In the current debate on whether to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, you are seeing a perfect example of the power of NO, and how that one word defines the personal brands of people who use it to mean, “No. Absolutely not. Not now. Not ever. Uh-uh.”
Al Dunlap – a famous corporate takeover king during the 1980’s was called “Chainsaw Al,” because he was absolutely certain that ruthlessly cutting employees off payroll would raise short-term profits. He was absolutely right. Shareholders loved him. That is until the loss of valuable employees destroyed long term investment strategies, because once Al and his pals took their profits: these companies were shredded.
Absolutism works until if fails
On the other hand, how is that for personal branding? “Chainsaw Al.” Can you imagine how it felt when you heard that Chainsaw Al was on the acquisition team alighting on your company? Like Attila the Hun was in the neighborhood. A very powerful personal brand.
All absolutism works absolutely until it fails, catastrophically. In the meantime, those people who win by virtue of a “take no prisoners” approach make dramatic heroes (oddly, even among the prisoners). It’s the Stockholm syndrome.
Fear or inspiration?
Absolutists inspire and frighten people with their certainty. In either case, what’s enthralling is the depth and breath of their disregard for anyone else in the room. That’s how they can take what is “ours” and make it completely “theirs.” Like your lunch money in third grade.
So by its nature, absolutism is anti-social. Because absolutists enjoy the freedom of being concerned for only their own position, and like Al Dunlop, train a blind eye on consequences they won’t experience, they have an amazing advantage in negotiations. They are huge in business. Monsters.
If you haven’t yet worked with a boss or colleague who takes this approach, you are in for a doozy of a career killing experience. Not theirs, yours. Because these people are such terrors, a whole lot of bodies have to be bloodied and broken, before corporate gets a clue that the mayhem maker is worth tackling.
I’ve had it happen in my career. It’s shocking to be hired to do a job, and then meet the person who makes it her job to make sure you can’t do yours. A decade later, I met her at a farmers market in LA. She was sitting there sunning herself, and waved me over to say hello.
I can tell you she had absolutely no idea what she’d done, even though by then she had been cut loose. The company? It’s been limping back. She absolutely had an impact. Much bigger than I did.
Disappear rather than dialogue
Absolutists are walking tall among us. So be careful about what you’re learning from the government or corporate scene, who inspires your actions and what you take away from the behavior of those who are in charge. Remember, the clearest sign of their presence is that they disappear rather than dialogue. That you feel disrespected and oddly awed at the same time.
As you create your career and yourself, ask yourself if absolutism is something associated with you and your brand? I’m hoping you say: absolutely not.