Develop a Mean Streak

08.01.2021 |

Episode #2 of the course How to lead in tough times by Frank McKinley


My uncle Joey is a fixer.

Companies hire him because he turns messes into masterpieces. One company’s value went from $100 million to $2 billion. Another went from near bankruptcy to the top of its industry.

What’s his secret?

The secret is really a mindset. The one thing tough leaders have, regardless of education, intelligence, or connections, is a mean streak.


What If You’re Not Mean?

The word “mean” has negative connotations.




We hate people who are mean to us. We admire people who stand up to bullies. Both situations require the same actions and emotions. What makes them good or bad is your intent.

There are four components to a mean streak. Ready to develop yours?


Don’t Be Afraid to Make Waves

Old habits are incredibly hard to break.

On every episode of Hoarders, the rescue team spends as much time fighting with the homeowner as they do getting rid of the mess.

The fight is over what is trash and what is a treasure.

Breaking a long-held pattern is as disruptive as adding a bridge to a highway. Traffic is rerouted, delayed, and reacclimated. Inconvenience abounds. But when it’s over, life is better than anyone imagined it could be.

When you unravel a mess that involves people, you’ll change behavior. That means your team will have to slow down, consider their actions, and relearn how to do things. Some will go along willingly. Others will gripe. Some will stir up trouble and even walk out.

Be ready to deal with it all.

Leadership has advantages and challenges. Tough leaders accept it all and press on toward their goals.


Require Enrollment

The first thing Joey did after assessing the situation was to meet with key people.

“You know our company is in trouble. Here’s what we’re doing to fix it. If you’re with me, great. If you’re not, leave.”

When you have conversations like this, you’ll save yourself time and heartache. You’ll make your mission clear to everyone. And though it won’t stop all the waves, it will set the tone for any discussions you have afterward.

Don’t just assume people will see you as the promised savior. Expect resistance. And verify your key players are on board—or replace them.


Set Deadlines for Change

People can change quickly. But they do need time. New habits take 21 days to become a new standard.

You might give someone 30 days to improve their performance. Be sure to define what that improvement looks like. You can’t measure what you don’t outline.

Deadlines also give people a way out if things don’t work.

They also keep things moving toward a better future. That journey of a thousand steps means you have to take them all. The more you put one foot in front of the other, the sooner you’ll arrive.


Do the Hard Work

If you want to be a surgeon, you have to be willing to get dirty, look for patterns, and do what’s hard.

So do tough leaders.

Let your team do what they do best. Your job is to ensure they can do their work without undue interference, obstacles, or setbacks.


Do This Now

What’s the worst problem you face at work?

Identify one behavior that will change everything. Ask people to go along or face consequences. Don’t back down, no matter how much you want to.

Tough situations need leaders who aren’t afraid to be mean. Fight the good fight and your reward will be great.

Next time we’ll learn how tough leaders communicate. See you then!


Recommended book

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John Maxwell


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