Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It Costs Nothing to be Polite

A crisis has developed. The boss has made a decision, but the hero knows that the boss is weak, vacillating. He confronts the boss. The argument turns into a loud confrontation. Screaming follows. The boss is cowed; the hero is recognized as right. He saves the day.

Every night you can turn on your TV and you will find the most amazing lessons in leadership. More specifically, you will find lessons in how not to lead. The folks in Hollywood may know how to make movies and TV shows, but they know next to nothing about leading people and managing organizations.

Let’s just start with one simple rule: you don’t yell. Oh, sure, there are some possible exceptions: the building is on fire; someone is shooting at you; you just won the lottery. (Actually, having experienced the first two a number of times, there was no yelling in either case. I have yet to experience the third event.)

When you yell most people don’t really hear you. It does very little good. Rather, try to explain what it is that you want people to do. Be polite. When necessary, be forceful. But yelling is mainly a demonstration of that you have run out of ideas.

As a simple rule, well-led organizations are fun places to be around: people respect one another, people are polite and friendly, the boss takes care of his people, they want to be there. And the opposite is also true: poorly led organizations are not fun to be around, the level of respect decreases the worse it gets, people are not polite or friendly, the sense is that the boss is not taking care of his people, and as a result people don’t want to be there.

Remember that in a very real sense that you – as the ‘boss’ – work for them. Your job is to make sure that the folks who actually do the work have everything they need to get the job done. Turn that ‘Org Chart’ upside down; you should be on the bottom, all the ‘little boxes’ should be on the top.

The fact is that your mother was only half right when she said ‘It costs nothing to be polite.’ What she left off was that it can cost quite a lot when you are impolite, when the folks who work ‘for’ you hate doing so, when they dread going to work, and when those feelings ‘bleed over’ into relations with customers.

The question can also be asked this way: do you think someone’s performance will improve if he hates being at work or if he likes being at work? So smile, explain yourself, keep your voice down, and be polite.


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