Alex Michon | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Alex Michon

Background:  

Lockton Companies Inc. is the world’s largest privately held insurance broker and consultant, providing insurance, risk management and employee benefits solutions

The Mistake:

I didn’t want to be the bad guy.

About 15 years ago I was the manager of 10 employees, some I had inherited and others I hired myself. I found out that one of my employees didn’t know how to do math well.

I don’t know how this person was hired and got on so well in her career since math is a key part of what we do. I realized that this employee had gotten by with help from colleagues but it was clearly taking a toll on the team and our work.

The person was very nice and very well liked so I knew it would be difficult to let her go. I told someone else at the company to tell the employee we were downsizing and her position had been eliminated. So that person gave the worker the news while I went away for a bit.

When I came back, she was already gone, so I figured it was handled.

Eventually, word got around, as it always does, about the real reason the worker was fired. My team was really angry with me for not doing the job myself, and they lost all respect for me.

You should never try to avoid conflict.

The Lesson:

It took almost a year to rebuild my reputation with my staff. Years have passed, and today I lead a growing team of Associates in Lockton’s Sacramento office. A number of those people are still with me. They respect me again, and they somewhat jokingly bring the whole event up from time to time.

This was a valuable lesson for me. I learned that you should never try to avoid conflict. After some peer counseling, I also learned that many times, whatever my first instinct is about conflict, I should do the opposite.

One such example is when I was working to sign a potential client. I really wanted to do business with them but their leader was a difficult person to work with. I thought about not taking his work but decided to confront the situation to figure out how we can come to a solution.

I was honest with him about my concerns and he ended up becoming a good client because he respected my ability to be truthful.

Before, I would have walked away. Today, I’m willing to consider other possibilities and go from there.

 

Follow Lockton Companies on Twitter at @Lockton.

Pictured is Alex Michon. Photo courtesy of Lockton Insurance Brokers.

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