What does it say about a person’s leadership style – who they are as a man or woman – when they believe that yelling or screaming at employees in front of their colleagues or in private will actually improve sustainable operating results?
First, some perspective: I am NOT talking about an occasional stern one-on-one conversation or an emotional outburst of anger. There are times when even the best employee needs a serious wakeup call. And we all raise our voices in anger from time to time. No, I am talking about the practice of yelling and other abusive conduct that is so frequent that the bad behavior can be defined as a management style. Note, that I used the word management instead of leadership. The practice/habit/dysfunction of regularly yelling at, or verbally abusing employees is not leadership.
Top performers do not need someone yelling at them to deliver the best possible results. If a CEO feels that yelling is necessary and justifiable to improve performance then maybe he or she should yell at themselves for failing miserably at one of the most important roles of a CEO: recruiting, developing and retaining top talent.
CEOs who argue that being tough on employees is a way of keeping people on edge and producing superior results are not being honest with themselves. In fact, they have a problem. Their rationale for their poor behavior, this one or any number of other silly justifications, is just an excuse for not changing.
“I am not about to change because some thin skinned employee takes offense. This has been working for me,” declared a former client (he retired) when I had the gall to broach the subject after spending two days in a pre-search due diligence visit listening to employees disclose that the underlying culture of the organization was “combative,” “threatening,” “stay out of the line of fire” or my favorite, “periodic jerk alerts.”
As his anger peaked, what popped into my mind made me smile (which made things worse): a book title, “What Got You Here Won’t Get Your There,” Marshall Goldsmith’s wonderful book for leaders. I successfully completed the search but it was more challenging than it should have been because the CEO’s reputation was growing.
In the rapidly evolving transformation of healthcare, the what got you here won’t get you there theme is a clarion call for leaders who think yelling and other forms of verbal abuse will work. It won’t.
If you gather the top 100 employees of almost any organization in a room without their “noisy” boss, virtually everyone will admit they are more likely to push the bar higher working for a supportive coach, someone who knows how to help them to dig deeper for their best, a leader who publicly celebrates their growth and successes.
Yes, yelling and screaming may produce some short-term success but it is almost never sustainable.
I believe leaders can be demanding without being feared and dreaded. More importantly, sustainable improvements in quality of care, patient safety and satisfaction will never improve in a “combative” workplace environment.
© 2018 John Gregory Self