Biggest fuck up?
The easy answer is going into business with a very close school friend, but the more honest answer is simply not being honest.
We were both young and dishonest. Not in a malicious or deliberate way, but too insecure and too inexperienced to know when to stop bullshitting and to stop making promises that we knew we couldn’t keep. We were like dysfunctional brothers – both blaming the other for transgressions and betrayals – and both equally guilty of not being truthful with each other.
Money was at the heart of it, but the financial chaos was just a symptom of two people who, despite loving each other, didn’t know how to admit to the other that they were struggling to cope.
I forgave him and learned my lesson long ago, but I don’t know if he ever did. We haven’t spoken in twenty years.
Honesty is such a complicated concept in life and business. Saying someone has integrity is the greatest compliment, and saying “you’re a liar” is the most brutal and wounding accusation. But anyone who says that they always tell the truth isn’t being honest at all, are they? Every truth is complicated by context. To write more than that would veer dangerously into wanky bollocks territory, but I’ve learned that it’s best to be as honest as you can.
I think we need to hush up a bit. To quote the song (by other people, not just Ronan), ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all.’
The song is about the unspoken gestures and actions that mean that words are often unnecessary to express love, and I think that the marketing industry needs to remember that – especially now during this time of lockdown. I’ll judge you by what you really do, not what you say you do.
Personal referrals from people we trust are the salesman’s holy grail, so companies need to stop yelling about what they’re doing or have done so often and on every channel available. Saturation is not a good thing; it means you can absorb no more, so just get on and do what you do, quietly and brilliantly, and the word will get around.
Also, you can’t hear what’s being said if you’re shouting, and listening carefully is vastly underrated.
Be polite and be kind.
I thought long and hard about writing something so simplistic, but I think it’s the most important, recurring lesson I keep learning.
The first time I had to manage a team, I had no idea how to talk to them and thought I should give orders until one day, a guy a few years older than me snapped and yelled at me, “you never say fucking please!” It was like a slap in the face, and it literally brought tears to my eyes because he was right, and I knew I was very wrong.
This should be obvious, of course, but I’ve seen rudeness repeated over and over by ‘leaders’ and it’s always a symptom of a company in trouble.
I don’t often read business books, but one that had a profound effect on me was David Marquet’s ‘Turn The Ship Around. It takes all the things I’ve mentioned here (honesty, listening, respect & kindness) and shows – practically – how you can build successful and happy teams and companies.
“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”
He was a US Navy submarine commander, but it isn’t gung-ho or military at all. It’s intuitive, human and refreshingly free of wanky bollocks. Well worth reading.