“A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.”
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack; not rationality.”
Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman; Kill Bill)
Being soft on other people is selfish.
I was sitting in the exit row on a plane descending into Denver, Colorado. Anyone that has flown into or out of Denver in the spring knows that it’s a hull thumping ride. Ten minutes into our descent, the plane hit some massive turbulence and shook the cabin violently from side to side. I squeezed the armrest and looked out the window across from me, trying to somehow see the wind that was causing the ruckus.
“Quit being a baby.”
The lady sitting next to me was looking at me amused with a half-cocked grin on her face.
I laughed and said, “What?”.
“Put your big boy pants on, you’ll be fine”.
She was slouched back in her chair, completely relaxed, with her knee posted on the seat in front of her. Despite being in her 50’s, she was chewing gum rapidly and smirking like an arrogant teenager. I liked her immediately.
The name of my verbally abusive travel companion was Amy Jordheim. Amy is the Regional Manager of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and the Director of International Medical Relief, a non-profit organization that provides free medical aide to countries all over the world. We ended up talking and during our conversation I asked her: “What motivates you? What are your most rewarding accomplishments? What is your secret to success?”
All of Amy’s answers were tied to her ability to influence other people. In particular, she was proud of and inspired by the time she spent coaching an amateur hockey team.
“Coaching hockey players in a match is like mentoring people in life. You can’t prevent or control the fights, but you can prepare people for them. You have to be hard as a nail, and you have to really care too.”
Tough love is, and always will be, the most effective means of developing leadership qualities in another person. True leaders strive to transform sheep into wolves, not better sheep. Metamorphosis is the goal, not management.
The problem is that far too many bosses, managers, coaches and mentors put all of their efforts into keeping their protégés dependent on them. Instead of inspiring you to action, they want to control your actions. Instead of showing you how to help yourself, they want to keep you helpless. This unhealthy dynamic is also very common in personal relationships.
Dependency is the rubber sledgehammer false leaders use to keep you in your proper place.
False leaders keep other people dependent on them for two reasons. First, they are terrified that your influence will surpass their influence. Little people cannot stomach the idea of developing others beyond their own greatness. Second, false leaders are afraid of conflict. Most people would rather hold someone’s hand and comfort him as an unconditional friend than be frank and set him straight. Saying a few nice words is easier than shaking things up.
True leaders do not want to limit other people’s influence. And true leaders do not want other people’s enjoyment to depend on how much they are enjoying life. They are willing to be tough and tell you exactly what you need to do to reposition yourself for personal and professional success. They are willing to be a hard ass.
Understand: people crave the harshness and honesty of a hard ass.
A friend of mine runs a chain of dance studios and she always tells me that the best ballet instructors are ruthless. The colder and tougher the instructor, the longer the waitlist to get into her class. Occasionally, a ballet instructor from a professional dance studio will get caught using a wooden rod to smack the ballerinas’ misplaced legs. Once the news breaks, hundreds of girls from across the country call the studio begging to be placed into the abusive instructor’s class.
Similarly, when I was in high school, I went to the 28-Day J. Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp solely because it had the reputation of having the meanest coaches and counselors. The camp fills every spot, every year, and has done so for over 30 years.
I went through 4 grueling workouts a day led by the most callous and coldblooded people I had ever met. And when it was over – when I had finished the 15-mile graduation run – I gave my biggest thank-you hugs to the counselors that treated me the worst. Why?
Deep down I knew that the harshest counselors were the one’s that cared the most about me. They were completely engaged in developing others. It takes fortitude, foresight and determination to stretch people past their own self-imposed limits.
A true leader winds his protégé back like a ballista catapult and sends him on a self-sufficient warpath. Here’s how:
1. Paint a crystal clear picture, then disappear.
The average manager creates a pencil sketch of what she wants done, bombards her employees with an onslaught of minute tasks, and confines the means by which they are allowed to accomplish each one.
Instead, show your subordinates exactly what success looks like. Create a vivid picture that will inspire and focus them. Then vanish. Don’t micromanage and don’t handhold.
2. Stop fearing other people’s strengths.
Holding other people back takes more work than pushing both them and yourself forward. Moreover, being in a leadership position and using your influence to limit other people’s success is pure evil. Stop being afraid. A leader’s legacy is defined by the victories of her protégés.
3. Resist the pull of destructive emotions.
Your goal is to be as hardhearted as possible against negative and weak feelings, while supporting and amplifying positive, strong feelings. If your subordinate breaks mentally and gives up, whines, or cries – ignore it. Likewise, if they get heated or resentful – do nothing. Do not take it personally.
Battle the urge to respond to destructive emotions. Allowing someone to cry on your shoulder or firing back an angry insult is soft and selfish. Instead, help other people channel their frustrations into being productive and becoming more self-reliant.
4. Inspire, don’t threaten.
Being a hard ass is a delicate art. It’s like walking a tight rope strung across someone else’s soul. Every step you take on the rope sharpens him, but if you fall, you crush his spirit completely. Use inspiration as your balance bar. Be tough, but be encouraging.
5. Communicate what you are doing.
Don’t keep the fact that you are developing people a secret. There’s a big difference between being a hard ass and just being an ass. You can have zero tolerance for failure and excuses, and connect with and care about someone at the same time.
Communication bridges the gap between tough and love. Explain why you are being harsh and how it is going to help. Impart everything you have to offer so that you are no longer needed. That is the goal of a true leader.