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Once upon a time (I won’t say how long ago, lest some people get exposed) I was in a meeting of company leaders: CEO, CFO, Director of Sales, Director of Manufacturing, Director of Engineering, and myself. There was a lot of collective wisdom around that table and the discussion centered on strategy.

The company was forever at a crossroads, given a lack of funds and a long line of vendors needing to satisfy their own selfish desires, like making mortgage payments and feeding their children. At one point during the discussion, a strategic investment was deemed irresponsible, untenable and pretty much a joke by all but one participant, whereupon the CEO (the “one participant”) declared “apparently you all think we’re running a democracy around here” and said we’ll be running another initiative off the backs of some unwitting vendors. End of discussion, end of meeting and the end of any vestige of leadership presence the CEO may still have had.

Consider “not taking yourself so seriously” as a euphemism for all the terms we’ve had in mind—and maybe even voiced

Afterward, I’m sitting in my office fretting over the difficulty I’d be having trying to wash that incident off when the CEO traipses in with a satisfied grin and asked “so, how do you think that went”? At that instant I was amazingly aware of my desire to channel Mel Blanc, the voice of Daffy Duck, and spit out “YOU’RE DETHPICABLE!” I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something around the lines of ‘well, we’re certainly clear on where we stand’. My sense of humor was nowhere to be found, and it was all I could do to not call him the myriad names I had in mind, none of which conferred adulation.

Consider “not taking yourself so seriously” as a euphemism for all the terms we’ve had in mind—and maybe even voiced—for how we’ve felt about bosses we’ve disliked. Hopefully you’ve resisted the temptation to call the boss a jerk to his or her face, as it might feel good for only one (or less) second. In fact, if job preservation is somewhere on the list of priorities, I suggest doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to SHUT THE HELL UP. This is where invoking more highly-developed emotional intelligence comes in handy. One trick is to immediately consider your mortgage payment or food for your kids. Crisis averted.

If you’re the boss, it might be helpful to know just some of the things you might say, imply or do that can inspire some name-calling by employees:

  1. If you’ve ever pulled the job title card to win a disagreement.
  2. If you’ve ever said, in so many words “it’s my way or the highway.”
  3. If you’ve conveyed “I didn’t get to this position by being stupid.”
  4. If you clearly aren’t taking other people seriously.
  5. If you have a moratorium on playing Led Zeppelin in the office.

Celebrating the fact that we’re all human, occasionally EVERYONE loses any connection to their most evolved selves and takes ourselves too seriously. Do you think this is merely an intellectual construct for me?! If you’re the boss and have transgressed, you have a good chance of gaining forgiveness, assuming that you’ve built solid relationships based on trust. Damage control is also in order if you’re the employee who’s absolutely lost it and unleashed on the boss (which happens to be very entertaining for everybody else). Whichever side of the relationship you’re on, you owe it to yourself to regain a modicum of dignity. This requires a healthy dose of self-awareness, knowing how you’ve just appeared to others and how they probably feel about it.

Once your blood pressure has returned to near normal, and your bulging carotid arteries are no longer an annoyance to others, it’s time to make a choice. One would be to do or say nothing, hoping that nobody will remember and that your image won’t take a hit. This is a bad assumption and the wrong choice. Rather, a better choice that will optimize your good name and likability (a key component in the quest for self-awareness) is to look up “contrite” in the dictionary and start acting that way. For those of you without a taste for delayed gratification, it means to be filled with feelings of guilt, sincere remorse and a desire for atonement. In other words, apologize and MEAN IT.

To put all this in perspective, think about your legacy and how you’d like to be remembered at the end of “the day”, which means, “your life.” Know that people won’t remember much about what you’ve said or done, but HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL. Lightening up, treating people with respect and dignity, and a healthy dose of humor regardless of most situations, go a long way to being likable and remembered as being a great guy. They also go a long way to building a vital business where stakeholder engagement is high as are bottom line returns, but that’s a discussion for other chapters.

By the way, if you think you want to start a business in the arena of corporate culture and leadership, don’t try to buy the domain “” because I already own it.

Howie Milstein
Provocateur and Leadership Doctor

Spill your guts.