Kiss Your BUT Goodbye

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

Brothers Joe and Bob Azelby are coauthors of the new book Kiss Your BUT Good-Bye: How to Get Beyond the One Word that Stands Between You and Success (Harper Business). Joe is managing director and CEO of the Global Real Assets Group at a large global financial institution, leading a team of more than 400 investment professionals. Bob is vice president and general manager of a large biotech’s oncology group, responsible for 500 sales and marketing employees and more than $5 billion in annual revenue.

In the introduction, the authors explain their purpose in writing the book, to “go on a journey that will help you see yourself the way others see you. By doing so, you can find and break down the barriers you have built between yourself and personal success that you deserve.”

The Azelbys visited AMA recently to participate in a webcast based on the book. The following has been adapted from that event.

Bob Azelby: The question we’re always asked is, why did we write the book? Basically, Joe and I have been sharing management notes for the last two decades, and we realized that managing and improving people’s performance is easy to talk about, but really hard to do. We’ve seen many employees get very frustrated that their careers were not advancing as they had anticipated. And although there are plenty of corporate human resources programs that focus on people’s strengths and plenty of literature on the subject, they didn’t seem to be working. As Joe and I discussed things, we discovered a very simple concept that was consistently effective for both of us across varying industries.

Joe Azelby: Actually, it’s not even a concept. It’s simpler than that. It’s a very, very simple word, “but”—B U T. We use the word as a noun. This is a word that is really powerful. People who are interested in advancing their careers and managers who are interested in making their people better should really listen closely for this word when they’re hearing people discuss the talent and development needs of others.

People say, “Frank is helpful, but he talks way too much.”  “Bill knows the material, but he has terrible presentation skills.”  “Terry means well, but she micromanages everyone and everything.”

People only remember the second half of a “but” sentence; they’ll remember that Frank talks way too much, that Bill has terrible presentation skills, and that Terry micromanages everyone and everything.

BA: The incredible part is that in any meeting, when a but comes up, that’s what everybody focuses on. It’s what prevents people from moving up to the next level.

When managers sit in front of their employees, they’ll talk about their strengths, and 90% of a performance review will be based on all the positive things the employee does. But they won’t get into the nitty-gritty and really have the hard conversation about the area that other people in the organization think is holding this individual back. So the individual never really knows why he never gets the next role.

JA: Think about what this does: It nullifies all the good things people say about you before the word “but,” and it magnifies every word that comes after it. I don't think managers do a good enough job of focusing on the things that come after the word “but.” It’s time that everybody realizes that I have a but, Bob has a but, everyone has a but. We are all afflicted with these things, and yet we’re finding that managers aren’t comfortable talking about what we think are the critical issues in people’s development. And quite honestly, I don’t think people are aggressive enough in pushing their managers to find out what their but may be.

BA: Everybody in the organization knows what everyone else’s but is. In fact, they talk about it to their colleagues. If people do a quick survey on what someone’s strengths and weaknesses are, their buts come out. And in many instances, the but is bigger than the individual knows.

JA: Buts come in many, many forms, whether you’re a know-it-all or a micromanager; whether you take credit for other people’s work; whether you’re viewed as fake or inauthentic or you’re viewed as selfish.

People’s perception of you basically becomes your reality, and you have to understand what your reality is. The only way to do that is to seek out a truth teller in your life and find out what your but is, because it doesn’t take long for that issue to become the first thing that people think about when they think about you. It becomes your brand.

BA: Here’s a personal story about the importance of perception. About a decade ago I was a regional sales director and my performance was quite good. I came in for my performance review thinking I was going to get a great rating and that my boss was going to love me. However, he started the conversation by saying, “We have a problem.” He basically said I was being a bully; I was running over people at the home office and not thanking them for their work. As I pushed back on my boss because I disagreed with the feedback, he gave me the greatest coaching lesson I ever had: he told me it doesn’t matter what I think. I may not have thought I was a bully, but if everybody else in my organization thought I was, then I was, period. He exposed my but to extreme sunlight, and I got burned.

JA: So what did you do to fix it?

BA: First, I took 24 hours to think about it, because it really hurt. Then I realized, boy, if people think I’m a bully, I need to change that, because they won’t work with me. So from that time on and over the past 10 years, I’ve tried to go out of my way to be very, very thankful, sending people American Express cards or what we call performance points or even a personal note, to make sure they understand that I do appreciate everything they’re doing for not only myself, but for the organization.

JA: To use Bob’s situation as an example, to solve the problem, first of all you must identify it, and Bob’s boss at the time certainly helped Bob identify it. Then you have to acknowledge it. Bob decided, “I have this issue and I’m going to fix it.” Then he went to work changing how he interacts with other people, that is, managing it. Over time if you get on top of the issue, you can shrink it down to a size where it’s no longer an issue, and that’s what we encourage everyone to do. Because if you ignore it, it’s going to continue to grow. It will consume you and it can consume your career. It took a very courageous manager to pull Bob aside and give him the opportunity to manage down that issue that would have hurt him if it was left unmanaged.
Finding Your “But”
Your but can probably be found in one of three places: It’s either an aptitude, personality, or behavior issue. These are not mutually exclusive, and we can tell you from experience that one can often lead to another.

Aptitude. You may be lacking either experience or a skill set that you need in order to do your job more effectively. If you’re missing that, people will start talking about it.

Personality. Maybe you’re moody or unpleasant. You could have a certain style or quirks that just basically land badly on people and cause them to react negatively.

Behavior. You do things that are disruptive, unproductive, and that basically make the team less effective.

JA: The real message we want people to take from our book is, no more excuses. You’ve got to stop whining, complaining, or finger pointing. You have to acknowledge that you have a but and find out exactly what people are saying about you. Identify that truth teller, who like Bob’s former boss, is going to give it to you straight, with no candy coating.

Keep in mind that once the feedback starts coming, it is very uncomfortable. Many folks will try to push back and argue. What we recommend is, just sit there and listen. Be patient. Seek to understand. That’s going to be the critical element for you to start your journey to identify exactly what your but is so you can start working on it.

You can learn more about the topics discussed in this article at these AMA seminars:

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.