You Might Work at a Startup

Bad Actors, Assholes and Being Awesome with People

Last night I was going back and forth with another CEO over email about a particularly bad actor we both know.

The bad actor has consistently demonstrated a total disregard for ethics and the behavior is quite remarkable.

I won’t go into details, but I have been around long enough to know that eventually the bad actor will experience a massive, self-inflicted shitstorm.

But that day might not be for several months or even years.

The discussion got me thinking about some of the core values we have at FullContact and how it guides my decision making every single day.

Some companies have a “No Assholes” rule.

At FullContact, our credo has been “Be Awesome with People.

Both serve to help achieve the same result – to get rid of assholes and bad actors in your organization.

But when applying the Be Awesome with People rule, I have sometimes been conflicted when dealing with assholes and bad actors.

How many chances does someone I work with get to be an asshole?

In trying to Be Awesome with them, how many times should I be willing to give them another chance?

One?  Two?  Three?  Ten?

Sometimes the anger/asshole issues I see are so obviously symptoms of deep-seated childhood issues that I want to play therapist and help them work through them.

But while the CEO’s job tends to be therapist fairly often,  it’s really not my responsibility to turn people from Assholes to Awesome.

At some point people have to be 100% accountable for their behavior.

I have decided that I like the approach Brad Feld has taken with his fuck me once rule.

It’s my responsibility to call the behavior out.  As long as the person owns it, sincerely apologizes for it, and works to correct it, they get another chance.

If they don’t, then it’s a divergence of values and the relationship simply won’t continue.  I’m 35 years old.  Life is too short to spend time with assholes.

Coincidentally, I had written a note to my team yesterday afternoon recapping the month.

At the end, I added a portion about Being Awesome With People, which I have copied verbatim:

One final note: we are now a team of 55 people.   That means there are 54 other people that have an impression of each of you and your behavior.  

That also means 54 “relationships” you have, ranging from strong to weak ties.

Much like a “No Assholes” rule, we have a “Be Awesome with People” credo.

Being Awesome with People is a hard thing to do.  It’s a perspirational thing – and everyone has to work at it.

Once, when I was 21 years old, one of my direct reports called me out in front of the team and told me I was a “miserable prick and an arrogant asshole with the emotional intelligence of a turd”

It was a seminal moment and changed me for the better.  That person was being awesome with me by telling me the truth. It hurt like hell.  But I deserved it.  It was a wake up call.

I am not perfect, but I try to be better with people every day.  It’s not easy for me and it’s been a long 15 years since that incident. 

Some days are good and some days are a challenge.  But I try to face my own emotional shit and control my own lizard-brain reactions.

As we grow, working together as a team is the most important thing.  

We spend 50 to 80 hours a week at this company – with each other.

We laugh, we cry, we succeed and we fail.  We do all of this together.

Startups are hard.  Scale-ups are even harder.

As we scale up, let’s not make it harder on ourselves by not being awesome with each other.

Winning in the global marketplace is hard enough without dealing with assholes who aren’t awesome with each other.

So, as we enter the rest of this year, I encourage all of you to do your best to be a little more awesome with the 54 other people at FullContact every single day.

I don’t know if everyone at FullContact will take this to heart the way I do.  But I sure hope so.

And when I see Asshole or Not Awesome behavior, it’s my job to build a culture where it gets called out – every time.

Life is just too short to work in a place where anything else is acceptable.

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