10 Rules for Entrepreneurs: Be Respectful and Thankful

by Lynnette Nolan | Dec 06, 2011

A few weeks ago I posted 10 Rules for Entrepreneurs, a list of the top 10 lessons I’ve learned in business that have led to success. This week, I’d like to talk about my Rule #8, “Be respectful and thankful. People do things because they want to, not because they have to. Set a good example.”

Most successful entrepreneurs are pretty smart people. But it’s amazing how illogical and tone deaf some people can be when it comes to motivating people. We’ve all read stories about certain CEOs who are famous for the abusive and humiliating ways that they treat employees, vendors, and sometimes even customers.

I was having lunch with an investment banker friend recently who had just come from a meeting with the young CEO of an extremely successful company. He told me that, “The worst thing about my job is that I have to deal with some of the most arrogant people in the world. Just because this guy is fabulously rich, he thinks it’s fun to make everyone else grovel. You come away hoping the worst for him.”

Now, that left me thinking what has this CEO accomplished by treating his banker this way? How does it advance his business and even his own self-interests?

The CEO sets the tone for the company. If he or she is rude, dismissive, and arrogant to the company’s employees, they in turn will start to act the same way to their subordinates, and so on down the line. The result will be a poisonous company culture that people will tolerate maybe only so long as everyone is making a lot of money. The minute there is a rough patch, people will pack it in quickly.

However, a CEO who listens attentively and is genuinely interested in what others have to say, will send signals to the VPs that it’s fine to argue, fine to be passionate, and fine to disagree, so long as it is all done in the spirit of common good and common courtesy. The CEO should hold managers to high standards of performance, but I don’t believe that behavior like humiliating a VP in front of his peers accomplishes anything positive, other than perhaps to make that CEO feel better.

The CEO is the one who can create a culture that makes everyone proud of their company and happy to come to work in the morning and put their shoulders to the wheel. And little gestures from the CEO can go a long way. I keep a box on my desk with note cards, envelopes, and stamps. When an employee does something that is above and beyond the call of duty, I’ll often take a minute and send them a hand-written thank you note. Sometimes, years later, I’ll still see those notes pinned up in their cubes.

-Dave Friend, Carbonite CEO