“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence.
A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes.
A boss knows all, a leader asks questions.
A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.
A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”
Russell H. Ewing
This is not about threatening employees about making mistakes <i.e., ”you are gonna get fired if you fuck this up”>, but rather threatening employees who are exhibiting behavior that isn’t what you want from them. This is also less a thought about managing individuals, but more about managing a culture and groups of individuals – exploring systemic behavior issues.
Now. I have to tell you.
Having managed a shitload of people there has certainly been some point where I wanted to threaten my employees if not just strangle them <and I am sure the feeling was mutual on occasion>. Most of us just take a deep breath. Maybe close the door of their office and throw something. And then calm down enough to realize that most employees’ actions & behaviors are derivative of our own leadership.
As a corollary to that thought, if the actions & behaviors reflect a more systemic issue and not just some random individuals, well, you know it is reflective of your own leadership <or lack of leadership>.
Ah … “most of us.” Well. Not “all of us.”
Management by fear is the go-to tactic of the old generation of business leaders. They were also the ‘benevolent dictators’ <sort of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Men of Hitlers> as well as the dickheads who treated everyone like shit except the ones who did exactly what they were told to do.
Once again, about the only business people who believe in this type of management are:
<1> those who have never run a larger organization which demands cultural alignment for effectiveness,
<2> managers over the age of 55 — mostly white ones,
<3> weak leaders, or
<4> narcissistic arrogant dickheads.
“I suppose that leadership at one time meant muscle; but today it means getting along with people.
Threatening employees with forced confidentiality agreements, law suits, sweeping statements of firing a shitload of people, and even “you are either with me or against me” type threats is not only stupid but it is less than effective.
That doesn’t encourage the best behavior, which is self-motivated, but rather all this does is create ‘forced behavior.’ Now. I am no behavior expert, but even I know if I am forcing a certain type of behavior and, ultimately, that behavior is never absorbed as ‘self-affirmation of what I believe and like”, well, the first chance an employee gets to ‘unforce themselves’ they are gonna do it.
Here is what most of the good leaders know.
You can never, and I mean never, absolve yourself of the behaviors of your employees. You are either complicit or encouraged or simply an enabler. You are, whether you like it or not, responsible for your employee’s actions.
What does that mean?
If they do things that piss you off you, most likely, have pissed them off.
If they show you little respect, you, most likely, have shown them little respect.
If they show you lack of loyalty, you, most likely, have not earned their loyalty or shown behavior that deserves loyalty.
If you do not recognize anything I just wrote as truth, you, most likely, just threaten your employees every time they do something you don’t like.
I have absolutely talked to an individual employee about their expense reports.
I have absolutely spoken to an individual employee about their behavior in the office.
I have absolutely sat down with an individual employee about what they should, or should not, be saying to people outside the office.
But, more importantly, I talk with the accounting department, the HR department and department heads to find out about what the organization is systemically doing with their expense reports, behavior in the office and talking outside the office before I speak with any individual.
I don’t think I was a particularly great leader, but even I knew that systemic behavioral issues were my issues — not their issues. I also understand that threatening employees, or even the trite ‘carrot & stick’ thinking, was ineffective if you wanted to build a culture where individual employees didn’t cheat on their expense reports, didn’t do stupid shit in the office and didn’t say the wrong things about the company outside the office.
A leader knows threats are stupid if you have any desire to build a long term culture. You set expectations, provide a vision that people can be proud of and the reward is not anything individual monetarily or even ‘keeping your job’ but rather the employee looks around and sees solidarity – the prize is being part of a team aligned on an objective.
Some leaders don’t see that. All they see is bad behavior and offer threats to seal the cracks in the system. All that does is mask the problem not solve the problem. All that solves systemic organizational bad behavior is good leadership — not threats.
Fear, despite what some may suggest, is not a particularly great motivator in business.