Gut Check: Is It Okay To Freak Out On The People You Lead?

March 22, 2016 Vince Molinaro

 

Gut Check: Is It Okay To Freak Out On The People You Lead?

 

We all know that when you want to get someone’s attention in a text or email, YOU USE ALL-CAPS. It’s a way of showing the recipient of your communication that you’re mad – really mad.

And that’s just what Restoration Hardware CEO Gary Friedman was when he wrote to his employees in January about flagging customer service and declining financial results.

We need a MASSIVE CHANGE IN OUR CULTURE AND ATTITUDE RIGHT NOW,” Friedman wrote in his memo. “THE GOAL IS DELIGHT.”

Some may cringe at Friedman’s All-Cap rant, but the company he founded is floundering. Customers are increasingly unhappy with the service they are getting at the upscale furniture chain. Many are cancelling orders and chastising the company online. The sag in customer service has coincided with a significant shortfall in earnings and revenue, not good for a publicly traded company.

So, Friedman took to his computer and let his employees know they were either going to change the way they did their jobs, or they would be gone. He described his employees as laggards who sat around watching customers with “THEIR CLOTHES BURNING, AND MANY OF THEM DYING. WE HAVE LET CUSTOMERS DIE.” And then, a dire warning.

“ANY LEADER OR TEAM MEMBER WHO STIFLES THIS EFFORT SHOULD BE REMOVED. IF YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE PEOPLE, CHANGE THE PEOPLE. THIS IS NOT HARD.”

Melodrama is nothing new to Friedman. As the founder of Restoration Hardware, he was forced by his board to step down as CEO in 2012 after it was discovered he was having a relationship with a 26-year-old employee. The relationship was revealed by a bitter ex-boyfriend of the employee.

Friedman was not gone for long, however. Just a year later, the company invited him back as CEO, where he has continued to serve ever since.

Friedman’s story is interesting to me as it highlights a struggle that I see with many leaders. How transparent and honest should I be with employees? How direct should I be about how I’m feeling about the state of the business?

I’ve seen some leaders with strong poker faces, never revealing their true feelings or opinions about an issue. Often, they may be conflict averse. Or they may be sensitive to the impact a strong and potentially negative communication may have on employee morale. These leaders also recognize that one can’t always be entirely direct and honest, or it might also undermine employee or investor confidence. So they tread lightly. But in the end, employees may not understand the severity of an issue and so things may not get better.

Some leaders are on the complete other side of the pendulum. They reveal exactly what they are thinking and feeling about on absolutely every issue. They have little to no restraint. Now the good news with this approach is you know where you stand all the time. The bad news is, it just can be difficult to hear a barrage of negative and emotionally charged messages.

In Friedman’s case, he had legitimate issues with his struggling company. Something needs to change and fast. However, his approach could be seen as being highly negative and demotivating. What’s he going to do fire every employee? Highly unlikely.

What about you? Do you routinely let loose out on your people? Or are you highly restrained as a leader? Either extreme brings problems.

Notwithstanding his robust management style, is freaking out at your employees a good way to motivate them, or turn them off?

This week’s gut check question asks: is it okay to freak out on the people you lead?

 Weigh in on the discussion by leaving a comment.

 

 

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