Entrepreneurs and lazy thinking

I have heard it said by a CEO, as an excuse for his own attitude, that great entrepreneurs are lousy with people.  Steve Jobs comes to mind, and his name is often used by those who wish to justify their own disinterest in people management skills. 

The reality is that such comments represent lazy thinking.

Many entrepreneurs are poor at marketing, too.  The Wright brothers nearly lost what they had invented because marketing wasn’t their skill.  But you never hear an entrepreneur saying, “All top entrepreneurs are bad at marketing; that’s just the way it is.”  Entrepreneurs know that getting their product out there is critical to their success.  If they can’t improve their own skills they’ll hire someone who will do it for them.

An entrepreneur may also be hopeless at production.  He or she has conceptualised a product, but has no idea how to manufacture it, or how the machines that manufacture it work.  Does she say, “Well Richard Branson doesn’t know how to build an aeroplane either, so it doesn’t matter”?  Of course not.  She knows that it does matter; it matters enormously.  She will hire an engineer who will keep the machines running and producing her life-changing products.  She will also listen when the engineer says the machines must be taken offline for maintenance.

And people management?  The lazy manager, whether a small-time entrepreneur or the CEO of a multi-national corporation, will say, “My job is to come up with ideas and get those ideas out into the marketplace.  If you want to be on the winning team, stop whining, and get on with the job; otherwise, get off the train.”

That’s sheer laziness.  I’d like to hear that manager or that CEO, go to the production hub and say the same thing to the machines that produce his products.  “Stop whining about lack of oil or about loose nuts; just get on with the job.”  It would be pretty clear that he was the one with the loose nut.  No, he’s going to say to the engineer, “What will it take to keep these machines going at an optimal rate?”

But when it comes to people, we think they are somehow less complex than production machinery, easier to replace, simple to bully into submission.  In some ways, of course, people are easy to replace or to bully into submission.  But what you end up with as a result of bullying or replacing is a subservient workforce rather than an entrepreneurial one.  They will be unwilling to take risks, unable to make decisions.  They will do as they are told rather than what they are passionate about.  They won’t share your dreams because you haven’t bothered to share your dreams with them.

Another successful CEO puts it more sensibly:

“Let’s get right to the point: good people are not just crucial to a business, they are the business!  Finding them, managing them, inspiring them and then holding on to them is one of the most important challenges a business leader faces, and your success or lack thereof plays a vital role in the long-term success and growth of your business.”  Richard Branson, Like a Virgin

Think about people who have inspired you in life.  Were they bullies or encouragers?

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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