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17 January 2019
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Is it unreasonable to be focussed?

15 April 2013

There was something on one of the internet forums last week about whether or not an “unreasonable leader” could succeed in FM.

I did have a quick look, but had a lot on the go at the time and so didn’t follow up and read the post or its follow up comments. However, I would offer the observation that firstly yes they can (and do) and I am living proof of the point.

I would assert that if there isn’t someone thinking that a leader is unreasonable then they can’t be leading too well, for one of the traits of a leader is to have a clear focus on the goal. In the single minded pursuit of said goal there is a need to take people with you, for if you have no followers you cannot be a leader, but when you push boundaries you push people and some of those will not come willingly.

In my time running FM operations there were many times when the users of my buildings thought me wholly unreasonable on many occasions; when I did away with dedicated car parking spaces, when I reduced the space allocation for middle and senior managers and when I introduced access control to name but three. Now in all of those there had been consultation, but there will always be people who will not accept the corporate line.

Of course there should be a view that it was those who opposed the direction the business wanted to go in, and in which I was taking it, that were if fact the ones that were being unreasonable and, to take another example of that sort of behaviour, there was the director who wanted to spend £1 million that we didn’t have on relaying and redecorating their entire office along Feng Shui principles; they really thought that we were being unreasonable in refusing.

The point here is that being unreasonable is nothing more than a point of view; it isn’t really a fact, let alone a truth and this is one of the cornerstones of customer service. Perception is not reality, but it is within the customer’s mind, hence the expression “the customer is always right”. Some businesses wholly embrace that principle and others don’t, for example the budget airline sector has a number of examples of the latter approach and makes no bones about it. The “we are right and the customer is an idiot for not having read the small print” sort of approach has its place in business even if I would prefer not to practice it myself, but there are times when people don’t have the luxury of choice in these matters and have to implement the policy that their employer sets out.

This is all a bit tongue in cheek of course. A truly unreasonable leader will not survive too long; they may have extreme success for a while and history is littered with examples for those who can be bothered to look and learn. My point is that if you are a true leader you have to have a ruthless streak, if only to keep yourself on course. Another old adage holds true in that you can’t please all of the people all of the time and some of the displeased will see you as unreasonable.

The trick is to be able to consider such opinions rationally, for there will be lessons to be learned from them. For me, the unreasonable leader is one that cannot admit that, sometimes, they are wrong.

John Bowen is an FM consultant