Small Business Owners: Sometimes You Gotta Be, Well, A Jerk

Most of us living the life of self-employment and running a very small business end up with a staff of, at most, a couple of people. And then, you end up working together all the time. So what can you do if have an employee who seems to be taking advantage of you? Or what about the vendor who does the same? Or the client from hell?

Let’s say you run a loose ship around the office, and let a lot of things slide for the greater good of a peaceful office space. But you still end up with an employee who comes in late, sometimes focuses on things that don’t really matter, calls in sick too much, etc. And making matters worse, what if that same employee also makes you a lot of money, and knows it? What are you supposed to do?


Or what if you have the irritating client? The too-demanding customer who thinks that just because they pay you, they own you? Or the unreliable vendor? What do you do?

I am all for creating a harmonious workplace, for propping employees up instead of beating them down and for catching more bees with honey than with vinegar. Kumbaya and all that. But do you know what?

Sometimes you gotta be a jerk.

You are not in business to make friends with your staff or your vendors or clients. You are in business to make a profit, and the fact is, making a profit is easier when everyone is on the same page. So that begs the question: How do you get them on the same page?

By being the boss, that’s how.

The Delicate Art of Gently Coaxing People Isn’t Always the Answer

Sometimes you get people on the same page by coaxing them along. Sometimes it is by offering incentives. Often it is by being a mensch. But sometimes, it is by being the tough guy.

The employee or client who is taking advantage of your kindness is akin to the unruly child whose parents do not know how to set limits. And it is only by setting limits that the child learns a) what is expected, and b) who is really in charge.

The same is true in this case. When you own a business, you are the leader. So lead. The person who takes advantage likely did not start out that way. It was only over time, as they noticed that you were being too easy going, and they began to take liberties. You simply must put an end to it.

And when you do, while there might be some bad feelings, you will have not only fixed this situation, but you will also have set an important precedent.

Using the Calculated Blowup in Business Sometimes Makes Sense

In business, there is a thing called “the calculated blowup.” There are times when it becomes important for people to know that you have a limit. You do that, when necessary and after being strung along, by deliberately getting a little (or a lot) unreasonable. People don’t like dealing with unreasonable people, and while they might simply tune you out, often they will give you what you are asking for.

Look, people go into business for themselves for all sorts of reasons, and a big one is that they are so passionate about something that they want to do it every day. And while being passionate about, say, flowers, means that you may be a damn good florist, it does not mean that you will be a great boss or a savvy businessperson.

But if you are going to succeed in the long run, you have to be more than just a person with a great idea; you have to be a tough cookie too, when necessary.

And no, it is not just employees we are talking about. The person who needs to know where the line is may be a vendor, or a client or customer. Back in my attorney days, we had a term for this: “client management.” For instance, there were clients who found it difficult to stop calling my paralegal, checking on the status of their case. Gently, but firmly, we had to show those clients that there was a line, a limit.

So sometimes, not often really, you just gotta be the jerk.

Fire the client from hell. Find a more reliable vendor. Warn the employee, and then follow through on your warning.

You are in business. Be a businessperson.

Team ZenBusiness

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