article

With the arrival of your first team member, your job now, your responsibility … no, your newfound purpose suddenly feels like having to find a safe path through the world for your growing 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 yet complex financial services stratagies. As part of my 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 probably 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 process. I was impressed by their capacity, interest 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 about whether we should do business together.  The decision delay is costing me money, and the 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?

I have two business rules that guide my decision processes in situations like this.

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

After learning more about their business culture and hearing from their leadership team, I’m feeling 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 future conferences).
  • I’m not sure if either myself or my team would constantly need to be the bigger person and ‘educate or make allowances’ for the attitudinal behaviours that appear to be part of this supplier’s culture.

And I’m not prepared for my team or myself to have to do that.

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.  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 ultimately bad for my business.

Rule #2 – If it's not my fight, still do what's right

Some time ago while working with an advisory board, I had cause to argue for the inclusion of more opposite gender insight on discussions about customer experiences and expectations.

A timid board colleague (but well-meaning sycophant) would repeatedly plead with me saying, ‘It’s not your issue, so why are you making such a fuss about it? Can’t you just ignore it for a while?’

A business doesn’t actually exist apart from a collection of systems, policies and the people driving them. And businesses don't have great ideas – only its people do.

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

Blinkered by privilege and the comfort of believing 'its not my issue'

The problem of privilege (and being an educated, tall, apparently straight 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 we think affects us personally.

And there’s no bravery required for that.

Refusing to see colour, is refusing to see

There’s 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 context of how that difference came to be and the insights and values that difference inevitably brings with it.

More dangerous still is the tolerance trap. Tolerance is not a virtue but more of a dead-end street that only serves to further 'otherise' 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 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 the obvious disconnect.
  • And to balance my unhappiness I’d need to distance myself professionally and emotionally from you and what and who you represent.

Now 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 bad bosses

The one skill leaders need to replenish 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)

Bravery; 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 publicly), brave to go commercially where none have gone before, brave to take others on your journey, brave to share your vision, and for you to be brave enough, so your team doesn’t have to be braver than you.

The last word

While there will always be a barrage of business issues vying for your attention, all 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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