Brilliant Jerks

“We don’t devote enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.” —Bill Waterson

I came across a meme this week that really got my attention. Admittedly, I usually ignore stuff like this, but I opened up LinkedIn and there it was—staring me in the face and practically begging me to read it. Perhaps you’ve seen it, too. It’s a photo of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, with the quote, “Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost is too high.” Before I go much further, I don’t personally know Reed nor have I ever worked at Netflix. (You see, this is the reason I don’t usually care about memes—it’s hard to confirm they’re true.) As I researched the quote on Google, I realized there was quite a negative stir in the marketplace regarding Reed’s term. The truth is, I don’t care. And I don’t care if I’m late to the party on this conversation. I love the phrase, and I think it’s 100% true.

It was 2006, and I was new to consulting. The company I worked for attracted a high-tech startup as a client. My role as a Principal was to manage delivery, keep our customer happy, and provide leadership to the project team. The client’s chief executive, TJ, was my point-of-contact, and I was to collaborate with him on an important initiative. Talk about a brilliant jerk!

From the day we walked into his office, he treated us like trash. He never once made eye contact. Frequently, when any of us asked him a question, he would flip his hand in the air while saying, “I don’t see why that’s important. This is what I think is important …” To make matters worse, he made a clicking noise between sentences that was meant to be audible punctuation. As it related to the clicking, he once told me, “People can’t keep up with me so I help them understand when I am shifting to another idea.” Apparently we were all dipsticks and lucky to have someone as sensitive as him worrying about whether we were keeping up!

TJ was really innovative. He and his company had an interesting product which could disrupt the entire payments industry. His team of engineers were some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. There were many times I had to pinch myself because I wasn’t sure how I could add any value to what they were working on. But TJ was a brilliant jerk, and no surprise, his company never experienced a breakthrough moment.

As Kristine and I have been launching our new company, we’ve been focused on growing something that’s built on values. Very early in the process, we decided on a “No Assholes” rule that would be applied to our clients and anyone we hire. I know that may seem crass, but imagine how it feels to be demoralized by people who believe they are intellectually or financially entitled to treat others poorly.

Another reason we’re focused on this value is I know I haven’t always done well on this front. I have to admit I had a blind spot for this from time to time and was routinely lured by intelligence or creative talent. As a leader I ended up learning tough lessons about jerks. Sadly, they hurt everyone around them.

Patrick Lencioni, one of the most important thought leaders in organizational health, warns all leaders, “Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organization isn’t all that serious about what it says and believes.” I wish I read that quote back in the early days of my leadership roles.

Have you ever worked with or been impacted by a jerk? Is there a slight chance your own actions and behaviors might be similar to that of TJ’s? You probably don’t need me to tell you that tactic doesn’t work. Tolerating jerk-dom is like a speeding ticket waiting to happen. Brilliance and creativity can be a speeding car that appears to get you from point A to point B really quickly. However, when you get a ticket, go to court, pay a fine, and attend traffic school, it turns out you didn’t save any time at all.

I hope you make it a great week. Avoid the jerks. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly regardless of someone else’s intelligence. More importantly, don’t be one—it’ll get you nowhere and really fast!

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Uncertainty

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” —Robert Green Ingersoll

In my corporate career, I remember how big changes rocked my world. Maybe I was lulled to sleep by the security and comfort of steady employment. Maybe I gripped my job description a little too hard, like a toddler holding a blanket. Because just like that—I’d open my inbox and some announcement would rattle me; uncertainty ensued.

Our personal lives can be like that, too. I remember driving to the gym on a snowy Saturday afternoon in 2008. The roads were fairly empty, and I was probably going faster than I should. With the way the sun was reflecting off the snow and ice, my vision was impaired, and I ran into the back of a car sitting at a red light. I didn’t see the car; I didn’t see the light. My airbag deployed, burning my lower arms and breaking my hand. I remember sitting there wondering, “What just happened?”

Launching a company is a lot like driving on snowy roads with the sun glaring in your face. However, instead of experiencing the rare accident every 7 years, you feel the stress of daily fender-benders. And unlike the corporate world of big announcements hitting your inbox and rattling your confidence, startup life is more defined by messages you DON’T receive. This silence could mean there is a lack of interest, someone doesn’t want to tell you “No” directly or that your work is at the bottom of someone’s priority list.

Are you experiencing uncertainty now? How does it make you feel? Is your confidence shaken? What are you doing about it?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my corporate and (short) startup career: uncertainty breeds courage.

In the moment, it of course doesn't feel that way. In fact, it usually feels like watching lightning in the distance and counting the number of seconds before hearing the thunder. However, if you carefully recount the details of your own uncertain moments, you can probably see how it made you stronger and more resilient.

Kristine and I got some really good advice early in the process of building our company. It helps with uncertainty and is applicable personally and professionally. Are you ready? “Get to NO—faster!” Yes, "No" stings. Yes, "No" usually means rejection. "No" is never easy. However, if you kick the can down the road (of life) too long only to get to “No,” you’ve wasted a lot of time!

Think about wasted time in romantic relationships. You might have known it was doomed from the beginning, but the uncertainty of going through life alone delayed action. Then, one day you (finally) woke up and, “No” was in your face! Lots of time was wasted. Maybe the same type of thing happened at work. You put in a lot of extra time and effort and hoped your boss would notice. One day, you walked into the office and “No” showed up with your morning coffee.

It’s okay—I promise you, it’s okay! You will build courage and courage is needed to do things you never imagined possible.

So, take control of the situation and get to NO faster. Make this the week you put uncertainty in your rearview mirror. Don’t waste time wondering what might happen in the future. Rather, simply ask “the other person” a “Yes” or “No” question. If the answer is "No," celebrate the fact you’re wasting less time. By the way, if the answer is "Yes" ...just think about it!

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Birds of a Feather

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
100 days ago, I set out on the most ambitious and challenging journey of my career. While I enjoyed 15-minutes of fame in the corporate world as an executive leader, I was excited about this next season in life - coach and servant. My business partner and bride, Kristine, made the same commitment and together we decided to write a book and launch a new company.
We set two simple goals for the first 100 days of work: First, we wanted to write a material portion of the book. (I’m proud to say we accomplished that and appear to be on track for a January 2016 release of People Before Things.) Second, we wanted to conduct a “listening tour” with our personal and professional network. During this tour, we wanted to share our ideas for the company and book, but more importantly, get feedback about how to make them stronger. (Another success - we met with over 125 people, who provided invaluable insights.)
As I reflect on lessons learned and prepare for the hard launch of the company this week, two undeniable, interrelated nuggets of wisdom are really worth sharing.

First, when you set a goal, you have to believe it with everything you’ve got.

As an example, if you really want to be a writer it starts with saying, “I’m a writer!” There may be plenty of reasons you consider yourself not officially a writer like not having a publisher or not having a tight manuscript, but those are only milestones that need to be accomplished. Milestones or tasks don’t define (or limit) who you are.
It took me a while to get comfortable publicly referencing myself as a writer. If you asked me anytime in the first few weeks of the 100-day plan, I would have given you 1000 reasons ‘til Sunday why I wasn’t a writer. They ranged from not liking the writing process to not having a finalized book manuscript. Time changed both and by the time I went to my 25-year high school reunion this summer, I was completely comfortable proclaiming I was a writer.

The second and perhaps even more important nugget of wisdom is that you have to surround yourself with people who have the same goals and aspirations.

In addition to writing, Kristine and I really wanted to be successful entrepreneurs who did well by doing good. Nothing has contributed to our desire more than spending time with other writers (aspiring or otherwise) and folks who are currently living (or who have lived) in the startup world. The constant encouragement, advice and willingness to help has literally changed our lives!
It’s funny how I needed this startup and book-writing process to remind me of these small but powerful details. When I was a kid, I got in trouble more times than not because of my “friends” and my dad constantly reminded me how my own self-view was being reflected in the company I kept. He would say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” It may have pissed me off at the time, but I now know it was pretty mighty advice!
I know this is true in the corporate world, too. The best teams I’ve been on or led had a strong self-view, used reaffirming language, and were filled with team members who had common goals and purpose. By the way, these teams and leaders knew how important it was to focus on the people before focusing on the things.
If you take inventory of your own goals, are you surrounded by teammates, mentors and friends who share a common purpose? Are you confident they can stretch your thinking, inspire you, and help you grow? Are you that someone for someone else? If not, what are you waiting for?

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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