Attitude reflects Leadership

If any of you have seen the movie Remember the Titans, Julius said to Gary (after a quick lecture by Gary), that attitude reflected leadership. When I saw this scene, I was in my first year in college  in the year 2000 and had borrowed the DVD from my Resident Assistant. It sounded profound, but honestly I had no context to how this actually felt.

Flash forward 12 years later – this scene had come to life in my workplace. If a CEO, CIO, or CFO (any of those C-suite guys) has a bad attitude, I’d say it’s actually expected and many workers at the lower levels of the corporate food chain won’t take it too close to heart, since especially those folks are so far disconnected from us for it to really matter. But when it’s your own manager, or one level of management up, their attitudes do directly affect us. And when the attitude has persisted for so long, it has a lasting effect on all the team members that becomes nearly impossible to reverse.

In some ways, I couldn’t really blame the guy, but he did manage to single handily demoralize his entire team. We rarely saw him, and communication became scarce. I recall the only emails I ever received from him were organizational changes (which were already sent to us to begin with by the corporate HR person, so it essentially just became spam) and reminders to complete required training so that his metrics would not look bad. His only motivation was to stay out of trouble and nothing more. But again, how can you really blame the guy? Not long prior he was stripped of his executive title and demoted. His 20+ years of service to the company that included successful enterprise wide projects and employee mentoring all of a sudden became irrelevant to his direct leaders. His own manager gave him no motivation to do his job.

So it never really started with him: it started at the highest level down to him, and eventually trickled to the guy that had to share his cubicle with another guy.

Eventually I had to leave and never regretted doing so. I wanted to find inspiration and motivation to do work. It felt like night and day when I started at a new company where I could see the passion lit in the CEO’s eyes. But ultimately the reason I accepted his offer over others is because I could tell he sincerely believed in the work he was doing. If anyone reading this happens to manage employees, think long and hard about the actions and words that come from you. Treat your employees well and reward them accordingly, because then they’ll resist any outside temptation to leave. Even a higher salary will rarely make a dent. But if you do otherwise, there will be many pre-paid taxis waiting outside along the sidewalk to scoop them away.

It started with a fog, and then a blocked passage

Things tend to clear it itself out when we give it more time to sink in. It makes sense now as I think back to what has happened so far in the last eight months. It was as if a huge cloud or fog was covering my vision. Whether I turned left, right, or back, everything looked confusing. Neither direction ever felt right. If I started on one path, I would only stop and start questioning whether the first step was in the right direction. I’d retrace my steps and rethink everything – but this only led to me back to start where I began. It was frustrating to say the least.

After the ten days were over, most of the fog had blown away. Things were now clearer than before, and at the very least I was able to make sense of where I was standing, and where the next step had to be. It didn’t make things easier, but it gave more clarity as to what had to happen next. Looking back at this point, its as if I saw an opening covered by a big rock. My gut told me that whatever was behind the big rock, was what I needed to chase after. That big rock was my job. I had to get out. I had to push out the big rock to see what else stood behind it. In essence, there was much more to see in the world, and much more waiting for me – just as long as I was willing to put in my own blood and sweat to create the path to walk.

But that big rock was not the end of it. After managing to push that big rock aside (finding a new job), I was presented with many more rocks of smaller size, but stacked together high enough to cover most of the path, and only let me have a small glimpse of what was ahead. But alas, the small gap was not enough. It was a like a light was shining from the other side through that gap, but there wasn’t enough space to know what was going on. All it could tell me was that I had to keep digging through and clearing out these new found rocks. Despite the laborious tasks ahead of me, I know that something extra special and worthwhile is waiting on the other side. One by one, piece by piece – the path will be laid out.

My recent negotiation – where I messed up

A few weeks ago I was looking for a room to rent. I found a place owned by a young guy, maybe just two years older than me. Initially, when I saw the place, I thought it would be a good match. We spoke briefly and emailed back and forth, agreeing to a security deposit equal to one months rent.

When we met to sign the lease agreement, he decided to add an extra $100 to the security deposit, as suggested by his colleagues, in case the tenant decided to skip out on rent and move out. I was infuriated because it wasn’t what we agreed to. I told him it was too much. He said I could pay in installments if that helped. I got more irritated because now he was implying that I couldn’t pay the money. I said what makes you think I’ll skip out on you? Needless to say, it became a bit uncomfortable, but we met half way at $50 and I paid him half of the security deposit to secure the place for next month. Despite a compromise on both sides, I left displeased, and actually wished I walked away. At this point it’s too late, as he has some of the security deposit. I kept thinking to myself, damn this guy is horrible. Says one thing then decides to try and pull a fast one on me before making the lease official.

After pondering for some time, it’s clear I could have found a more creative way of negotiating with him. The fact is, this landlord wasn’t trying to screw me over – this is his first property and attempt at being a landlord, so he naturally acted out of fear (much like I typically did 6 years ago when I started). He wasn’t targeting me specifically – he just wanted to be sure he was covered in case the tenant was bad. I could have easily turned it around if I had done this instead:

Me: Hey, why is the security deposit more than we had discussed?
Landlord: I was told by others to collect a little more than rent in case they decide to skip out.
Me: Oh I see. I can see where you are coming from, and that advice makes sense. However, we did discuss a smaller amount prior to me coming here. I think you’re asking me for too much.
Landlord: Well, you can pay in installments if that helps.
Me: It’s actually not the amount – I have the money, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fair given my good credit history. How about this: you can run a credit check on me, and also call as many references needed to make you comfortable.
Landlord: Okay….
Me: If you find a bad mark on my credit, or a reference says to be cautious about me, then by all means, I will agree to paying a higher security deposit so that you have a peace of mind, or you can find another tenant that meets all your criteria.

The landlord’s underlying concern was to protect himself in case someone screwed up him over. My underlying concern was someone was trying to pinch more dollars from me than was fair. It was never anything personal. There was an objective way to do this, by providing substantial evidence via best practices to showcase that I was a fair and reliable person, so that he could have a peace of mind agreeing to a lower security deposit. In the end, if I used this method I would have won.

Its okay…next time. lesson Learned!