Just because it looks easy…
When we started Chenmark, we had some Excel skills and lots of ambition but, unfortunately, no functional management experience. Our elite school resume padding was filled with fancy-sounding, but ultimately superficial, “leadership” experiences.
After we made our first acquisition, it didn’t take too long to feel the weight of actual leadership. We suddenly had responsibility for making serious decisions that could have a tremendous impact on our employees, our customers, our vendors, and, ultimately, ourselves. Amidst trying to figure out how to run a small business, we clearly remember an unexpected emotional response: complete and absolute empathy for our former bosses.
Their jobs were so much harder than we realized. As a junior employee, it was very easy to criticize upper-level decisions — and we did. We thought our bosses were distracted. They routinely got to the office too late and left too early. At times, they made questionable strategic decisions. Useful performance feedback was rare. They certainly didn’t pay us enough. How naive we were.
As a junior person, we only saw a small sliver of everything on our boss’s plate. We didn’t realize that our boss might have been distracted in our weekly meeting because he was worried about not having enough cash to make payroll. Or that later that day, he was going to have to terminate a long-tenured employee due to performance issues. Or that he was only allocated a certain amount of the bonus pool and that he fought to make ours as generous as possible. Or that he signed a seemingly questionable partnership agreement because he was looking ahead at changing market conditions we couldn’t understand. Or that he got to work late because school won’t let you drop your kids off at 6 AM. Or that he left “early” because he had a 1.5 hour commute and wanted to actually see his spouse and kids before bed.
It doesn’t take long walking in somebody’s shoes to gain some empathy. Along this line of thinking, we loved reading about new Little League rules being implemented in Deptford Township, New Jersey. After two volunteer umpires quit in a week, the town came up with a new approach. If a Little League parent or spectator is caught berating and yelling at referees and umpires, they have to volunteer to officiate themselves for at least three upcoming games before being allowed back into the sports complex. Brian Barlow, the founder of Offside, an organization that calls out bad behavior among youth sports parents, noted:
“People are very comfortable making officials uncomfortable, so it’s about time that we’ve reversed the trend and started making people uncomfortable who are harassing officials.”
The Deptford Little League organizers say the point is for parents to see what it’s like on the field and how the job might not be as easy as it looks. No kidding. We once refereed a youth field hockey game and have yet to recover from the number of calls we missed.
For Chenmark, our reading this week was a good reminder that it’s very easy to criticize when you are on the outside looking in, whether it be in a work, sports, or some other setting entirely. It’s so much harder to actually be in the arena. When tempted to criticize, we try to remember that humbling feeling we had that first week of owning a business, when we realized that leadership is much harder than it looks. More people ought to try it.
Have a great week,
Your Chenmark Team