I was having a nice brunch with a few friends of mine and everything was going really well – nice food, great company – until I made the mistake of asking one of them a stupid question: “so, what is this new job of yours about?”
Bob – not his real name but he wants to stay in the shadow – paused for a second. “I was hired by the soon-to-be ex-CEO of a very successful dot-com company who is now selling his shares. He made a fortune in the online sex industry and is now willing to become an Angel with all these millions he got (note: interesting choice of words). So he set up this family office and hired me along with a couple of other guys to run it”.
“That sounds really cool. So what do you do all day, defeat the greedy heirs’ plot to put their plump little fingers over Daddy’s lifework, pain and sweat? (that is, 5 years thereof… A short life of effort it is)”
“Not really, no, said Bob. My boss is a big name now and a lot of people in the industry look up to him”. That was true, I had to admit. “He receives a lot of requests for investment, a great number of business plans. Really, the deal flow is not a problem at all. And he decides extremely fast, often within minutes, sometimes within a couple of days. He also often says yes. So I am basically paid to do one thing. Tell him no”.
More than anything, that simple job description underlined again how a number of managers are not great because they are blindly followed, but because their ideas are good. They are good because they survive a rough survival process: great managers do not fight disagreement nor diversity of opinions, but rather value it. They create the environment that will let diversity of opinion naturally flourish in some kind of rich jungle environment.
As it is the case in every jungle, weak ideas will die, feeding fitter initiatives. We often talk about teamwork and how important that is in abstract terms: saying no, challenging each other is certainly one of the best concrete illustrations of the advantages inherent to teamwork. It is the acid test of an idea. From what I could gather, Bob’s boss had understood three things:
1) Put my ideas to the test, see if it survives. If it does, it is a good idea. If it does not, this safe environment – that’s just you and I – will give me an opportunity to improve or even discard it for cheap. It is risk free.
2) What matters and demonstrates my status and power in the organization is not my ability to impose an idea (“alpha dog” behavior) but my ability to generate value (“alpha provider” behavior). I will not let my ego tread on the life of the organization, that is also on yours as a member of that organization, or go against the market because I feel like it or based my decisions on the result of a customer survey of 1. Me.
3) I know my strengths (credibility, fast-decision making, “deal magnet”) and the drawbacks they come with (I accept too many, too fast). I know my limits. I hire you to keep these drawbacks at bay. You are now an additional competency I have. I know myself – a rare fact indeed! That does not make me weak but enforces my credibility and values you at the same time. You know your purpose when we work together.
Creating a proper environment in which I can be challenged by someone else cures many diseases in a preventive fashion. No is a doctor.
That discussion put an end to my having a good time right away. I have been hating Bob for having such a great job ever since. So I will stab him in the back by revealing his real name. Charles.