The Bitch Slap: Because You’re a Shitty Leader – That’s Why

because your a shtty leaderEarlier this week, I was standing on the platform for the L in Chicago, headed back to Midway Airport to catch my flight home. My phone rings. Over the noise of the train, I discern it’s a reporter from USA Today and he’s calling to ask me about my thoughts on the Taco Bell “shell licking” debacle.*

*I’ve never typed this phrase before in my life — and for that I am glad.

My thoughts were this: that Taco Bell franchise didn’t have a social media problem. They had a brand practices (which comes down to hiring and HR) problem. Whomever was in charge of hiring at that location hired some kid who thought that licking a stack of taco shells and then posting said pic for all the social world to see would be a fucking hoot. They also created the work environment that allowed this to happen.

Some of the guys over at Mashable weren’t too fond of my take and were…dare I say puerile…about my perspective. But hey — they’re social media experts. Who am I to argue? We’ll get to that, though. *hold music*

But here’s the bullshit-free skinny: things like this happen in companies because of shitty leaders. Shitty leaders breed shitty managers who breed shitty employees and shitty employees do shit like licking taco shells and posting Lick Pics to Facebook.

So yes — this isn’t a dumb kid problem. It’s an HR problem  and it starts at the top.

Everything begins at the top

Great companies are built by great leaders who understand a few things:

  • The power inherent in teams
  • The realization of goals is always a team effort
  • Management is an active and collaborative venture, not a dictatorial ego trip.

It doesn’t matter if you’re running a fast food franchise or the next slick-ass Silicon Valley startup: leaders dictate the company’s direction. They are responsible for hiring people who support a company’s goals and complement the culture the company needs for goals to become realities.

Effective leaders understand that shitty employees are a THEM problem, not an employee problem. What made you hire that person to begin with?

Maybe you’re just a shitty leader who doesn’t realize that every hire is a reflection of your commitment to getting shit done. That type of trickle down is fatal and creates high turnover and company cultures that view the company within shift-defined blinders and the appearance of a paycheck from week to week. And it’s fine that you run a business where your employees aren’t in it for the career path. Hell, those types of jobs are fundamental survival tools and stepping stones for people of every race, culture, age, and socioeconomic status.

But you’re only hosing your company by not creating a culture that holds the people who make it run to a certain standard. Frankly, you’re not doing anything to make your business, any of your employees, or your community better places, either.

And that’s where training comes in.

Hiring and Training

If this country is in the skill chasm that the media would have us to believe, companies need to step up and adopt new hiring cultures. It’s no longer about placing an ad and seeing if someone fits a particular shift. It’s about understanding whether a prospective employee will do their best — for as long as they are with you — to make you and your company look like a motherfucking rock star. I don’t care if you’re hiring a cashier for a taco stand or a C++ developer for your startup.

Everyone moves on — especially in today’s work culture.

What are you going to do to (1) hire them for the right reasons, (2) build their skills while they help you build your company, and (3) make them feel appreciated during their tenure — however long or short?

What are you going to do?

The best in-restaurant service I’ve ever received is from a local taqueria in Boulder, Colorado called T|aco. In a town filled with college students who see waitstaff and bartending gigs as gold, this joint sells $2.50 tacos and I am treated like a queen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the manager thank his kitchen and waitstaff to their faces AND in front of customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a waiter or bartender say “thank you” and follow it up with a smile. I hosted an event there and totally (fucking) weeded them for their entire lunch hour.

A complaint from the staff? Not a one.

Great service for the entire group of 60 attendees? Absolutely — and joined by the manager, who was bringing out food, bussing tables, getting people their checks, and making drinks behind the bar.

Are these employees looking at their gig as a career? No. But did the manager there take the time to hire the right people and make sure that everyone in his (operative term: HIS) restaurant is being taken care of? Yes. Why is it different if it’s T|aco in Boulder or Taco Bell?

Hire the right people. Make them feel appreciated. Ask them how they want to excel and then train them to be better. And participate. Great leaders participate and never see themselves as “above” anything. Leading is dirty work. It’s not an excuse to never get dirty again.

This is the part, though, where we get to the argument that “kids do stupid things.”

Shitty leaders make excuses for themselves and others.

First, take a minute to read this post (Stop Making Excuses for People) from Francisco Dao over on Pando Daily from the weekend. Truer words have never been typed.

Now, I’ll share the “wisdom” that the folks over at Mashable had to share about my remarks in USA Today about Taco Bell’s predicament being a brand culture and inherently, a hiring problem. And first, I’m all about supporting anyone’s right to disagree with anything I say — but if you’re going to do it, put a coherent argument behind it instead of a for-the-sake-of-snark scrawl on a bathroom wall.

My contention in USA Today was this:

“It’s not a brand problem — it’s a brand practices problem,” says Erika Napoletano, a brand strategy consultant. “If you hire people who treat your brand as disposable, that’s the kind of PR you’ll get.”

And this was the response of the “social media experts” to my contention over in Mashable land (note: to avoid linking to the source, they craft witty letters that cleverly state the argument they want to attack):

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 9.24.29 AM

My first response to this was, “Precious.” And I dismissed it. I really didn’t give a frog’s fine ass hair.

My second response is that this shitty attitude is the problem. The only person to blame for having shitty employees working for you is YOU. Why? Because you’re lazy and you’re thinking about dollars first and your brand second — which is backwards as hell. Stop blaming minimum wage. Stop blaming “dumb kids” (and please — give kids more credit as they’re smarter than we generally think). This is a shitty attitude about a bigger shitty attitude — the one that thinks employees are disposable and the next one is just a Pepsi-stained paper application away.

Companies are lazy and willing to accept lackluster performance from managers who then turn around and demand less (or little to none) from the people they hire. Their days become checklists of shit that has to get done from the moment they walk through the door until they walk back out it again. There’s no commitment, ownership, or responsibility.

THAT is a culture problem. And it doesn’t just happen in fast food restaurants where kids make minimum wage.

It happens in companies like Yahoo! where direction gets lost and uproar commences when someone has the balls to come in and fix it.

And here’s the thing: I know six-year-olds that know that licking a stack of taco shells is a task on the ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NO list.

Taco Bell hired someone who thought that would be okay. They also apparently have a policy that makes it OK for their employees to have their cell phones on them during their shifts. One plus one equals whatthefuck. It’s a problem that’s bigger than a Lick Pic and has to change at the top. Stop making excuses for why behavior like this persists.

So, while I could never argue with what two guys who are “social media experts” said about my remarks, I can (as Lindy West said so eloquently earlier this week) call you dicks for it.

Shitty employees are a function of something much bigger than the lame ass excuse that “kids do stupid shit.” It’s systemic. And while companies will never be able to completely eradicate the one-off errant Tweet and Lick Pic incidents, they can make a commitment to build cultures that:

  • Begin with leaders
  • Who create cultures that are respectful to both building a company and the people tasked with building it
  • Hire managers who uphold those cultures
  • Who hire employees whom they treat with respect, help excel, and appreciate for as long as they work for the company (and hopefully, beyond their last day of work).

So, if you’d like more branding advice from me, Super Smart Mashable Social Media Expert guys — fix your shitty attitude about what creates shitty employees. I want leaders — better leaders. And shareholders and consumers alike should demand it as well.

I want to see companies do better for their people — and that begins at the top.

I want companies to stop making excuses for shitty things that happen in their companies — because it’s likely a “people on the bus” problem. And sometimes, it’s a problem with the bus driver.

And I want to see our country’s workforce grow and thrive during one of it’s most challenging eras. We rarely discuss the challenges that face the non-tech workers in our society but they’re here, our neighbors, our friends, and they are needed.

If we can’t treat every type of worker better, from the kids who make our hamburgers to the CIO at a publicly held company, we’re fucked.

 

 

 

 

70 comments
30YearOldninja
30YearOldninja

Erika, 

What an awesome article this is. You just bring it. 

I think the challenge that most business' face is a deeper underlying belief that there is a "magic fix all" solution. This leads them to try and figure out the one big solution. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy trying to develop the perfect tactics, that they get away from the character of the organization. Which starts with the leader. 

Such an awesome article!

GetBillG
GetBillG

Bravo Erika !   Most biz leaders still don't 'Get It'.   They need to get hit right between the eyes with the unbiased and uncensored truth. :)   

kdstorm33
kdstorm33

I am so glad I found your blog. I am a non traditional (aka almost forty and finally got off my a** and following my dreams lol) student who is taking Marketing and Leadership as well as HRM are some of the required courses I have to take this semester. I will be a regular reader for now on. You are covering everything that we are discussing in class.

OneAndOnlyLola
OneAndOnlyLola

... well this seems timely:  "Empowering Employees: Could Your Staff Be Your Best Brand Advocates?
An exclusive, live webinar from Social Media Today"

Erika- are you going to be on hand to start with Rule 1:  Don't be a shitty boss? 

pomahony2
pomahony2

Effective leaders understand that shitty employees are a THEM problem, not an employee problem." 

Oh No!  It is a US problem.  We hired that person.  Top management allowed that to happen or didn't keep their eye on the ball.  Same for middle management.

In business you are who / whom you hire.    Pat

OneAndOnlyLola
OneAndOnlyLola

Freaking awesome post- am new to the wonderful world of bitch slapping- am so grateful that Erika and the community here are telling the truth and making a stand.  Also got to give Erika R E S P E C T for actually interacting with the community here- it is way too rare- so thanks for that!

Here's an interesting little factoid from Brian Solis on the broken link of social customer service (whether it be taco licking or smash 'n grab tabloid journo's) 

"In February 2012, American Express published a report that found 46% of U.S. internet users stormed branded social media presences to express frustration about poor experiences. For the most part, brands miss a majority of activity in the social web whether it’s good or bad. " And "less than half of the companies Sametrix surveyed tracked and followed up on customer feedback in social media. An astonishing 28% do not track or respond..."

Jason__Ramsey
Jason__Ramsey

best post I've read in a long time, and I couldn't agree more with ALL of it. I've been talking about leadership in our company all week, and they aren't born, they are made. All it takes is hard work and awareness. 

Jessica_D_Clark
Jessica_D_Clark

Apparently I had my head deep into client work today and missed this brouhaha until I saw your tweet, read your post, and heard of this "shell licking scandal".  (Or was that shellacking?  Pah! I made a punny...)

First: Dude. Really? Licking a taco shell? Education reform comes to mind, but that's another convo for another time.

Second: I just spent *8 weeks* in hiring processes for an administrative assistant.  Yes. 8 weeks.  I held TWO separate rounds of posting the gig, holding a group interview, moving onto the 1:1 interviews, and holding skill set evaluations.   It took me TWO ROUNDS of the process to find the perfect fitting person. BeeTeeDubs, this position is a bottom of the food chain kind of role. We're talking all the confirming appointments, scheduling appointments, making phone calls, opening correspondence, copying, emailing, and all of the other gotta get it done stuff which is not revenue generating.  

So why did I spend 8 weeks to find someone that is the perfect fit for a lower level, low paying position?

Here's the mantra: "I deserve whatever I settle for."   That goes for EVERY level of employee.

Am I a busy person? You betcha sunshine.

Do I have time to go through this process, twice? Not really, no.

Do I understand when I hire someone in my company they are a direct reflection of me and the company? Thats' a big 10-4 rubber ducky.

It was temping to blow through interviews, and just get someone in; a temp, a virtual assistant, whatever. Then I remembered: When I weenie out of following a clear, effective, hiring process because of a bullshit excuse of not having enough time,  I'm gonna get *exactly* what I settle for.  Which is someone who doesn't understand the values of the business, and then doesn't do a good job meeting my expectations. Let's not even talk about the extra time and energy I'd have to do training them on basic stuff I "expected them to know" and then fixing screw-ups they made. (Ahem, sniff, like licking taco shells.)  I *really* don't have time for that.

So good on you Lady Red Head for your accuracy in your quote to USA Today. And way to get the call from USA Today in the first place!

Jess - @jessica_d_clark 

p.s. I hired the most amazing gal last week. She's getting some training right now to get up to speed on our specific internal processes and tools. She's gonna make some serious stuff go in my company. I'm so excited and happy!  I got exactly what I deserved!


doylealbee
doylealbee

I've seen a report that changes this cut and dried situation for me a little. Here's a quote from ABC News:

"Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product," Taco Bell said in a statement on its website. "The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable. This image was clearly unacceptable – it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it. But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee's policies, and it emerged online in social media."

So, this wasn't just a random photo of a guy licking taco shells, but was supposedly him "taking that first bite" for a photo contest. Dumb? Yes, absolutely! As gross as the potential of just a guy deciding to lick a stack of shells? Not nearly as much.

While I agree with the general sentiment, it's hard to compare an amazing place like T/aco in Boulder to Taco Bell. The employees you've interacted with there have more than likely been regularly exposed to the owner and his/her vision. In a franchise situation like Taco Bell, there's probably 10 levels between CEO and Taco Shell Licker Boy. If there's even a three percent drop off between CEO and TSLB, he's only firing a 70 percent — a "C" bordering on "D" on any grading scale. 

I think you're spot-on: leadership needs to lead. But I'll also toss in another thought, what I call The APT Factor (Assholes Per Thousand). I've come to accept that this world is the home to a certain number of assholes. So, the more people you have, the more assholes. Simple math. Since T/aco is one restaurant, it's not only a bit easier to lead everyone, but the APT factor is far lower than Taco Bell, which has 5,800 locations in the U.S. Let's say 10 people work at each location (I'll bet I'm low). That means we have one asshole out of 58,000 employees — pretty low APT factor if you ask me.

Can/should they strive to do better? Absolutely. That said, even a 1% APT factor would mean 580-ish photos like this, not one.

Food for thought.

kcourt40
kcourt40

Absolutely correct. I worked at Disney for many years in an entry level position before being promoted. I realize Disney isn't a fail safe and it's not all pixie dust and fairies, but still. The culture there was and still is unmistakeable. I would never have DREAMED of doing something so completely disrespectful as what this employee did. But why? Was I raised by perfectly perfect parents? Did I lack the balls to tell Disney how frustrated I felt? (on many a day, mind you). No! I bought into the culture. I was a part of the company, even though a fancy title neither preceded or followed my name. You're absolutely right about "kids these days" - they aren't as stupid as many would like to conveniently believe. I'll bet if you asked him, he was incredibly frustrated and pissed off at his management. He probably has no say in anything the company or that particular location does, so his only "voice" was via social media. And boy did he speak loudly. 


Love this post so much I could kiss it.

Erroin
Erroin

I remember my first day in ROTC were my Military Professor told us that integrity is something you must have to be a leader and leadership happens at every level.  I have had my fair share of jobs that weren't even minimum wage when I grew up.  I was paper boy, a dishwasher, a farm hand, and a grocery bagger.  I took pride in my job because my fellow employees and managers did the same. It taught me to take action when something was out of line, take ownership of my role, and step in and help when others needed it.  Every one of those jobs did not have people who lacked integrity or discipline part of their teams for long.

I tire of the condescension that occurs of minimum wage jobs.  The snobbery of the response from the Mashable "Social Media Experts" insults every person who entered the work force at those wages learning about accountability, satisfaction i doing a job right and learning basic skills for future employment.  The data is very strong that most people that enter at minimum wage advance and that a select few go on to make difference.  The core concept that they learn in doing so is that leadership starts at every level and to effectively lead you have to have been in the trenches.

That is why the show "Secret Boss" is so interesting because most of those executives it is their first time in the trenches and it is an eye-opening experience.  I say it is time for the executives at Yum! (the owners of the Taco Bell brand) to get in the trenches and start showing what it means to lead at every level and have integrity.

As always, an excellent post.

AlanBleiweiss
AlanBleiweiss

Here's something else that really sticks out in all of this mess. The business world has completely lost touch with the importance of instilling passion into their leaders and managers, who then fail to instill passion into their teams.  There's no value-gain seen in it - everything's been stripped of the core concept.

On the other end of the spectrum are start-ups where passion is the hinge-pin of everything they do.  To the point where interns buy into that passion.  

The stock reply to that is usually "we're not here to instill passion in Taco bell line workers - we're here to make a profit" or "what could possibly get a $5 an hour line worker to care when they're just pimply-faced kids who don't know or care about such things?"    

Except that's bullshit.  Pimply-faced teens hand selected for their basic, raw, untapped inner values are ideally suited for shaping and instilling passion concepts. They are at a point in life where they can be shown the life-long value gained by adapting a belief system that involves "strive for excellence now and the rewards you will reap over the next forty years will be transformational in ways you never learned in school".

Patnip
Patnip

Beautifully written piece. You're dead on about culture breeding success – or driving a downward spiral. Look at Zappos. They've built a billion-dollar dynasty that's dedicated to culture, from Tony Hsieh down to the newest customer service rep. 

However, I've got to stick up for Mashable a bit. Your beef isn't with the entire organization. It's with Bob Garfield, the no talent assclown who used to taunt advertising folks from a lofty perch at AdAge. Didn't even know he now tried to write for Mashable. 

For sure, your culture/brand argument can extend to cultivating a more worthwhile cast of journalists across the Mashable enterprise. However, Garfield is a two-bit – albeit famous – provocateur. He undoubtedly knew he'd elicit a response from you, which is why he picked you to jeer. I'd be more honored than pissed.

AssistantNikki
AssistantNikki

This is something people don't get with a show like Tabatha Takes Over - sure, it's fun to watch her kick ass - but the underlying message with ALL the businesses she turns around is that management sucks. She often says "If you were an effective leader, you'd have a more effective business and better employees." People shouldn't want to follow blind leaders who are ultimately just there for the check. But, in the end, the employee is just looking for a check, so it all rolls downhill, I suppose.

jeffmarmins
jeffmarmins

This has always been the case. I doubt I could have put it so well Erika. We give this advice all the time through our training practice (sorry, kinda, for the plug). 

A. It not how to use social media it's how to have a culture (led properly) that would make employees too proud of your brand, image and reputation to lick things. 

B. Executives (some) are afraid of social media because of it's risk - to their fractured culture, hiring practices and the potential erosion of their profit that will occur when they are forced to pay more attention to their customers. 

Like it or not, companies will have to adjust culture - both how they hire and treat employees as well as how they acquire and treat customers or they are doomed to get run over by more agile, social, digital businesses that get it.@Erika Napoletano 

AssistantNikki
AssistantNikki

I am a frequent shopper of Best Buy and in the last month and a half, I have had a series of the worst customer service experiences EVER in the store I've been going to for years. When I spoke with a supervisor about one particular incident, he simply said "she's a product of her environment, I do things that way and so she does things the same way." It also brought to mind the statement "familiarity breeds contempt." Since they know me and I'm a regular, they think that they don't have to provide me with good customer service and his reaction was a perfect example of this.

keithprivette
keithprivette

The funny thing is @Erika Napoletano if a Taco Bell Manager or executive reads this post. Their take away would be "I got it ban all cell phones from inside the premises!" This also happens when you promote internally being lazy or someone you like that has no business being promoted. I fully agree with your assessments and it is dead on!

Latest blog post: The Hatch Five

iSalesGirl
iSalesGirl

Simply excellent. Company Culture is the context inside of which EVERYTHING happens. Context is always decisive. 

This reminds me of the March 2013 statement by Oracle CFO - blaming the salesforce for missing Wall Street targets. Seriously? Executives are blaming the salesforce THEY hired for bringing lack of urgency to the sales process?

" 'What we really saw was the lack of urgency we sometimes see in the sales force, as Q3 deals fall into Q4,' Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz told analysts on a conference call."

Hmmmm....Glad I don't work for Oracle.

scottandrewh
scottandrewh

People act like it's my fault I'm homeless because they're strict ideologues who think I suddenly became lazy after I earned my master's degree.  The reality is cheapskate employers who want me to keep playing phone tag with clients and think "Kindly work on methodology" is a complete instruction and won't answer questions.  the highest salary I've ever been offer in spite of eight years of higher education is $18,000.  how am I supposed to live on that?  I'm 37 years old and live in New York City.

KillianMIck
KillianMIck

I wish to DOG that I could send this to a certain department head who needs it. Sadly, it wouldn't help. This person can manage a budget like no one else, but cannot manage people to save her life.  


But thank you for writing it anyhow.

JenMitch
JenMitch

To your point - There's a lot to be said about managing people with positivity. I don't know why, but it doesn't seem to be the American culture to say "good job" to employees as a motivator. I don't care what job you have- hearing "nice work" is a bigger motivator than a paycheck. (Not to say that a paycheck isn't important. You get what I'm saying.) Great post. Thanks for keeping it real. 

calebsimpson
calebsimpson

So true about hiring the right people that believe in your brand. People that aren't there just for a pay check, but people that truly believe in what you are doing. It's also about kicking those people off the bus that don't fit. I've had cases where the employee was steller but didn't truly believe in the brand, they moved jobs on their own, but long term they wouldn't have enjoyed it. I've also had crappy team members that were always late, and did a horrible job yet claimed to be behind the brand. Those people should be let go as well. It also hurts team morale when those type of people stay around. I've seen my team glow with excitement after getting rid of team members that were not a good fit. And this ultimately comes down to the leader, they are responsible for the hiring, firing, and inspiring! This has also taught me to take more time on the hiring process and not just settle for somebody because you need a warm body on the production line.


Susan Woolner
Susan Woolner

I usually read your posts and am grateful you've taken on a topic but don't comment. First, brilliant post - you've nailed it and second, loved that you used this word "puerile." LOVE

ajlovesya
ajlovesya

Why we struggle in business to be great? LOW. EFFING. EXPECTATIONS. ALL AROUND. 

JudyBott
JudyBott

Once again, you've nailed it.

AlanBleiweiss
AlanBleiweiss

As someone who has been brought into companies to address issues and turn the ship around, I have found its critical to not just focus on the bottom line.  It's the wrong focus.  If you don't examine the culture, and rip it apart and rebuild it from the top down, you'll never reach maximum success.  

You may grind out higher profits, yet inevitably shit breaks because the stress and internal under-the-breath attitudes of everyone involved will fester and eventually boil over.  

And while "grind out more profits" is something our society as a whole lauds, its nowhere near the level of profitability a company can reach with a better culture and environment that holds every member accountable while maintaining respect all around.  And so many more people will  have more fulfilling lives in the process.  Even the entry-level people.

ZeusDoggiedriving
ZeusDoggiedriving

It never ceases to amaze me, I call it the common "denominator theory" how company owners expect a different out come without changing the players in the game or the attitude of the players in the game... starting with themselves or management team.

See it all the time in the dating world too... and having to listen to them 'complain' how it keeps happening over and over 'to them'.. and they don't know why! YEAH LIKE the same person in the equation could not be the cause of it all... ugh 

Someone please taser and keep tasering these people till their brains 're-set'.

Albert said it best "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Einstein

redpen
redpen

I spent too many years working in a department that hired managers just to check off a box after removing the previous incompetent one. Boss #5  of a few weeks told me my magazine said nothing, although she had never read it. When I told her that I had won more than 90 awards and received many positive letters from customers, her response was that I'd just have to try harder. If I tried any harder, I'd probably stroke out, so the only response I could offer was, "This clearly isn't working out, so I need to go." Life is too short to work in a toxic environment. 

RandomDeamon
RandomDeamon

I worked at a company that had shitty management. It went from the top down to almost all the managers. They would lose accounts through poor management and then let go of the employees and keep the managers who lost the account. This was repeated over and over until finally they have since closed. By the end almost all of us hated working there. We respected each other but not the management. It created I don't give a fuck attitude towards work. You did what you needed to and that was all.

JuliaRosien
JuliaRosien

AAAAAAAnd Erika nails it again. Maybe Taco Bell (and apparently Mashable) need to look at what Starbucks did after an employee wrote *bitch* on a customer's coffee in 2011. Sure, one kid did the deed but Howard Schultz thought it was a symptom of a bigger problem - and he invested in a lot research to find out if he was right.. The latte method of dealing with customers came from that one instance. Not only did he give his employees a strategy for dealing with irate customers, he gave them skills for LIFE!. That's good leadership. 


Thanks for keeping it real, Erika!


Tinu
Tinu

The fuck is a "social media expert"? I've been using cell phones since 199x. Someone give me a gold star too please. Out my face with that noise, lol.

I don't have beef with expertise. But when YOU are the one calling yourself an expert, something s rotten in Denmark.

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