Project Management in Practice

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Can you get the right reaction with the occasional verbal spray?


I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review regarding the appropriateness of yelling at employees. It was quite an interesting article in which Michael Schrage gives examples as Steve JobsBill GatesSir Alex FergusonVince LombardiArturo Toscanini in various professions as those not averse to a bit of verbal spray. He makes an interesting point that while yelling does not make one a better manager, at the same time it does not necessarily indicate managerial weakness or failure of leadership.

Can-you-get-the-right-reaction-from-the-occassional-verbal-spray

Scharge seems to have taken quite a hammering if you read some of the comments on the article. However, I am sure he was playing the devils advocate and wrote the piece precisely to get this reaction. Indeed in some cases managers or leaders get away with the occasional hair dryer treatment. Let us have a think about what it is that their employees are letting them get away with and why. I will use some of the gentlemen mentioned in this very article.

The likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built or ran organisations that generated a lot of wealth within its employee ranks. These are also organisations that employ some leading minds and have made a lot of employees rich through stock options. People work in these organisations for various reasons. Some are after the intellectual fulfillment, others for monetary reward, some purely to enhance their resume. Same is true for the likes of Ferguson and Lombardi. Players play for their teams for a mixture of lure of winning trophies, play with other great players, the salary or adulation from the fans.

For every Gates and Jobs there are multiple Kevin Rudd, Mark Pincus. For every Ferguson and Lombardi there are many more Buck Shelfords. The Shelford example is quite striking. He was known as the hardest rugby player. He once played on against France despite an act of foul play resulting in his scrotum being split. Bring back Buck signs are still visible today from fans cherishing his demeanour. Yet, when he took to coaching, he relied on the same “hard man” persona and foul mouth. His teams were unmitigated disasters.

What does that tell us. It is not these leaders’ yelling at their charges that got the results. Instead it was their other attributes of vision, planning, development of individual capabilities and sense of pride in work that were the key contributors for their success. In my view their sometimes tempestuous behaviour actually got in the way to diminish their other qualities. There would be a level of tolerance for everyone. Exceeding those would lead to people abandoning even the most decorated leaders.

Most people are not the special ones mentioned here. If leaders are to take cues from these well known figures, they should instead concentrate on their other qualities. I have found even small things like acknowledging good efforts from individuals and thanking them for those goes a long way than anything else. I struggle to think if yelling would ever give me the same reaction. Everyone is different in how they react to volleys of verbal spray. You have to make sure you get the right reactions from people.

Yelling is a sign of control lost. More credibility you have built over time will dictate how soon your people abandon you as a result. Even if you find it works from time to time, don’t get too fond of it.

Image Credit: Daily Mail

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4 responses to “Can you get the right reaction with the occasional verbal spray?

  1. StuartKBrown December 20, 2013 at 7:40 am

    It is so important to acknowledge the efforts of your team – it’s not the process that delivers the project, it’s the people. Hope that doesn’t sound too trite!

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