I am often surprised, when presenting someone with new ideas for how work can & should be done (many of them proven via case studies or, in some cases, personal experience), at the reaction I receive. Yes, there’s often disbelief that work can be a place of enjoyment, or that bullying is a suboptimal approach. What strikes me as completely strange, however, is the number of people who are certain they are acting in acccord with the best possible practices and that anything other than their own well-developed habits is, clearly, not the way to get things done.
This dynamic seems to surface most often when talking about the behavioral aspects of work relationships. Those based on interpersonal dynamics, respect for people, leading with humility and the determimation to avoid comman-and-control in favor of collaboration focused on developing autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is these so-called “soft skills” – those that focus on invoking humanity, where it often seems that conscience is something to be ignored, denied or suffocated rather than something to be embraced. Pointing a finger and blaming, in perfect accordance with the “naming, blaming & shaming” dynamic so prevalent in most workplaces and especially apparent in failing organizations, is how they get things done.
Clearly, berating or embarassing a person is, simply, not nice. It’s rule #1 of kindergarten behavior. Yet, it’s seen as a sign of strength and leadership by many, if not most. For these folks, never having to get o that point isn’t even considered. For them, the ability to dismiss humanity, and not embrace it, is the key to leadership. Which is nonsense.
I wonder what would happen to the image these folks have of themselves if they were asked to sit down, reflect upon their actions, and to judge those actions through the eye of basic politeness? What if they also examined their actions in terms of long term, prolonged success for themselves, others, and their organizations? The diminshed productivity and quality in environments where bad behavior is the norm is well known and frequently dicussed and written about. Yet, it prevails. So, we need a slightly different focus than simple, analytical reports demonstrating the business impacts.
What we need is a call to conscience. Pushing people to achieve more than they thought themselves capable of in order to achieve a greater good is, indeed, a high, humanistic goal. Consider the drill seargent or coach who hollers and shouts at their charges, earning their hatred but, ultimately, earning their respect. This is a person for whom creating interpersonal difficulty is done not just for a purpose, but with an intense understanding of emotional intelligenace. They know how to push. They know what drives a person to achieve more than that person had thought possible. These great coaches, however, are very often also the ones who know which people can be shouted at and which ones need to be massaged. Simply put, they understand people. And they use that understanding to achieve a greater good for the organization as a whole.
For others, however, they yell in order to create an atmosphere of authority and an impression of themselves. Since most people don’t like getting yelled at, these folks who act without much sense of conscience – if conscience means doing what is right, for as many as possible, for as long as possible – are able to get their way right now. Unfortunately, that short-term thinking usually means they are always yelling, since no one will work with or for them for very long, so they must always yell to get their way since they never foster long0-term relationships and a shared understanding of a future vision.
If you want sustained, long-term performance, you must create an environment that allows it. By listening more to conscience, and less to the need for short-term, immediate, and fleeting results – perhaps the foundation will be built for generating healthier, happier people and, consequently, more successful orgnizations, too.