How can you be Tough without being a Jerk to Succeed in Small Business?

There is a crucial difference between being tough and being a jerk when it comes to running small business. Many small business owners take it to the extreme when it comes to being tough and, as a result, end up alienating their employees and everyone else around them. In the previous post I described why you don’t have to be a jerk to succeed in business.
I have received interesting feedback from the readers on that post. Some of them maintained that when you have to deal with number of people, many of whom are out there to take advantage of you, you have no choice, but to be a “jerk”. This is where many of us get it wrong. While you don’t want to come out as too “soft” to make sure people do not take you for a ride, you don’t have to go to the other extreme either to succeed. There are ways by which you can portray yourself as tough and still be respected by people around you. Read on to find out how:

  • Do not accept mediocre results. Steve Jobs was known for sending his employees to the drawing board just few days before the product launch if he felt that it did not meet the highest standards he had laid out. He would never compromise on quality even if it meant people had to work day and night for days. This is how you can achieve the best results from your employees and from the business. Aim for the best!
  • Reward performance. When you demand the best from your employees, you should also reward them for achieving the best. Remember, this is a two way street. Both sides have to play their parts to achieve the goal. Demanding the best and not rewarding for results is a recipe for driving the best people, who will help achieve your vision, away. This is what I call being a “jerk”.
  • Critic the work, not people. No self-respecting person on earth likes being called stupid. While you may not like the quality of work, criticizing people rather than work only helps bring their morale down. Just try putting yourself in their shoes and see how you would feel. This is one area where I do not agree with Steve Jobs’ style of working as much as I respect his intellect and genius.
  • Be fair and objective. You do not have to shove people aside to get ahead. Screwing people over for your success may give you fame and money, but as I mentioned in the previous post, will you be able to stand in front of the mirror and feel good for yourself? When you are perceived as being fair and objective in the way you deal with people, they will respect you and give their best for your success even if you are being tough in them.
  • Be human and treat other people as human beings. This is really how I would summarize the gist of being tough without being a jerk. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. People don’t mind being challenged as long as they are treated fairly and as human beings.

What tactics have you used to challenge others, while at the same time avoid being perceived as jerk?

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  1. Hello Harry. All these points are interesting, and I agree on them. Toughness comes in many forms. We can show toughness by being strong and at the same time by being gentle. Strength means consistency with quality and excellence, while gentleness means being humane and caring to our people.

    • SmallBizViewpoints says:

      Vic – Agree with you completely. It’s the balance between toughness and gentleness that you have to strike.

  2. Hi Harry,
    Thanks for sharing this post on BizSugar. Gosh, I hope it’s possible to find small business success without being a jerk! I know you have to be firm with customers, suppliers, partners, and employees sometimes. My hope is that all small business owners and aspiring small business owners will work to be direct in their communications while always maintaining civility.

    • SmallBizViewpoints says:

      Heather – I think there is a subtle difference between being a jerk and being tough. I agree you do have to be tough to succeed in small business, but you can do so without being jerk. Your customers and employees particularly are going to be turned off when you are coming across like that.


  1. says:

    How can you be Tough without being a Jerk to Succeed in Small Business?…

    You don’t have to be a Jerk to succeed in small business. But you do have to stay tough so people don’t take advantage of you. Find out how you strike the balance….