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“It’s better to be feared than loved,” said Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince.
A seminal book on leadership written in the Renaissance, it appeals to the least scrupulous of leaders. The advice? It’s okay to do whatever it takes to get and keep power. In fact, the term “Machiavellian” has since become a pejorative for someone who behaves in a cunning manner lacking integrity.
Hundreds of years after The Prince’s publishing, we live in different times. Despots used to get their way via deceitful means, but today’s leaders, especially those in the Cannabusiness, cannot.
As Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, explains in Time, “Workers are burned out. They’re fed up. They’re fried. In the wake of so much hardship, and illness and death during the past year, they’re not going to take it anymore.”
But crises are also opportunities, especially for our industry. Cognizant that the former way of leading has frustrated workers, resulting in major churn, Cannabusiness execs must proceed differently. In my leadership consulting practice, I have had the privilege of working to increase the effectiveness of CEOs in some of the most influential cannabis enterprises. I often tell my clients that they must scrap the old approach for a “bottom-up model of empowerment.”
My co-author Michael Ashley and I explain this theory at the heart of our new book, Power Up: Essential Tools for Committed Cannabusiness Leaders. My message about the rampant turnover they are experiencing is that Cannabusinesses will keep—and get the most out of their people—by encouraging them to be more powerful. Power comes from trust. In other established industries, corrupt leaders can still abuse the trust of their team—at least for a while. In our new, fast-moving, and complicated industry, trust is the currency of power.
Here is an adapted excerpt from our book about this critical idea.
For any relationship to endure, trust must exist between the parties. A company in which the leaders don’t trust the employees and/or the employees don’t trust the leaders is doomed to fail. But trust is not something you can demand. Like power itself, trust is something you earn.
In business, the words “trust” and “brand” are synonymous. Any marketing expert will tell you a “brand” is a business’s most crucial asset. A brand is a promise made to the public. The more consistently that promise is kept, the more the public trusts a company, and the more the brand is worth.
Unfortunately, pressures and greed can cause decision-makers to renege on promises. Faced with hard choices, they cut corners. They compromise on quality. They find maintaining high standards is expensive—and exhausting. (Because it usually is.) And thus, they lose their customers’ trust. They undercut the value of their brand. And they lose their power.
Jeff Doiron, Chief Revenue Officer of Ispire, summed it up perfectly when he told me,
“People in cannabis often want to skip steps. They have weed, they see a market and think they’ll be millionaires overnight. But it takes time and significant effort to build any company, particularly a cannabis company. There are no shortcuts. Do the work.”
Yes, your actions can have major repercussions within your sphere. In fact, as an executive, any breach of trust you make can have an exponentially negative effect when compared to an employee breach. Theirs will produce a one-to-one effect. Yours can be a 1,000-to-one!
A cautionary tale
To illustrate this truth, there was once a CEO we will call Amanda who ran her company like a tyrant. She demanded perfection and fealty from her employees, but loyalty ran only one way. If she missed a deadline, she blamed her underlings. She would yell at staff during meetings, humiliating them.
Due to her bad behavior, fear seized her business’s culture. Employees dared not speak up for fear of reprisal. Because she overpromised and under-delivered, customers also abandoned her for the competition. One of those rival businesses recognized what was happening and poached Amanda’s talent, promising them respect and dignity as well as a paycheck. Even when she lost a half-dozen key people, Amanda still saw only selfishness and disloyalty among the departees when she should have been looking in a mirror.
Amanda’s cautionary tale provides a simple, yet critical truth: Today, power in the corporate realm comes from trust. As it does with customers, building trust with employees also begins with honesty and consistency. You must keep your promises, whether they pertain to job responsibilities, office hours, employee compensation, fringe benefits, career investments, worker safety, or other considerations.
Wish to avoid the Great Resignation affecting your Cannabusiness? Want to get and keep the best people? Develop a culture of trust. For if you don’t, you will be the one paying the price. Because people don’t trust words. They trust actions. And they’re always watching.