199. The Crying CEO
The common mistake of leadership
My worst summer job was as a piano accompanist for a girl’s singing class.
The piano part was nice and fine. It was the last day of class that ruined everything. That was the day that the teacher and all the students asked me to sing.
I can’t sing. I told them that.
I mean, I can sing. Physically, I can sing a song.
I just can’t do it in tune.
But they begged. And so, with extreme reluctance, I agreed.
When I opened my mouth and tried to sing, the teacher and the entire class looked at me in horror.
The primary definition of tone deafness is the inability to sense the difference between two tones.
I can sense the difference.
The secondary definition is the inability to match a tone or melody when you’re singing.
I can’t do this. Not even close.
When I tried to sing in that class, it was the manifestation of my worst nightmare. I nearly cried right there in front of all the 9-year-old girls.
Which leads us to Braden Wallake.
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The Big Mistake
Braden Wallake is the CEO of a company called Hypersocial.
Earlier this year he had 17 people on staff and had to fire 2 of them for reasons that don’t matter here.
As a new leader, he had never fired anybody before. Understandably, he was stressed about it.
He fired the employees, but was so emotionally overwrought about it that it led him to tears.
Emotions are fine. I will give him the benefit of the doubt for breaking down in tears, especially as a first-time CEO.
But it was really the two things he did next that blew my mind.
The Two Things The CEO Did That Blew My Mind
One. He took a picture of himself crying. Here it is 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽
What type of narcissism must be in place for somebody to be crying and think, “you know what, now seems like a mighty fine opportunity to take a selfie. Let me keep crying while I open the photo app and get myself framed up and in focus.”
Two. He posted that crying selfie online and wrote about the tough decision he had to make in firing those two people.
If you think my singing is tone-deaf, I present to you Braden, the illustrious winner of the 2022 Tone Deaf CEO Award.
The thing is, Braden isn’t unique in his tone-deafness, he just took it to a new level.
Crying picture aside, I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders, and the mistake Braden has made is the same one that I see done time and again by leaders twice his age. There’s a good chance you may be making the same mistake as well.
And that, finally, is the reason why I’m writing this.
The Tone-Deaf Moment of Leadership
There is a mistake that is common to leaders of all levels of experience. The mistake is understanding the critical importance about the difference between "tough decisions" and "unpopular decisions".
Let me clear the water in this Flint-like fish tank.
A "tough decision" is about the person making the decision.
An "unpopular decision" is about the people it impacts.
To make myself even more clear:
A “tough decision” is selfish.
An “unpopular decision” is selfless.
Leadership 101: don’t be selfish
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Your Employees Don’t Care How You Feel
Employees are concerned about their jobs and their livelihood. Their first concern is definitely NOT about their boss’s livelihood.
This point has never been more important than it is now, since we find ourselves in the midst of one of the largest years of layoffs in modern history.
When somebody is being fired, they don’t give a flying fudgsicle how sad their boss is about it or what a “tough decision” it was.
If a leader thinks the employees care about the leader’s emotional state, then that leader needs to dunk their narcissistic ego into an ice-cold bucket of humility.
Successful leaders don’t talk about the “tough decision” they had to make, they refer to the “unpopular decision”.
They know the importance of validating the employees and their feelings as opposed to searching for comfort for their own emotions.
They know the importance of empathy and authenticity over selfish egoism.
They know not to be selfish.
So next time you’re in turmoil about delivering bad news, remember, it’s not about you. Slide on up to the big boy table and do your job.
Oh, and don’t take a crying selfie and post it on social media. Let’s all leave the tone-deafness to me and my singing.
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A Somewhat Relevant Quote
“A strong leader accepts blame and gives credit.
A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit."
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