Monday, April 05, 2010

Small Business Owners: Sometimes You Gotta Be A Jerk

Small Business Owners: Sometimes You Gotta Be A Jerk
Q: I have an employee who seems to be taking advantage of me. Now, granted, I run a loose ship, but he comes in late, sometimes focuses on things that don't really matter, calls in sick too much, etc. The problem is, he makes me a lot of money and he knows it. What do I do? — Amy

A: I am all for creating a harmonious workplace, for propping employees up instead of beating them down and for catching more bees with honey than with vinegar. Kumbaya and all that. But do you know what?

Sometimes you gotta be a jerk.

You are not in business to make friends with your staff. You are in business to make a profit, and the fact is, making a profit is easier when everyone is on the same page. So that begs the question: How do you get them on the same page?
By being the boss, that's how.

Sometimes you get people on the same page by coaxing them along. Sometimes it is by offering incentives. Often it is by being a mensch. But sometimes, it is by being the tough guy.

The employee who is taking advantage of your kindness is akin to the unruly child whose parents do not know how to set limits. And it is only by setting limits that that child learns a) what is expected, and b) who is really in charge.

The same is true in this case. When you own a business, you are the leader. So lead. The employee who takes advantage likely did not start out that way. It was only over time, as they noticed that you are too easy going, that they began to take liberties. You simply must put an end to it.
And when you do, while there might be some bad feelings, you will have not only fixed this situation, but you will also have set an important precedent.

In business, I am a believer in what I call "the calculated blowup." There are times when it becomes important for people to know that you have a limit. You do that, when necessary and after being strung along, by deliberately getting a little (or a lot) unreasonable. People don't like dealing with unreasonable people, and while they might simply tune you out, often they will give you what you are asking for.

Look, people go into business for themselves for all sorts of reasons, and a big one is that they are so passionate about something that they want to do it every day. And while being passionate about, say, flowers, means that you may be a damn good florist, it does not mean that you will be a great boss or a savvy businessperson. But if you are going to succeed in the long run, you have to be more than just a person with a great idea; you have to be a tough cookie too when necessary.
And it is not just employees we are talking about. The person who needs to know where the line is may be a vendor, or a client or customer. Back in my attorney days, we had a term for this: "client management." For instance, there were clients who found it difficult to stop calling my paralegal, checking on the status of their case. Gently, but firmly, we had to show those clients that there was a line, a limit.

So sometimes, not often really, you just gotta be the jerk.
Fire the client from hell. Find a more reliable vendor. Warn the employee, and then follow through on your warning.

You are in business. Be a businessperson.

Today's tip: According to SCORE, the Top 5 ways to be an effective leader in your business are:
1. "Communicate clearly and routinely.
2. Involve employees in setting objectives.
3. Give your people authority, then hold them accountable.
4. Be accountable yourself.
5. Be trustworthy and extend trust to your employees."

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —

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