Sometimes a great leader needs a pair of blinders and some ear plugs. Thoughtfully ruthless leaders know when to care and when to ignore their employees. How much do you care what your employees think of you?
When Don Mattrick was appointed as CEO of Xbox in 2007, Xbox was a 3,000-person organization that was starving for information, context, and inspiration, and it was fast becoming the runt of the Microsoft litter. Regardless of everyone’s desperation for information and leadership, Mattrick refused to spend any time with anyone other than his immediate leadership team, his boss, our CEO Steve Ballmer, and perhaps some engineering or creative leaders on specific initiatives.
Conventional wisdom says that during change you should speak at length—and frequently—to people impacted by the change, but the complete opposite is true. I’ll admit, I tried a few times to convince Mattrick to meet with groups of general managers to provide guidance on his insights and strategy, and to take questions. He refused. Every time. He knew, and I learned, that sometimes silence really is golden.
I realize now that Don was managing through the Intentional Annoyance Stage of rapid growth. The intentional annoyance phase is when you know there is going to be a change, but you don’t yet know what it means, or how everyone will be affected. We knew we had to make changes in Xbox to succeed, but we didn’t know what those changes were yet. We had a secretive need-to-know-only project, which was the secret that we needed the organization to rally behind, but we couldn’t go all out and talk about it broadly because Microsoft at the time was not the best at keeping secrets. So we rode out the intentional annoyance phase as Don continued to be thoughtfully ruthless with his time and energy.
I was advising a CEO last week about a concern he had within his company. I asked him, “do you have evidence that this is a pattern and a widespread concern, or is the real problem how it is being amplified across your organization?” We identified that it was a one-off situation that had been amplified excessively. Sometimes your employees will be annoyed, but you have to ascertain whether it is justifiable, something you intended, or a phase that you will tolerate for a defined period of time.
Rapid growth calls for decisions that may not make you the most likable, and sometimes silence is the best response until you have something to say. What do you need to be silent about, even though it may annoy people?
Dedicated to growing your business,