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Why do we take such exception to authority figures who are less than perfect on the one hand, and find thought leaders who admit to their mistakes more credible on the other? It seems counter intuitive to expect perfection in all areas from those we consider experts while finding them hard to believe until we see their imperfections. We all know that “nobody’s perfect.” So why are we so surprised to find out?
From ball players to rock stars, from politicians to television personalities, we are regularly bombarded with their latest scandal or rude behavior. It sells newspapers, but does it always diminish the value of the professional performance of these leaders? If we disapproved of the personal behavior of our pilot, would we get off the plane? If we knew our doctor was rude to his neighbor, would we cancel our appointment?
But aside from politics, rock and roll, and the media, in the business world we do have imperfect heroes. They are normal folks whose jobs are based on performance, experience and making mostly right decisions. They may be gruff, rude, and even snarky, but if they are doing a great job, they can display personality traits that would not be tolerated in politics.
We recently gave a talk to 100 MBA students at Florida Atlantic University. For us it was a unique opportunity to speak to a group of students that had already read our book, The Barefoot Spirit, because they were already familiar with our story and how we had to overcome much adversity, taken a lot of chances, and yes, work with seemingly rude power figures.
One MBA student, referring to a story in our book, asked us why we put up with Don Brown, a major supermarket buyer, who said “OK Houlihan, get in here, tell me what you got, and get out! I don’t have all day!” The student said he would have turned and left if he was treated like that and why didn’t we?
When you are selling something, no one is more powerful than the buyer. These gatekeepers can make or break you – and they know it. Many we dealt with had wonderful personalities, showed a lot of respect for us and displayed perfect manners. Many were less than congenial, none more so than Don Brown, our first big buyer.
But when he was asked what he wanted, he said, “Wow, nobody ever asked me that before!” And then added, “Since you asked, I’ll tell you.” In the next 20 seconds, he told us exactly what kind of product was needed to gain access to the market. Then he said, “OK? Now get out of my office!” Rude as it seemed at the time, it turned out to be the best advice we ever received.
Don Brown was our imperfect hero. His obtuse communication style probably wouldn’t get him elected to a public office, but his honest reply got us off on the right foot. And, yes, two years later he finally did put our product into all his 200+ stores and was the first major supermarket in the country to carry it. What if we got offended and walked out?
When you are an entrepreneur, you are a brand builder. When you are a brand builder, you are a sales person. When you are selling your brand, there’s no room for ego and hurt feelings. You thankfully take your pearls of wisdom from the imperfect Buddha. The imperfect Buddha is, after all, the perfect Buddha.