I was watching an ad recently in which a well known Hollywood actor was encouraging us to stand up against bullying. We all know bullying occurs on the schoolyard and within broader society. Some have called this bullying a reaction to personal fear, others simply as hate being exposed, or even a drive for self-worth. But lets talk briefly about bullying in the workplace. More specifically the intimidation tactics that I have seem some managers use to create fear in their subordinates. My guess is you have seen or experienced such tactics yourself. Feel free to send me comments with your stories of bullying or intimidating managers.
I remember working with a lab manager who obviously was struggling with self-worth. He would walk arrogantly around the lab with a cloth, sometimes intentionally dropping the cloth so he could insist that a lab tech pick it up. I guess it made him feel important for a fleeting moment. Another manager would verbally abuse both peers and direct reports who acted contrary to his expectations of how issues should be dealt. It is easy to see these tactics as bullying. Other managers use less obvious tactics to hide their insecurities and create fear. Like using the performance management system as a “carrot and stick” device, lording it over their direct reports or threatening to negatively impact salary increases. These are unacceptable behaviors designed to create fear and should not be tolerated in a sustainable high performance organization.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Fear can be used successfully as a means to motivate and achieve results. Rulers and armies have used it to gain success for centuries. However this method takes a psychological toll on both the manager and the subordinates. The subordinates, at least those who maintain some level of self-respect, look for opportunities to turn on these leaders, or find relief from the constant of fear and intimidation. Conversely the leaders become increasingly paranoid and feel they can trust no one. Eventually the psychological toll reaches a breaking point which is why many of these organizations built on fear collapsed via internal discord. Even within Hitler’s Third Reich, which had seen numerous military successes, internal discord and paranoia was rampant even before the Allies were able to apply pressure. You know the outcome and what became of Hitler. Using fear to achieve results can work but at a steep price which can not be sustained for the long-term. This of course does not begin to address the full moral implication of such tactics or the mental health impact of other dysfunctions in organizational management.
My blog is about sustained high performance. Therefore fear and intimidation tactics are not acceptable. Rather every action must be calculated and implemented to build trust rather than fear. We must be committed to the statement “Do no harm.” This is why we define the relationship between a manager and his/her direct report as a “two-way, trusting, productive working relationship focused on achieving business goals.” We do not have to hold hands each day and sing Kumbaya, but we do need to show each other respect for the role and contribution that each must make to achieve the goals of the organization. Achieving trust is as therapeutic psychologically as fear is damaging. Sadly the family has also become less of a trust inducing environment and many other organizational systems such as government are not dependable and reliable. Individuals are bombarded with fear, or at least uncertainty, and I hope the work environment can at least stop contributing to the harm being done by this fear and uncertainty.
Building trust within your organization can be daunting. You start by building a two way, trusting, productive working relationship with your direct reports, and set the expectation that they must do likewise with their direct reports. You then establish effective TIRR contracts with other departments to ensure productive relationships and collaborations across the organization. This enhances the overall trust your direct reports have in you since you have addressed many of their most frustrating issues across the organization, leaving them to fully use their creativity to solve problems, make improvements, and deliver outstanding results. Finally you must constantly evaluate the systems and processes used by you and your direct reports. Some of these systems are counter-productive and you must work with system owners to make each of these systems effective and productive. At this point your direct reports notice the wide boundaries you have given them in order to allow full use of their discretion to make decisions and achieve success. They go home each day with a smirk (a small grin which comes from knowing you achieved success) looking forward to returning tomorrow. There is no frustration, no since of fear, no dread about the future. There is a since of pride, high self-worth, and excitement about the next task. You are demonstrating a sustained high performance organization.
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