Can A Cutthroat Boss Be A Good Boss, Too?

In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep’s character, über-critical boss-from-hell Miranda Priestly, pulls no punches regarding her reputation as a difficult boss. In fact, she revels in being difficult and attributes the success of the fashion magazine she runs to her cutthroat nature.

But could she have been a cuttthroat boss AND a good boss? The short answer is yes, of course. The longer answer? Yes, and it may be the best thing for your business, too!

That said, let’s really define cutthroat. According to the dictionary, when used as an adjective, it means “Ruthlessly competitive; dog-eat-dog.” By that definition, you can absolutely be a cutthroat good boss. Being ruthless about your customer service, quality of goods and delivery of products to your customer is something every boss should have top-of-mind.

But like Voltaire and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And with that responsibility, sometimes, you have to make the hard decisions, like whether or not to fire an employee.

New York Times “Thinking Entrepreneur” columnist Jay Goltz, recently spoke to a group of small family business owners and was asked “How do you balance a nurturing environment with being cutthroat?” Read Goltz’s insightful answer

It was like having a slow pitch thrown right down the middle of the plate. “The answer is in your question,” I replied. “Do you really think that firing someone who can’t do the job is cutthroat? Does doing this make you a bad person? Is it mean, unethical, unfair or ruthless?

“I’ll tell you what it makes you if you don’t do it,” I continued. “It makes you a bad boss. A bad boss because you are cheating your customers of good service or a good product. And, you are probably subjecting your other employees to having to fix, cover for or put up with someone who makes their jobs harder, or even miserable.”

At this point, I figured I might as well drive the point home, or maybe I was just out of control on my soapbox. “And if some of you think that you won’t or can’t be as mean as I am?” I said, “don’t flatter yourselves. My turnover is less than 10 percent, and my average employee has been with me more than nine years. Not firing people does not make you nicer than I am. It just makes you irresponsible, and your customers and your other employees pay the price.”

Done. I looked around the room. It didn’t appear that anyone was preparing to throw anything at me. I was going to get out alive, again. This is my tough love speech. I love happy customers, I love happy work environments, and I love successful companies that can be taken over by the next generation and continue to provide jobs. But I also realize that firing is tough on everyone involved.

Sometimes, by being ruthless about the quality of service and product you give to your cutomers, including the employees who work for your business, you create an environment conducive to happy employees, happy customers, and ultimately, a happy successful business!


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