The situation was clear. The company had just brought in a new COO. That person was band-leader, intent on bringing a slew of folks from his last company. My friend Pete, who worked for the new COO, had strong track record of delivering results, but the internal rap on him — in a full 360 sense — was mixed.
“How goes, Pete?” I said a few days into the transition.
“Pretty good, I think the new guy’s going to give me a chance.”
“Really? I’m not so sure.” Digging up one of my favorite corporate analogies from The Sixth Sense, I say: “Pete, I’ve got to be honest. I see dead people. They … don’t … know … they’re dead.”
Normally, I’m open minded in such situations, but this time the data was clear. Someone needed to get through Pete’s optimistic head that he was dead. No way, no how, you are going to survive this one. Sorry.
It took about half an hour, but at some point it clicked. “Wow, there really is no way. Shit. Well, then, what do I do now?”
“I don’t know,” I said. It hadn’t actually occurred to me that I might succeed in the primary mission and then have to offer advice on what to do next.
“Let’s think about it,” I said. “First, you need to keep delivering on your goals, so you can go out on top. Second, you need to fire up a search process in the background — start taking calls. Third, you need to recognize that there is only thing you want from every person in this building: a positive reference. So, to help ensure that, just be nice to everyone because you never know who they’re going to call.”
Pete found a great new job and continued his successful career. A few years later we found ourselves having a beer.
“Dave, you remember when you told me to just be nice?”
“Yes, I do.”
“First, thank you because it was great advice for that situation. I did need to focus 100% on ensuring that my internal relationships would give me strong references. But you know what? A funny thing happened. We did end up delivering strong results during that transition period but I think the focus on being nice made me a much more effective manager as well.”
I love this story because successful business people are results-oriented. That’s what we do. Deliver results. But sometimes the results-oriented among us can lose sight of the bigger picture of people and relationships. Must we frame things as people-people vs. results-people or can we strive to be both?
I’ve never found a starker exercise to demonstrate this than Pete’s. Assume you be fired in six months. How would you think about your colleagues? How would you change your behavior?
A few years back, I had the pleasure of serving under Jim Barksdale when he was COO of FedEx. I remember him saying: “A successful project manager has more friends after a project is completed than before it started”.
Since then, I have found this to be true more often that not and project management is certainly a results-oriented endeavor.
I really like this post! I’ve never heard an executive – male or female – give this advice before. Finally, someone saying that success is about more than just results. Thank you!
I am certain that this is the single most important advice for anyone at any capacity in any job. It is so easy to do a great job and still piss off so many people while doing it.