CEO Shoptalk — Persuasion

If you are a CEO, a manager, a leader you will of necessity order persons who are your subordinates to do things that need to be done. It is the nature of a senior-subordinate relationship, an employer-employee relationship. It is an every day action in the workplace.

How can you ensure that these things you require to be done are, in fact, done?

There are essentially three ways:

 1. You can mandate that they be done under pain of punishment. Discipline in the work place is always lurking just below the surface.

Taken to an extreme, if you fail to follow the mandate, you will be fired.

In 33 years as a CEO and 5 years an Army officer, I never had anyone defy my orders or found it necessary to discipline anybody for willfully not following my direction.

I had plenty of times when someone did not do something I had ordered to be done well, but that is not what we are talking of today.

 2. You can reward persons for the accomplishment of the task.

Whatever behaviors you reward will be observed by others and duplicated.

Feed the good angels; starve the bad angels. Get more good angels. Money talks.

 3. You can persuade them of the necessity and wisdom that the thing be done.

Persuasion requires education, communication, salesmanship, a bit of cajolery, and the willingness to engage in calm debate wherein the titular power of the CEO is put aside for a second as he/she deploys the power of logic.

Very few people I encounter have any idea of what persuasion is, how to do it, when to deploy it, and are not good at it. Like any skill, it can be acquired and some folks are masters at it whilst others are pathetic. Grade yourself.

Real world it, Big Red Car

In a “normal” business environment this is a gross overcomplication of how things actually work. In that environment:

 1. You make plans.

 2. You assign duties to disciplines, departments, and individuals as subsets of the plan.

 3. You get acknowledgement of their understanding the plan, and buy-in from all involved in the plan.

 4. You check, double check, re-check the accomplishment of the plan on a periodic basis.

 5. You assess performance based on an individual’s accomplishment of his/her subset of the objectives of the plan whilst you promote and increase compensation for those who do well.

 6. You adjust plans based on outcomes, and you re-plan and follow the same process in a feedback loop.

Very tame, predictable stuff that CEOs do every day.

What’s the deal on PERSUASION, Big Red Car?

Ahhh, dear reader, how perceptive. Persuasion is how leaders overcome objections, reassure skeptics, and, ultimately, sell their plans to create a cohesive team.

Persuasion is a tool that should be in every CEO’s toolbox and it should be used long before the situation is allowed to degenerate into one that requires discipline and, potentially, punishment. Punishment always creates resentment and resentment always festers into something toxic.

When CEOs are threatening draconian punishments, you can count on the fact that they are not good at persuasion.

Persuasion is the skill that allows CEOs to build teams — bodies of people all pulling on the rope in the same direction thereby leveraging their individual power into a greater collective power — to accomplish BIG THINGS.

I believe that the power to persuade is the demarcation line between good CEOs and great CEOs.

Any examples, Big Red Car?

Yes, dear reader, let’s look at Southwest Airlines.

 1. Southwest Airlines, like every company with more than 100 employees in the country, was given a non-negotiable government mandate by the administration that all employees had to be COVID vaccinated or the government would punish SWA with huge penalties on an ongoing basis.

 2. Southwest Airlines’ CEO dutifully put out the word and in response received a lawsuit from the pilots’ union and a work interruption that grounded more than 2,200 flights over a three day period.

 3. Of course, the CEO, SWA, the FAA, and the White House assured all of us that the work stoppage did not have anything to do with the pilots’ union lawsuit or was actually a work stoppage by pilots — cough, cough — but rather was due to “bad weather in Florida” and a “shortage of air traffic controllers” which all of y’all know is malarkey — the real bad kind.

 4. The CEO of SWA quickly realized that he was messing with fire because if he had no pilots, he had no airline, and that the 2,200 cancelled flights hit SWA right in the pocketbook, and his wife wanted a new beach house, so this was never going to work.

 5. The CEO of SWA after realizing he had started a shit storm backed down, retreated from his ardent support of the government mandate, made some clucking noises, and meekly said, “We’ll figure it out, but we won’t be firing any pilots.”

What was the original failure? The CEO of Southwest Airlines failed to use the power of persuasion to reason with the pilots and their union who might have accommodated him — who knows?

Now, what does he have to do? Persuade the union and its members that there is some reasonable way around this jack booted government mandate that preserves the company, does not pour pilots out onto the street, and that preserves his wife’s beach house aspirations.

Punchline it, Big Red Car

If you don’t persuade your subordinates and they rise up in revolt, you are really going to have to persuade them anyway, but this time around, you will not have as much power in the relationship because they will see the sweat dripping off the end of your nose.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

OK, dear reader, know who really needs to crank up their persuasion game? The Joe Biden White House.

 1. Without taking any position on the wisdom of vaccination, I acknowledge that persons of good faith can be on both sides of the issue and that the White House’s desire to vanquish the Wuhan China Virus via universal vaccination is a legitimate tactic.

I believe there are folks who object to that mandate who are acting in equally good faith and are equally legitimate and sincere in their opposition. This is, or course, the hallmark of a free country and, for a few more years anyway, America is a free country in which competing ideas and views can co-exist.

I also think that both parties can be persuaded to reconsider their views with data, logic, discussion, and calm debate.

 2. The White House — no consultation with the Congress or industry — enacted a fierce mandate announced at a White House presser after which the POTUS took zero questions.

[The image of President Biden turning his back on the audience after announcing a savage plan, spurning any questions, and walking away is an earth shattering display of a bedrock lack of empathy. Who at the White House thinks this is a good look?]

The presidential edict enacted punishments — tough, expensive, non-negotiable punishments — announced right up front with the order. There was no decent interval for reflection or assimilation or persuasion before the whip was applied.

 3. The White House did not take a second to explain the order, communicate with Congress or industry, debate the order, reason with skeptics, sell the idea — it just whipped out a mandate and the punishments for not complying with the mandate. BOOM!

 4. To make matters worse, the White House decided to enlist the employers as their jack booted (or should it be hob nailed?) thugs to enforce the idea and then imposed the penalty on the same enforcers. WTF?

Did anybody consider what impact this might have on a company’s culture? I think not.

 5. The ill will generated by this order — due to the methodology with which it was published, the way it was explained (talking to you, Jen Psaki), and the ham handed way it is being administered — is gargantuan.

 6. It is worth noting that from a legal perspective, there is no law creating this mandate, no rule written by a Cabinet department, and it exists currently only in the President’s mind.

This is an exemplar of what NOT to do and the results speak for themselves. Now, the CEO of Southwest Airlines has publicly cast shade on the entire mandate. He is a powerful opponent and has been joined by other airline CEOs. Never saw that coming, eh?

Homework, Big Red Car?

Yes, dear reader, take an issue within your company and reflect upon how you might deploy your mighty (or non-existent) powers of persuasion to arrive at the right outcome. You got this, but you have to do the work and it takes time. It is a skill, like fly fishing. Develop and practice it.

The results will be worth it.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car — look into my eyes, cher, I want to persuade you.

“Hmmm, what’s Plan B? Wait, do I have a Plan B?”