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I’m not trying to win a popularity contest

I once worked for a high-level executive who prided himself in being tough. He worked his people hard and he expected a lot of them. More often than not, he got what he expected. He had been very successful, but he was always dogged by complaints from his employees. He had a vaguely negative reputation surrounding the way he treated people. Whenever faced with this criticism, he defended himself by saying, “I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.”

When I worked for him, he was just as tough on me as on others, but I would sometimes remind him that his style didn’t always have the best effect on his employees. People are different and respond to different styles—people with choices might decide to work for someone else and you are left only with those that can’t work for someone they like better.
He glowered at me and repeated his mantra, “I’m not trying to win any popularity contests.” I fixed a stare back at him and asked, “OK, but are you trying to lose any?”
This took him aback, because he wasn’t used to anyone talking honestly with him, but I could tell that he was listening. I tried to explain to him that he was losing good people who were doing their best and didn’t need to be pushed any harder. He listened to me and he treated me better after that—I think he took my feedback as explaining something about myself—but I didn’t notice big changes in the way he treated others.
When I looked at the marketing that his team was doing, it always looked to me like they never took a chance. Like no one wanted to stick their heads above the foxhole because they’d be shot at. And I always noticed that it took a long time for this executive to change course when things were failing, probably because no one was brave enough to tell him bad news.
If this executive sounds a bit like you, you might want to ask yourself whether it’s working. The best talent always has a choice about where to work and who to work for. If you are constantly driving people into the ground to “get the best” out of them, then you might be getting the best out of people who themselves are not the best. Because the best work for someone who appreciates them.

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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