J.J. Sorrenti | Crain's Dallas

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

J.J. Sorrenti

Background:  

Safeguard Business Systems exists to help small businesses grow. The company started by creating printed products, such as checks and business cards, but has evolved over the years to include digital marketing and search engine optimization.  The Dallas-based company is a subsidiary of Deluxe Corp

The Mistake:

Layoffs are never easy. And they always hurt.

Early in my career, I worked as a director in a different company that was going through some hard times. They were going to cut the staff from 42 to 14. I was shocked when I heard how many people were going to lose their job. My instincts told me this would have a negative impact on the remaining employees. We were losing some really good people and this would be extremely disruptive.

But I didn’t dare share my thoughts with upper management. I executed their plan without saying a word.

It wasn’t disruptive to the profit margins, but it certainly wasn’t great for the employees who remained. The result was that several more people ended up leaving because they had too much work piled on them.

We eventually got our staffing back up to 24.

If employees don’t feel comfortable coming to you with problems or concerns, you have failed as a leader.

The Lesson:

I should have pushed back on some of the layoffs rather than just keeping my mouth shut. That’s one lesson.

But the bigger point here is the culture that existed in the company that prevented me from feeling comfortable challenging them. If employees don’t feel comfortable coming to you with problems or concerns, you have failed as a leader.

Now that I’m in a leadership position, I work hard to foster an environment where employees feel comfortable talking with me. Pushback is a good thing at Safeguard.

Being the leader is a lonely, lonely job where you have to make decisions that affect everyone. I always go back to this famous quote: "If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy."

Follow Safeguard Business Systems on Twitter at @gosafeguard

Pictured: J.J. Sorrenti. Photo courtesy of Safeguard. 

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