This is post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
PLEASE NOTE: This article was written in 2010 before Donald Trump was a political figure. This was not intended to be a political statement of any kind.
I blame Donald Trump for a great many things but let me also be clear: I have mucho respecto for the Trumpster. I mean, it isn’t just any man that can pull off that hair. And The Apprentice? Stroke of genius.
He also popularized “You’re fired!” which is easily the most annoying, over-used catchphrase to ever hit the water cooler. Which is a feat, albeit an irritating one.
But I place blame squarely on The Donald for promoting at least one ridiculously bad piece of career advice. I’m referring, of course, to his frequently repeated mantra, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” In my opinion, this is a completely absurd notion. Unless you work inside a vacuum with robots and not people. In which case, I’d love to visit your workplace sometime. Call me.
I have to assume that the vast majority of my readership indeed does NOT work with artificial intelligence. And thus, the idea that business is not personal has no place in the modern business environment.
Why It Doesn’t Work
This whole philosophy was designed to distance people from taking responsibility for their actions and how they affect others. It’s basically the equivalent of saying, “No offense” after hurling an insult. Of course it’s offensive! Telling me not to be offended doesn’t make it less so.
The idea that business isn’t personal simply provides justification for treating people poorly in the workplace. It attempts to devalue human interaction and the result is counter-productive. People who aren’t treated well inevitably won’t stick around. An article written by Jim Welch appeared in Workplace magazine, March 2008 and stated definitively that “the number one reason people leave jobs is because they fail to connect with their bosses as leaders and as people.”
As a former manager of mine used to say, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit people.” They quit because nothing is personal; it’s all business. You can’t pretend that the human connection is unimportant and you can’t use business as an excuse for personal failings.
This kind of separation mentality has bled throughout the business world. In the name of “business,” all manner of ethical and moral transgressions can be absolved. Environmental pollution? No offense! Fudging the numbers? No big deal. It’s just business. I don’t have to take any personal responsibility for my actions.
This is a dangerous slippery slope to say the least.
Yes, there are times when tough decisions have to be made in the business world. But pretending that those decisions aren’t personal, that they won’t impact people in a very real way, is delusional. All business is personal. Businesses don’t operate inside a bubble. They’re a part of our society and a part of our communities. There are human consequences for business decisions. We must take this into account in the decision-making process, not simply ignore it.
This doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t ever have to make those hard decisions, liking having to fire someone. It just means that you’ll do so with empathy and compassion. You’ll recognize that the appropriate course of action for the business is one that will greatly impact the livelihood of the person. It certainly isn’t as easy as simply disconnecting yourself, but it’s the more responsible approach. And sometimes, allowing for this realization will inspire creative solutions. When real people are affected by an action, that action is more carefully evaluated. Alternatives are more thoroughly weighed.
Donald Trump is obviously a successful man. It would appear that his philosophy has worked well for him. But I’m not truly convinced that he believes his own words. I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time someone put on an act for the cameras. After all, his persona IS his business, which means for him, business is quite personal indeed.