Do you really have to be a d*** to succeed?

Why is it that the really horrible people seem to continue to thrive in the workplace? As a leader in today’s increasingly digital business environment, is it really absolutely necessary to be tough and nasty in order to succeed and deliver change?

I’ve recently heard a few people claiming that to be a really good marketing director, you have to be “a bit of a dick”. This statement goes against everything I personally believe in and is entirely at odds with what today’s leadership experts are saying. As such, it bears some scrutiny. Would you choose to work with someone who was openly proud of their dickish behaviour?

No, me neither.

The wider context here is the growing role marketing plays in the new, and increasingly digital, business world. With consumers and B2B buyers these days making their purchasing decisions largely on the basis of information they have accessed online at a time and manner of their own choosing, it follows that traditional sales techniques are no longer fit for purpose.

Would you choose to work with someone who was openly proud of their dickish behaviour?

This piles extra pressure on the marketing team. Strategically speaking, how do you go about choosing where to place your marketing messages and content so that they succeed in persuading individual shoppers to make their way to your shop, allowing you to clinch that sale?

If it really is that dick of a marketing director who succeeds in this new business ecosystem, what exactly constitutes this dickishness that we should all be aspiring to? Toughness? Nastiness, when you don’t quite get your own way? The ability to bulldoze your way through an impasse?

The different teams that make up an organisation will need to be able to work more seamlessly together than ever before.

What’s clear is that, in this brave new world, businesses will need to be able to adapt and the different teams that make up an organisation will need to be able to work more seamlessly together than ever before. It takes a not inconsiderable degree of determination to get all your teams on side if you want to change outdated practices and re-shape your organisational roles and processes.

The marketing director and their team have a potentially significant role to play in seeing this sort of change through. Whoever acts as the driver for this change must be capable of raising their head above the parapet and voicing their opinions to highlight areas that require anything from a slight shift in focus to a root and branch overhaul to allow the organisation to continue to travel towards a mutually shared goal.

However, change rarely happens smoothly, if that driver opts to dictate, in a dickish manner, what will happen next or, like a diva, sticks his nose into other people’s affairs, looking for mistakes and opportunities for finger-pointing. How many business strategies have failed to be implemented simply because there wasn’t enough professional ability to see them through?

Research suggests that up to 70% of all strategy implementation attempts fail, with communications singled out as a typical stumbling block. Successful change leaders know how to leave the dickishness to one side and treat the other members of staff with empathy. They are also good at recognising opportunities for negotiation and influencing others in other more humane ways.

Successful change leaders know how to leave the dickishness to one side and treat the other members of staff with empathy.

In any workplace, change invariably spells uncertainty. Making sure that this fact is adequately reflected in your leadership style is extremely important, whether that is in relation to your staff, stakeholders or other senior managers.

We can, of course, attempt to draw a distinction between managing issues and managing people. However, is it not the case that even when you are managing issues, you are also always managing people, along with their perceptions and expectations?

These are mutually inextricable factors, particularly in expert organisations where, ultimately, all work is planned and usually also executed by the people that work there.

Does a dickish attitude bring results with people? Rarely, the evidence suggests. According to Porath and Pearson inappropriate or even nasty behaviour by management has a significant impact on staff attitudes, driving down performance for two thirds and reducing their commitment to their employer by up to 80%.

Does a dickish attitude bring results with people? Rarely.

It is surely the case for any organisation that their skilled, expert and committed staff are their single most important resource? And, as such, surely they deserve to be treated accordingly?

The biggest problem in most workplaces is that if you want to make progress in your career and gain those promotions, you are forced to pursue management roles.

However, many experts have wound up in managerial roles without having demonstrated any aptitude for people-centred leadership whatsoever along the way. Management training can help up to a point but it is largely down to your own attitude and priorities whether you will ever make a really good boss.

There is a difference between being determined and results-driven and being a dick. I absolutely refuse to believe that in order to bring about change you have to be a horrible person.

In fact, what every workplace needs is someone who can communicate frankly and openly with their staff, who can share their vision in dialogue with the rest of the team and who knows when to make themselves available, when either circumstance or the team’s needs so dictate.

A good leader will go out of their way to create a safe atmosphere within the workplace, where people feel able to try things without being laden down with a sense of shame.

There is a difference between being determined and results-driven and being a dick.

My question to you is, do you want to be known as a dick and a bulldozer, or as the expert that nurtures their staff to bring out the best in them? It is hard to believe that the dicks continue to thrive and that they are glorified and presented with leadership opportunities.

Do you want to be known as a dick and a bulldozer, or as the expert that nurtures their staff to bring out the best in them?

I want to work at changing this because I don’t believe that we as a nation or as individuals can afford to waste our time and expertise on dealing with complete dicks.


Kerttu Takala works as a Strategic Planner at Finland's leading social business advisory Dingle and is also responsible for HR development.

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