The fine line between management, motivation and mendacity is coming under scrutiny. That’s a welcome dynamic, but let’s not forget that adversity and tough behavior creates the resilience needed to persevere, and succeed.

Everywhere you look, people are no longer tolerating meanness, via NYT’ Ben Smith:

"It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. There is either an epidemic of bullying or an epidemic of whining, depending on whom you ask."

That said, this isn’t limited to the world of media. Indeed, recently chef Eric Ripert’s been opening up about the world of restaurants, and in particular, its harsh culture. Via Eater:

"Look, I have been trained the hard classic way in France, where chefs were very abusive and borderline violent...As a young chef, I was very very vocal, to say the least. I was not a nice guy to my staff; I was seeking perfection. In the US, my observation, and not just in the kitchen, is that we focus more on positive reinforcement than humiliation. But I was not happy with the way I was running the kitchen at Le Bernardin when I started. The staff was miserable. There was a lot of turnover. I changed completely, one day. Well, maybe it took me more than one day. I said, I just cannot run it like that anymore. I don't believe a cook who is terrorized can cook good food."

This got me thinking about a quote from Marc Lore, the “Lebron James of eCommerce:”

Everywhere you look, people are asking about (what I refer to as) Finesse vs Force. The BBC recently looked at swearing at work. To answer if that’s ever acceptable: business, like sport, is war without the shooting. As such, to me, it’s pretty simple.

If you say “if we keep this up, the competition will freaking eat us alive…” => Yes, it’s fine to swear.

But if you say “you are a freaking idiot,” => No, that’s never really acceptable.

Resilience > Persistence

The reality is, adversity fosters resilience, which eats persistence for breakfast. On a personal note, as the full effects of the pandemic came to light, I realized that WatchMojo had survived:

– a nearly fatal 2006 lawsuit from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp./Fox/IGN/AskMen,

– years of financial losses (2006-12),

– navigating through i) copyright, ii) platform & iii) competition risk while experiencing revenue and viewership growth (2013-present),

– managing a relatively inexperienced group while facing from 2016-19: i) flattening revenues, ii) soaring costs & iii) heightened platform risks (brand-safety, copyright)

and had come through better and stronger, as a testament to our persistence and resilience. But as the year of Covid ended, I realized how much I’d sheltered my team from it all. To them, everything was always rosy, pointing upwards and to the right.

Be Tough of Be Dead

Despite all of that, WatchMojo remained one of the larger channels on YouTube for a decade, never having experienced rounds of layoffs like our small and larger competitors have, while retaining the majority of our top talent and creating an environment and culture that avoided the socio-economic themes of inequality and injustice that have been highlighted via the MeToo and BLM movements.

But as I have empowered my team and delegated more to them, I had to manage two dynamics.

Keep Principles Intact, Adjust Tactics

For one, the way I was with my direct reports was not necessarily the way they had to manage and motivate their reports. Ultimately, I needed my co-founders to keep the Principles intact, while adjusting the Tactics. After all, the dynamic between a founder and his executive team is very different from that of a vice-president and his managers/staff. This may have been amplified by my Nature and Nurture.

The second dynamic was more interesting. Recently, a few of my reports began to complain about one another (how’s that for transparency!). As I have grown into more of a mediator/shrink to others myself, I noted that early on, I had to play Switzerland and maintain peace and order. But by delegating and removing myself from many exchanges, others didn’t necessarily continue that kind of diplomatic tone when dealing with conflict.

So recently, I called my team and told them that

1. You don’t have to “stay in your lane,” if you see a problem or have a suggestion, it’s not only OK to speak up, it’s encouraged… but:

2. If you’re gonna chime in, respect the chain of command (i.e. speak to a fellow VP than confusing their reports)

3. If and when you will give feedback, be direct but remain diplomatic…

4. But if someone isn’t diplomatic, you can politely ask people to speak respectfully, but if not… have a thick skin. To succeed means overcoming criticism, ridicule, second guessing and so on.

I had been so diplomatic and courteous to people that they were shocked when others didn’t share that trait. I told them that “sure, if you think of moments when I get fired up want to ensure we don’t lose focus, you may associate my style with FORCE, but in the context of the 4 rules I just proposed, think back to all of the moments when I dealt with a problem using FINESSE.” Judging by their body reaction and facial expressions, I think they agreed with that.

Ultimately, you need both Force and Finesse. The key is to use FINESSE with PEOPLE, and FORCE with PROCESSES, otherwise, you will kill or be killed! That got me thinking about Alexander’s legend of the Gordian Knot. An excerpt from my 2nd book The Confessions of Alexander the Great:

After winning the Battle of Gordium in 333 BC, I solved the legendary mystery of the Gordian knot.  

What was this famous knot?

According to Greek legend, Gordius was a poor peasant who had this intricately tied knot, called, you guessed it, the Gordian knot. He used the knot to secure his oxcart.  An oracle had told the people that their future king would present himself riding in a wagon. Seeing Gordius’ oxcart, they made him king.  For his gratitude, Gordius was wise enough to dedicate his oxcart to Zeus, tying it up with this knot.

Another oracle then proceeded to state that the man that could undo this knot would become the uncontested, unanimous ruler of Asia, sort of like the holder of all those boxing titles in the modern era, if you wish.

Suffice to say that it was quite in vogue to try to undo this knot, but no one came close.

No one until, take a guess… you got that right: yours truly!

By 333 BC, I had liberated Asia Minor from the Persians and found myself in the town of Gordium in the central mountains.  I was twenty-three and had been in power for three years. I was undefeated by now, having already crossed the symbolic Hellespont across Granicus River. Effectively, I dealt a psychological but fairly small blow to the Persian Empire and my nemesis, King Darius III Codomannus.

As such, I had yet to demonstrate what I could really do. I needed to constantly remind my men of the virtue in their mission: to free the world, conquer Persia and export Greek culture. But doing so took more than words; it took action. So across this knot I came. The knot sat next to the Temple of Zeus Basilica for over a hundred years. There was no way that I would breeze through this city without trying to undo the knot. The problem was that the ends were tucked away inside the knot. 

I recall climbing the hill like it was yesterday. I approached the knot. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see Macedonians and Phrygians surrounding me. The rush was great and worth the price of admission alone.

But would I stop there? Hell no!  

I initially tried untying it the old-fashioned way. As you can imagine, I would have untied it, no doubt. But I took a step back, and in a really great manner asked: "What does it matter how I loose it?" 

All right, so I didn’t exactly ask anyone, I just did it. I drew my sword, and in one swing severed the knot.

Incidentally, a storm took place that night. While some could have interpreted this as discontent and disapproval by the Gods, I reassured the people that thunder, lightning and a downpour of rain actually represented the Gods giving the two thumbs up sign.  

I had altered the course of mankind by untying a stupid knot. So maybe I did not solve it the way that it was intended to be solved for I used my sword. But it worked. I had too much to do; much more to conquer, so I took matters into my own hand.  

It was not important how I cut it, but that I was bold enough to cut it my way. Anyone else could have had the courage and boldness to sever it with a sword for a hundred years. But no one did. And if no man dared cut an inanimate object for over a century and claim his stake to the throne, then no man deserved the throne in the first place. In life, I found out at an early age, nothing is handed to you on a silver platter, but if you do not go for what you want, inevitably someone will pick up the platter and smack you across the head and grab the loot.

More on the book here.