Three Things You Simply Can’t Accept

I’m constantly struck by the similarity between being a Dad and being a boss.

Dan – my eldest son – is nearly 13 and fairly soon he’s going to casually slip the word ‘party’ into a conversation. A party involving alcohol, girls and collecting him the next morning…

That’s fine. It’s a natural part of growing up. We’ve all been there and we’ve all made the discovery that beer, wine and vodka isn’t a winning combination. But there are going to be rules, and they’re going to go something like this:

Wherever you are, whatever time it is, whatever state you’re in – if there’s a problem we’ll come and get you. If you get into trouble, tell us. Whatever’s happened, we can deal with it. But you have to be honest with us. We can cope with the truth: we can’t deal with it if you lie to us.

…Which brings me neatly on to being a boss and building your business. Because if you’re going to build a successful company then there are certain things your employees can’t do; that you simply can’t accept. There have to be rules that can’t be broken and boundaries that can’t be crossed.

I’m indebted to an article in Inc for giving me the idea for this post – and you can read the full version here. Thinking back to all the companies I’ve worked for and the teams I’ve managed I’ve picked out three actions/behaviours/habits that I simply couldn’t condone – and which unchecked will do incalculable harm to your business.


I’m not talking about employee theft here, or companies distorting their accounts. I’m talking about the basic honesty which is essential to running any business: telling the truth, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.

It’s an exact parallel with the conversations I’ll have with the boys one day. Whatever’s happened, however bad it is, if you’re the boss you need to be told. I can think of very few situations in my business life that couldn’t be put right, providing they were acted on immediately. And very often if you do simply hold your hands up, apologise and put it right you can actually strengthen your relationship with a client or customer. But you need to know immediately: and you need someone in your team to tell you the bad news, not your client.

That means you need to create a climate where mistakes are tolerated and seen as a learning experience. It’s a cliché, but it’s correct: the man who never made a mistake never made anything.


I won’t speak ill of him – well, not too much anyway – as he died recently. But I used to work with someone who simply sucked the life out of the office. He made the Dementors look like Anthony Robbins and he will now be complaining that his harp hasn’t been tuned properly. Or that the pitchfork is too sharp…

Most of the members of TAB York and the people that read this blog run SMEs with relatively small teams – up to say, 15 people. In a company that size one negative person can have an insidious effect and spread demoralisation like the flu.

Clearly the trick is not to hire them in the first place: the other antidote is to lead. You cannot be negative in a small team if the company is ambitious, knows where it is going and everyone is busy. And that’s your job. As I’ve said many times in this blog, before you see a client, buy any stock or worry about the cash flow your first job is to lead. It’s to say, ‘That’s where we’re going. Follow me. And if you don’t like the destination or you don’t like the pace were going at, there’s the door.”


‘It’ll do’ won’t do and ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough. It takes 80% of your time to do something that’s ‘good enough’ and the other 20% to do something that’s outstanding. If you allow a culture of mediocrity to take hold it will spread rapidly through the company.

I was once in a restaurant with someone who’d built a very successful business. He called the manager over and pointed out that his glass wasn’t clean. “You want 100% of my money,” he said. “I want 100% of your attention.” That seems a fair summary: a dirty glass is ‘good enough’ – it’ll hold a drink. But in a serious restaurant, it clearly isn’t good enough and never will be.

Those are my three deadly sins from the article in Inc: there’s one more which I’ll cover in depth next week. But in your view they may not be the worst offenders: I’d love to hear your opinions. What are the habits and behaviours the owner of an SME simply can’t allow?

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