The Bargaining Power of a Good Employee

What has become extremely obvious to me in the position of CEO, is that I spend a heck of a lot of time on HR. We don’t have a dedicated HR person, which might have something to do with it, but I do believe that a LOT of being a CEO is knowing your people well, and working closely with them to make the magic happen in the office. That’s generally the role of any manager, but as CEO, you are the ultimate manager (or ultimate servant, depending on how you see it).

Here’s a secret that most employees don’t understand. If you are a really good employee, most employers will do just about anything (within reason) to keep you.

Good employees have incredible bargaining power, so long as they stay in reason and know their worth. (credit: BusinessInsider)

What constitutes a “good employee”?? Simple…have a good attitude and fulfill the mandates of your role really well (become indispensable to your company in your role). What makes you negotiable is knowing your worth and being reasonable within that. The key is again, to be reasonable. I know too many employees who get ahead of themselves, think they are more important than they really are, make the employer dance to their tunes, and then are shocked when the employer pulls out. No one (not even Steve Jobs!) is that invaluable to a company. Know your worth and stay within reason. 

White House CTO, Todd Park (image credit:

Todd Park, CTO of the White House (a new job in and of itself), showed that recently. Even he needed to walk away from a dream job that was literally changing and having a huge impact on the world. Rumor has it that his wife supposedly gave him an ultimatum – family (in Silicon Valley) or job (in DC). He chose family, and walked away. But he was such a good employee, that even the President of the United States worked around his needs. So now for the first time ever, the CTO will be working from Silicon Valley. Does this mean even the White House will have tele-commuters? How will this change the future of our governing officers? Definitely something to think about…but the key again is that good employees often have a lot more power than they think they do.

My Reading List: August 2014


A week ago, I gave my team a talk about the necessity of developing and maintaining a reading habit for a number of reasons, including its ability to keep you up with the latest trends in your line of work or interests in the world, infusing you with ideas, and generally keeping you fresh and thinking. Naturally a few of them asked me about what my reading list was.

A couple of caveats, before I reveal this…this is *my* list and reflects *my* interests; I don’t believe AT ALL that this is the perfect list for anyone including myself. My interests change regularly, and my reading list changes with it. I generally encourage people to come up with their own, as each of us is different. Finally, my focus in that talk was the emphasis of developing the habit of reading. In the beginning, content is moot…the point is to just make the habit of reading; but hopefully over time, it will evolve into something more significant and educational.

I’d also like to make it clear that I am practising what I preach in terms of developing the habit. As a child, I lacked the attention span to read…the only books I read were mandatory for school and the ones I read by choice had lots of  pictures in them. That said, ALL my closest friends and the people I admired most were bookworms…so I got knowledge by proxy. Over time, as I got separated from my friends and the internet, particularly during long waits “in the field” on remote assignments away from my regular life, often in places where I didn’t speak the language, books became my solace, my escape, and my “happy place.” I clung to them and they to me. And so began a new habit…to a point where a book is usually my constant companion. I have an old iPad and an iPhone, but given a choice, I would prefer a good handheld paper book, than the e-reader any day…

What I’m reading now: I primarily read non-fiction, with a focus on travel, history of science/technology, entrepreneurship, business, international development, and auto/biographies. I LOVE memoirs. Of course its constantly evolving and here’s what’s on my current list:

  • A Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson: Narrated like a detective story, this tells the tale of John Snow, a young, driven surgeon in 19th century England who was trying desperately to find the cause of Cholera. His discovery eventually changed the face of modern medicine, led to the establishment of the modern public health sector, and changed the way cities were designed and maintained. This was the birth of the modern water-sanitation-trash collection sectors. I’m at the tail end of this book. Its been marvelous so far!
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: I’m reading this because I’ve come to love and greatly appreciate what Steve accomplished through Apple, something that has blossomed into deep admiration. Its thick and daunting, so its taking me a LONG time to get through it…
  • Walking Home From Mongolia by Rob Lillwall: I love slow travel through foreign countries, and I love long walks. On my bucket list is to do a very long walk somewhere…but until then I will live vicariously through others. Rob and his buddy’s crazy 3000 mile walk from the Gobi Desert to Hong Kong was absolutely riveting. At the tail end of this book too.
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: Like many other people, I was introduced to Brene through her superb TED Talk (which projected her into an insane fame spotlight) and was drawn to read more about her findings.
  • The Hindus by Wendy Doninger: A practicing Hindu myself, this book piqued my interest because of its highly controversial reputation in India where it was ultimately banned. Now that I’ve skimmed through it, I fail to understand the big deal. And I would encourage you to ignore most of the reviews (placed there to “kill” the book), as any non-biased person who has read it will tell you that its a great overview of the religion from an outsider’s perspective.
  • Jewels in the Crown by Ray Hutton: I just started this book, but its the ultimate revenge story in the best possible way. In six short years, Tata Motors of India acquired British automobile icons Jaguar-Land Rover, and turned the company around. This is the ultimate anti-colonial story that would make Gandhi proud.

What I plan to read in the future:

My blogroll/magazines I read regularly (this is NOT comprehensive…I read a lot of blogs…I read in breadth, not so much in depth when it comes to blogs…meaning I browse a LOT and find only a few things that I read thoroughly):

Steve Jobs: The Art of Taking an Insult and Making Some Fans

Whenever you stick your neck out and do something differently, you are going to have people pissed off at you…sometimes pretty badly. Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of the same. Change is always disruptive and hard, and sometimes, the more effective or efficient you are, the more disruptive it is (this is true of both change for the good or bad). The insults, consequently, are proportionally bad and hard. Its taken me some time to learn how to deal with insults, and I’m constantly seeking new ways to understand the art of dealing with them.

Today’s lesson is from Steve Jobs, ironically a great insulter himself, who shows us the art of turning an “ouch” into an enthused ovation.

1.  Show your insulter and the audience some respect (if they deserve it). In this case, it took guts to stand up and question a respected figure. Steve did not put him down in any way, nor did he turn the audience against him. There was no laughing at him or belligerence or defensiveness. It was respectful throughout.

2. Pause and take your time. Steve takes his time answering. This is good for several reasons. It allows you to calm yourself down, collect your thoughts and answer in a coherent and controlled manner.  Essentially, it takes power away from the insulter and gives it back to you.

3. Separate out the personal/emotional and focus on the core problem the insulter has. While the question started out and ended personally (“you don’t know what you are talking about” and “maybe you can tell us what you’ve been doing for seven years!!”), it became very pointed and clear what specifically the insulter had a problem with was Java, and probably the fact that he didn’t understand Steve’s methods and direction. Steve honed into this and focused his response on that.

4. Use humor without making it personal. After pausing, Steve starts in a light-hearted manner and keeps infusing humor where he can. Humor always diffuses tension. It was never, however, personal. Again, it sets the whole group at ease, including the insulter.

5.  If your insulter is right, say so. This goes back to point #1, of showing respect. The audience isn’t stupid either and they know that the insulter had a point. Steve gains everyone’s respect by admitting that he was right in parts.

6. Turn the insult into an opportunity to sell/explain your point-of-view: Often insults get the most attention…audience members who have may have tuned out, tune back in. You could’ve heard a pin-drop in that pause between insult and response. Steve,  a genius at captivating an audience, capitalized on that opportunity. In this case, he talks about how he starts with the audience in mind, not the technology, and how that dictates his entire philosophy and helps ultimately sell apple products. He then tells stories and keeps the audience engaged. Essentially, he turned an insult into a powerful 5 min story-telling session that showcased the hardworking team at Apple.

7. Apologize, if there is reason to. Steve does this multiple times, and he is clear what is both sorry for, and what he isn’t.

8. Summarize and finish strong. In the last 10 seconds, Steve sums it up very quickly, ensuring his last words leave the audience in his court…i.e. “support my team who are kicking some serious butt.”

Interestingly, I googled “the art of taking an insult”, and the top search results all linked to “the art of giving an insult.” It should say something about our priorities!! 🙂

Other points of view: Zen and the Art of Dealing with Insults