Temper tantrums as a management technique

I’ve met a couple of business “leaders” who scream at their employees like coach Bobby Knight “discussed calls” with referees at basketball games. I’ve tried the tactic myself in years gone by with marginal results, both at home and in my previous leadership roles.

Is screaming completely ineffective? Absolutely not. As a young manager, I got positive results several times from displaying a short fuse. In addition to creating momentum, it also allowed me to assert my authority and feel good for a fleeting moment. So what’s the problem?

How many of you know anyone with real talent who has put up with abusive leadership for an extended period? How many of you who have experienced abusive leadership would say that you were at the top of your game in that environment? I don’t think that I’ve ever said, “How can such a(pick one: jerk / bonehead / tyrannosaurus / primordial-organism) have such a talented and motivated team?”

Leaders who have temper tantrums on a frequent basis lack emotional intelligence. Abusive or know-it-all leadership is, in my experience, all about control. Control is not always a bad thing, but I have observed that teams achieve much more when there is trust vs. fear, commitment rather than just compliance, mutual accountability vs. individual gain.

Patrick Lencioni wrote a great little book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that provides a good model for leaders who know that it is not “all about me.” The five dysfunctions are: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. You’ll find most of these in an organization where screaming is a prevalent management technique.

Management guru Warren Bennis is one of my favorite authors on leadership. In his article, The Four Competencies of Leadership, he talked about the need to manage: attention, meaning, trust and self. Two of these (trust and self) are key components of emotional intelligence (EI). IQ is a good predictor of success in school, but not such a great predictor of success in leadership positions.

Daniel Goleman and others have written about emotional intelligence and its impact on success. Evidence says that IQ might help get you the CEO’s job, but you’re most likely to get fired for lack of emotional intelligence. It is virtually impossible to influence IQ, but the good news is that emotional intelligence can not only be measured but also learned.

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Categories: Management & Leadership