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10 JANUARY 2015
It’s not personal, it’s business

by Mike Stopforth: Entrepreneur and investor. Sometimes writer and speaker. Exploring how we lead, and how we should lead, in an increasingly complex world.

In Saving Private Ryan there is a beautiful scene set inside an abandoned church that Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad seek refuge in over night. In it, Captain Miller and Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) discuss how many men died under Miller’s command:  

Captain Miller: You see, when… when you end up killing one of your men, you see, you tell yourself it happened so you could save the lives of two or three or ten others. Maybe a hundred others. Do you know how many men I’ve lost under my command?

Sergeant Horvath: How many?

Captain Miller: Ninety-four. But that means I’ve saved the lives of ten times that many, doesn’t it? Maybe even 20, right? Twenty times as many? And that’s how simple it is. That’s how you… that’s how you rationalise making the choice between the mission and the man.

Last week I dismissed a Cerebra employee for stealing, and it broke my heart.

It’s hard to spend 8 to 10 hours of ever weekday with just over 50 people and not give a damn about them. But some people become more than employees or colleagues – they’re extended family. We build on that notion; Cerebra’s culture of kinship and support is a big part of what makes it the place it is.

Fundamental to caring for people is knowing that they’re fallible. I like fallible people. Firstly, it makes them human. Secondly, if Cerebrans are failing then we’re learning.

There’s failing and then there’s deceit. Deceit is not cool. Deceit breaks trust, and trust is astonishingly hard to rebuild once broken. And this is where leadership becomes incredibly difficult – making a call between the mission and the ‘man’. I had to dismiss someone I care about deeply knowing that their failure was deceit (doing the same c#!*py thing over and over knowing full well it’s not ok).

I’m bothering to write about it because I believe leaders, more than ever, are required to walk a tightrope balancing emotion and practicality. Staff want more than a 9 to 5. They want more than a salary. They want to make a dent in the universe. Remember “work-life balance”? What a joke. Work and life are almost indistinguishable from each other. We take life to work, and we take work home. We’re never offline. As companies strive to learn to make a profit as a by-product of happy people, work environments are all about motivation and health and wellness and happiness. There’s a LOT of emotion in that. A LOT. Especially if you hire younger people – ‘millennials’ – who are acutely in tune with their own feelings and the feelings of others, and less motivated by material wealth.

With all that emotion in the mix and while constantly striving to create a ‘cool’ work environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the ‘mission’. It’s easy to forget that small, destructive actions can have enormous ramifications for the rest of the team if an example isn’t made. Sometimes I feel like our culture is an ornate, beautiful and intricate glass sculpture hanging from the office ceiling, ready to splinter into a million pieces if I put a foot wrong.

Leadership is getting the mix right. Leadership is balancing emotion and practicality. Leadership is choosing between the mission and the man. Or woman. Leadership is making the tough call when the mission comes before the man.

Leadership is hard.

That saying “it’s not personal, it’s business”… That’s bull#!*t. It’s all personal.


Cerebra is an integrated strategic communication agency that builds, engages and activates communities around brands. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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