A brilliant (but oh so eccentric) entrepreneur who had already amassed a large fortune was looking for more, and tapped me to oversee the operations of his latest acquisition.
He liked hiring young accountants (I happened to be a CPA at a large firm at the time) because of their bottom-line savvy and buttoned-down approach to looking at a business. People that could match his style of leadership: autocratic and one-way, with a large helping of fear.
Being such a fish out of water, to please this man I earnestly attempted to emulate his style. I vividly remember the first time I tried. Soon after I started it was budget season, and our field staff spent days and days and hours and hours preparing the best, and most realistic, budget they could. I presented it to my new boss and he summarily rejected it. Not good enough. So I tried the same approach with my team. They protested. Finally, rather than discuss it openly, I did the autocratic thing – I simply changed the numbers myself and pushed it down to them as final.
What happened certainly pleased my boss, but it thoroughly frustrated my staff. Did we hit that budget? Of course not. That initial display of hubris cost me months of goodwill, and ultimately the effort and sacrifice necessary to generate superior performance.
I learned a couple of very valuable lessons – autocratic/fear management wasn’t going to work over the long-term, and I should never pretend to be something that I’m not.
Because, even though I was an accountant, I was also a human – and a sensitive and feeling one at that. Yeah, I’d even say I’m a “touchy-feely” type.
I knew that the minute I pushed down that budget 23 years ago – I felt really, really bad for those people I had steamrolled.
Today, I lead using both my head and my heart – and it works very, very well. I wear my Touchy-Feely tag like a badge of honor. Those who still cling to the autocratic “my way or the highway” model like to use that term as a dagger, to belittle my gall to actually CARE about the feelings and opinions of my fellow teammates. So be it.
The good news these days is that there are louder (and more well known) voices out there, proving the case that Touchy-Feely is not only “good humanity”, but very good business.
I recently read Patrick Lencioni’s excellent latest book, “Getting Naked” (affiliate link – proceeds to National Park Foundation), and it was all about how showing vulnerability and transparency can work to your advantage. In his words, “being completely open and honest with no sense of pretense or cover” is the best approach to building loyalty, whether it’s with teammates, peers, customers, or clients.
Lencioni correctly identifies the biggest barriers to really getting Touchy-Feely: fear and insecurity.
Autocrats can’t be wrong. They can’t be embarrassed. They can’t ask dumb questions. That’s a lot of pressure! I have to say it felt very good to be relieved of that burden when I made my choice.
It’s that “freedom to be human” that will set you apart – and earn you a loyal and enthusiastic team that will follow you to the top of any mountain, no matter how high.
Go ahead, get touchy!