The opposite of Asshole is not “Weak Person”


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My secret weapon for achieving success

I am preparing to deliver a TED talk at the TEDx Navasink Conference on May 20 in Asbury Park, NJ!
…and it got me thinking about the ideas of Power and Weakness in business.

(By the way, if you want to attend, you can register here.)

My secret weapon…

I’m going to be talking about my secret weapon for achieving unlikely corporate success… having grown up in a small farm town in rural NJ, and (as a woman) ultimately becoming a Silicon Valley CEO. This as you might imagine, was not a direct, well marked path!

At the core of my secret weapon was the willingness to show up at work as my true self, instead of being tempted to put on a facade of a more business like, more impressive, more important-seeming, executive persona. See also Stop trying to be impressive.

I’ll tell stories about how being willing to put my real self out there and to have real, unstructured conversations with others (while it sometimes felt risky or scary) created surprising and remarkable outcomes.

What about the bullies?

When I tell people what I am going to be talking about, some say to me, “You can’t tell people that!!! Corporations are competitive and nasty. You need to be competitive and nasty too if you want to survive.”

The non-asshole route

I used to think so too. But took a different route.

I was very lucky early in my career to have two mentors and role models (both men), who were both very successful and powerful business people, but who were also kind and authentic people who treated everyone with respect no matter what their position.

Their example gave me the confidence to pursue the authentic, respectful route. And it worked for me.

But as I prepared for this talk, it struck me that many people are afraid to show a kind, authentic persona because they fear that they will appear weak at work.

Many people believe that their true self is just not big enough or strong enough somehow, so they feel pressured to put on a more harsh, business-like, persona.

The Narcissists

It can be confusing to watch the narcissist bullies, appearing to be so strong and getting ahead. At times, I too was afraid that I could not compete with them.

But I also realized that that was not a path for me.

I didn’t attempt to be like them, mostly because I did not have the skills to do it!

It takes a certain kind of talent to create and manage a false, impressive, alter-ego, work persona. You need to be a really good actor. And to really commit to the part!

And I didn’t have the stomach to treat others as inferior simply because they were below me in the organization.

So I just decided to be myself with confidence and treat others with respect. And to have real, open, unstructured conversations with them, whether they were employees, peers, stakeholders, or bosses.

Authentic IS powerful

Eventually I realized that being your authentic self is actually the best way to come across as most powerful and credible — because authenticity will always be more powerful than good acting.

I talk to so many leaders who confess to me, “I worry that I’m not am enough of an asshole. I’m not sure I am tough enough on people”. Really, people ask me this.

While you certainly can be a narcissistic, egomaniac, asshole and get ahead in business — it’s not a requirement!

The opposite of asshole is not “weak person”. The opposite of asshole is strong, genuine and respectful.

The more I think about leadership, the more I realize that good, effectively leadership IS hard. It’s not an easy job. It is by no means a job for the weak.

Leadership is hard job that you absolutely can succeed at as a strong, good person.

A good leader will make tough decisions
A good leader will have the difficult conversations
A good leader will resolve conflicts
A good leader will make scary resource tradeoffs
A good leader will face obstacles and overcome them
A good leader will help others get through the difficult and boring parts
A good leader will be accountable for their choices and behaviors

These are not the traits of a weak person.

Even stronger

Good leaders are strong people, probably even stronger than the assholes.

Just because you are not acting like a bully, doesn’t mean you are not strong. Remember the bullies are the ones who are not strong — that’s why they are bullies.

If you want to be a good person, you can still be a strong and effective business leader.
Don’t let the existing examples of asshole behavior we can all see make you feel like you need to be that way too.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook