It is possible to be a manager who makes difficult decisions while also being respected and liked by colleagues.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has successfully toed that line as he has led companies like AOL and Google.
He said the advice he got when he was younger, and now shares with his own children, focuses on three points:
- be authentic and honest
- be direct
- have mentors
Armstrong shared his advice for building a career and told his own success story during an interview with Business Insider for our podcast, “Success! How I Did It.”
“You’ve had to make a lot of hard decisions as a leader of many companies at this point,” asked Business Insider Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell. “But you’re also personable and a likable guy. How do you strike that balance between gaining respect from your employees and making the hard choices, and being liked and respected at a manager?”
“There’s advice I got when I was growing up — and I give it to my own kids — which is: To thine own self be true,” Armstrong said. “What you see is what you get. If you interact with me, this is who I am, love me or hate me. And I think being authentic is important.”
He maintains this philosophy during tough conversations, too. Through mentors like former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and American Express CEO Ken Chenault, he said, he’s learned the importance of being direct with people. During an all-company meeting with AOL and Yahoo, he was asked by employees what would happen to them after the companies merged to form a new organization called Oath, which will be owned by Verizon.
“I got asked if there are going to be impacts from doing the deal,” he told Shontell. “I said, ‘Yes, there are. That’s what happens when two companies come together.'”
He continued: “I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’re going to try to do the least amount we possibly can, but the bottom line is, that’s part of what’s happening with the deal and I want to be direct about it. So that directness, I think, helps a lot, and being honest with yourself.”
Armstrong also explained his best advice about mentorship, and why the most productive meeting of his week is the one in which he’s told everything he’s doing wrong. Here’s Armstrong:
“I have a bunch of advice I always give to younger people, but one of them is to build your personal entourage or board of directors.
“I have five or eight people outside the company I rely on. I have one person, David Bell, who used to be the CEO of IPG. He’s in our office almost every day. I meet with him every Friday. And every Friday he starts by telling me everything I’m doing wrong. For me, it’s the most helpful meeting of the week because it always resets me back to, ‘OK, what am I supposed to be doing as a leader? What’s my job? What are those things?’ If you’re yourself, and you’re authentic, and you’re honest and direct.”
Check out previous episodes with:
- LeBron James: How the NBA star eats, leads, and wins
- TheSkimm founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg
- Tinder founder Sean Rad
- Bleacher Report and Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg
- Early Uber and Pinterest investor Scott Belsky
- Warby Parker co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa