A friend of mine pointed me to an article in Entreprenuer Magazine by business consultant and self-purported turnaround expert George Cloutier. In it he writes, “I'm a big proponent of the "just view me as God" school of management.”
I first became aware of Cloutier when I was asked by his PR firm to review his book: Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing. Cloutier promises to share the “real truth” with small business owners. I didn’t review the book because I thought his ideas were a bit too over-the-top or caricatured for my tastes.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard his name and/or been pointed to his stuff several times. So I’ve decided to add my thoughts.
Cloutier says that small business owners focus far too much on being liked and don’t provide the necessary leadership. Now, let me be clear – I completely, 100% agree with this. My problem – and it’s a big problem – is with his solution.
His prescription (in both the column and the book) include gems like these:
- Be a dictator.
- Tell your employees: "Don't think--obey."
- Forget your likability score.
- Be a feared general.
- Fear is the best motivator.
If Cloutier is giving this advice in a situation where catastrophe and bankruptcy are the next step, I can certainly understand. However, as best I can tell, Coutier is advising small business owners to run their businesses like this all of the time. His advice is like an intense diet – you’ll lose weight (turn things around) fast, but there is simply no way you can sustain the approach.
Business is far too complex, chaotic and fast moving today. Autocratic approaches like these aren’t just unpopular, they’re ineffective. As Cloutier himself writes, “many small-business owners forget one important thing: They have to execute their battle plans with as few flaws as possible.” Today, anyone not thinking kills your ability to execute.
Frankly, his opinion IMHO falls into the category of lazy thinking. Just as it’s easier to go on a strict diet to lose weight than it is to adjust your life to a healthy lifestyle, it’s far easier to be a dictator than it is to create the processes that enable your business to succeed.
Look, I used to oversee the people who worked for me like a dictator. I excused by obnoxious, narcissistic behavior by saying things like, “we all have a job to do,” or “my focus is on the customer and if I have to break a few eggs to make the customer happy, then so be it.” What I learned was that if I didn’t let people own their jobs, and allow them to think, they’d never be able to do the great things I needed them to do. I also learned that once I gave my people the freedom they needed to perform, they became much smarter than me.
If you want to own a job rather than a business, Cloutier’s approach may work. Just remember that if you take his approach, don’t complain that your people don’t show initiative, don’t show empathy to the customer, or simply don’t care.
One of Cloutier’s favorite analogies shows just how flawed his thinking is. He likens his approach to the feared general. Yet, even the U.S. military has learned just how important collaboration is. They’ve learned that in war (as in business), sh*t happens and if the people responsible for executing the tactics aren’t a part of developing the tactics, the approach will blow up.
What’s unfortunate is that I think Cloutier has some good ideas. His hard talk about the need for owners to understand they own the business, and therefore they own the results is often heard, but not adequately understood. His advice that the “nicest” thing you can do for the people who work at the company is to make sure that everyone in their job owns their results and executes maniacally needs to be understood.
I just wish he’d talk about how to do it sustainably. Of course, if he really believes everything he’s writing, we’d all be better off just ignore him.