Being called tough is not a complement.

How many times do you hear a colleague talk about someone they know as being a really ‘tough’ businessperson? The implication is that someone who is ‘tough’ in their business dealings must be really good at what they do.

This confuses me. Maybe growing up in Australia and fed a diet of various footy codes I associate tough with images of uncompromising players riding roughshod over the opposition. Images come to mind of John Sattler playing the 1970 Rugby League Grand Final with a broken jaw; or George Smith diving into every ruck and maul with uncompromising and brutal ferocity. Tough to me means inflexible, uncompromising and unyielding.

When someone used these words to describe a businessperson, it is not really a complement. Being a great businessperson is all about flexibility, compromise and yielding to what your clients want. Standing ‘tough’ on a point might be a great way to boost your ego, but your ego is soon deflated when a client leaves your business and takes their money to another business. There is absolutely no value in winning an argument but losing a client. It is similar to a boss yelling, another characteristic of “tough” bosses. It is counter-productive. All the research demonstrates that yelling only delivers strong results in instigating action with an employee – in the short term. As the behaviour continues, a phenomenon known as semantic satiation takes over. That is where the repetition of a word or a phrase (or yelling) causes a word to lose meaning for the listener.

Showing how tough you are in business is really just showing how inflexible and stubborn you are.

And stubbornness and inflexibility are no way to succeed in the modern workforce.

Billabong is a case in point. Less than six years ago the company’s stock traded for $13.62. It has since lost 95 per cent of that value and trades for less than $0.70. The demise of Billabong has been littered with hubris. Management stuck in the ways of yesteryear and not responsive to the needs of the market.

What has happened to Billabong can happen to any business. First established in 1973, it ran as an very successful company for almost 35 years. It is only in the last five or six years that cracks have started to appear.

In the much more volatile world of technology, what is relevant today can be irrelevant and out-of-date in a heartbeat. Remember the Palm Pilot – I had one back in the mid-nineties and loved it. I had to physically plug it in to sync my calendar but that was OK at the time. Palm’s shares traded for $669 in 2000 – today they trade for $11 (a loss of 98 per cent). Analysts pointed to the fact that the company was slow to realise that consumers wanted wireless voice and data from the same device. Seems bleedingly obvious to everyone now but Palm could not translate its lead in one form of a consumer electronics device to another.

Just like Billabong and Palm, it is easy for your business to suffer rapid declines unless you are constantly reinventing yourself and assessing what your clients want.

Surely it is better to be a soft businessperson. Soft and willing to listen and change your model to suit the needs of your clients.

There is plenty of evidence that channel companies understand this. That the many AaaS models (Anything as a Service) that progressive IT businesses are creating and which we have spoken about before. These services are being created due to client demand and these progressive businesses will be the winners in the long run. As Robert Buck from Diamond IT puts it, “Theoretically ongoing service revenues help future-proof a reseller but margins can be low so resellers need to constantly evolve their offerings to remain viable.” Many resellers assume that locking in ongoing service revenues is the Holy Grail in the IT reseller world. The theory sounds wonderful. The reality is that your model still needs to be profitable. If you have ongoing services revenue that is losing money each month then it is just a slower way to go broke.

Steve Neal from Neal IT concurs, “If the reseller is on top of their service offerings, the client and the reseller both benefit from the ongoing range of services.” This is exactly what it is all about. The reseller should be able to benefit from increased revenue whilst allowing the client to receive better services more suited to their business.

So the next time someone says what a ‘tough’ businessperson you are, take it as an insult. The last thing you want to be is stuck in your stubborn and inflexible ways. You would be better to be so flexible that you can bend over backwards to meet the needs and aspirations of your clients. That same flexibility will deliver dollars to your bank account!

Tell me if you think you are a tough businessperson at

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