Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work

An excerpt from "Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating a Culture That Matters."

This is an excerpt from "Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating a Culture That Matters." Jeff was a talented designer at Digital-Tutors. He grew up near our headquarters in Oklahoma. This was a huge plus for me because it meant he had roots in the community and wanted a long-term workplace. I wanted people invested in the long-term success of the company. Jeff loved Digital-Tutors, loved his job and loved working there. His work was great, and for years he helped build the artistic standards for our growing brand. He got along with everyone. That perception came crashing down one day when a couple of people brought his fatal flaw to my attention: He harbored a prejudice. This manifested itself in the subtle ways he acted toward one of his black co-workers. As a teacher for years, I usually clued in on those types of passive-aggressive interactions, but Jeff never acted inappropriately in front of me. When I wasn’t around, though, he would “joke around” with his co-worker. It happened often enough that other people noticed a pattern. See also: The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager   When I talked to Jeff about the situation, he tried to pass it off as harmless fun: “Aww, he knows I’m just messin’ with him!” No, Jeff was getting away with racism. His black co-worker didn’t think it was funny, his other co-workers didn’t think it was funny, and I definitely didn’t think it was funny. One of our core values was respect. I'd defined it as: We will not tolerate the disrespect of people or property. I cannot and will not allow the mocking or someone else's prejudices to belittle any member of my tribe. That’s a clear line in the sand because it goes against our core value of respect. Jeff's conduct clearly violated that, so I let him go. Immediately after letting Jeff go, I called an impromptu meeting with everyone in the company. For some who worked alongside Jeff and were familiar with his behavior, the decision wasn’t a shock. For others who didn’t work closely with him, it was unexpected. Our impromptu meeting explained why they wouldn’t be seeing him in the break room in the mornings or at company events anymore. My purpose for gathering up everyone in the company at once was to make sure everyone got to hear the same information at the same time. There was no chance for gossip stemming from many versions of the story. During the all-staff meeting, I explained the situation with as much depth as I legally could. As I told my tribe, my decision was all rooted in our core value of respect. Finally, I opened the floor for questions. Again, it was about giving my tribe the chance to get answers at the same time. See also: Is the Insurtech Movement Maturing?   To my surprise, some of my employees used this time for questions to express their thanks for making the tough decision to stick to our core values. Those who weren't aware of Jeff's behavior were understandably shocked—as I had been when I first found out. However, they weren't surprised by the consequences. As much as it hurt to let Jeff go, everyone understood it was the best decision for the company. We loved our company, our tribe, and we loved changing the world for our customers. That wasn’t an accident. It was by design, and I had to keep it that way. As the leader, it was my responsibility to make sure bad guys (and gals) didn’t slip past our outer walls and poison us from the inside.

Piyush Patel

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Piyush Patel

Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, is an innovator in corporate culture and an entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience. He grew his company, Digital-Tutors, into a leader throughout the world of online training, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA.

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