More On Being Tough and Ruthless

“Where there is no might, right loses itself.” – Portuguese proverb

JB wrote to say that although he agrees that “being mean and nasty is not a long-term strategy,” most people fail to reach their business goals because they are afraid to do “what it takes to succeed in business” and are “concerned about what other people will think.”

What we need more of, JB argues, is less “emphasis on the softer side of success” and more talk about follow-through, emotional control, and mental toughness.

I agree. A quick glance at past ETR messages will show you that. Here are just a few in which I talked about not catering to employees:

* #585 (Setting — and Maintaining — High Standards of Performance)

* #576 (“Getting Tough With Troublemakers”)

* #467 (“What a Jerk? What a Star!”)

* #416 (“It’s Up to Your Employees — Not You — to Solve Their Problems”)

* #367 (“Getting Juvenile Employees to Grow Up”)

* #350 (“You Can Never, Ever Stop Pushing on Every Front”)

* #229 (“The Secret to Getting Everybody — Including the Laggards — to Be More Productive”)

* #227 (“Make Your Employees Work Hard”)

The first rule of success — in any endeavor — is to get the important work done. The important work in business is the tough work: cold calling, generating leads, negotiating deals, and closing sales.

If you are not inclined to be pushy, those kinds of tasks are tough to do. Also tough is to push your plan forward in the face of criticism. Other tough-but-important tasks:

* asking for money

* asking for more money

* criticizing others

* pushing people to work harder than they want

* telling a b.s. artist that his stuff won’t fly with you

* correcting your boss

* refusing to provide help when it’s not really needed

* confronting a business bully

* asking for more money yet again

* and again.

You need to be tough to get the important work done. So what do you do if you don’t feel tough?

That’s what WWB recently asked me. After reading JB’s comments, he said: “Being young and having a liberal-arts background, I feel the avoidance of confrontation to be the primary hurdle of my career at the moment. I’m too polite to get things done as efficiently as I should.”

Let’s start by saying this: There is hope.

I, for example, am a recovering corporate chicken. When I began my career as a reporter fresh out of the Peace Corps, I was afraid of almost everything. The building I worked at (something called “The Investment Building”) intimidated me. As did my boss (LW — 5’8″, 220 pounds, bald as a cue ball), the managing editor (Ivy League Lisa), and the executive editor (Michael, who “had my number”).

I was also terrified to do my work, which included talking about stuff (African economics and politics) I knew only superficially, phoning subscribers (who were older, more experienced, and more knowledgeable than I), and interviewing ambassadors (well, you can imagine).

I’d go to embassy receptions charged with talking to big shots and passing out business cards. After five minutes of hovering around tight circles of older men who didn’t seem to want to let me in, I’d end up standing in the corner eating shrimp and eyeing the banquet waitresses.

I was afraid even to ask LW for a raise and went for almost two years without getting one (during which time I was promoted three times).

Ah, those were the days!

I’m not much afraid to speak my mind anymore. And I’m a better businessman because of it.

I’ll tell you how I conquered my fears tomorrow. But right now, I want to make an important point — to WWB and anyone else who wonders whether he or she will ever have the guts to get to the top.

You have to be tough to succeed, but you don’t have to start out tough.

And doing the tough work doesn’t mean acting tough — and it certainly doesn’t mean acting mean or ruthless. I know several very successful businesspeople who are mild-mannered and don’t like confrontation.

They can be tough, but they don’t act that way. In fact, their mildness gives them some advantages. They make fewer contacts but tend to focus more on those they have. They speak carefully and thus get themselves into fewer jams. They avoid squabbles and lawsuits, which results in fewer enemies. And — most importantly, perhaps — they spend less time fighting and more time building business.

Consider this as well: There is a danger in getting good at confrontation. You may get so good at fighting that you fight too much. Instead of giving in when it really doesn’t matter, you may find yourself battling it out just to see if you can win another point. I’m sure you are not like this and probably never will be — but chances are you know someone who is.