Sudhakar Ramakrishna | Crain's

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

Sudhakar Ramakrishna

Background:  

Pulse Secure provides access and mobile security solutions to businesses for their applications and customer protection.

The Mistake:

In 2001, due to some reorganizations in the company I was working for, the person I was reporting to ended up reporting to me. I had a good relationship with that person. But being a young and inexperienced manager, I walked on eggshells as it related to giving him feedback and following through on expectations.

I asked him to give feedback to me and he said oftentimes I was too subtle and needed to be more blunt and direct. Several lightbulbs went on when he said that, regarding loyalty, fear and feedback.

To me, loyalty to employees is being brutally honest.

The Lesson:

I came up with some principles. The main principle is: Don’t lead with fear, and don’t ever fear to lead. This is the principle I have followed and have tried to drive into my organization.

We had an all-hands meeting last week, when I talked to employees about loyalty. To me, loyalty to employees is being brutally honest.

I learned early on in my management experience to try to inculcate to as many people as I can this fundamental of management.

I think this is where style needs to take a back seat to substance. I tell my employees they need to be brutally honest in the spirit of being completely loyal. I want them to be brutally honest with me and not to have any fear.

Sometimes in companies, people don’t express their views because they’re afraid of the consequences. I tell them to never ever worry about stating their opinions out of fear. They need to express themselves to make a constructive organization. I’ve built multiple teams over the years and have seen this approach build positive behavior over the years among employees.

I’ve seen managers not give employees feedback, and then later surprise them with negative feedback. If you don’t give specific feedback, it leads employees to believe that things are going well when they’re not. This is fear of leading — and that’s why I say don’t lead with fear and don’t ever fear to lead.

It’s important to understand that loyalty is different from what it was years ago. At companies like Motorola, loyalty meant lifetime employment. The impression was if there was a layoff, it was the same as being disloyal to your employees. However, every company goes through tough times.

Today, loyalty means helping employees with lifetime employability — not lifetime employment. Loyalty means helping them to improve their capabilities so they can work in other places.

Follow Sudhakar Ramakrishna on Twitter at @Sudhakar_Rama.