When Are ‘Bad’ Managers the Good Ones, and Vice Versa?

February 6, 2010

“We  are developing “autistic” managers – people who can’t relate to those  who surround them.” I had a  client whose style was inhumane, according to how we define “humane” at  schools of business.He fired people left and right for the least transgression, or  if their work did not meet his highest standards – which, let me tell  you, were exceedingly high.He demeaned, screamed, and criticized continually. People  really feared him.Another client, this time in Russia, would financially penalize  any employee who did not return his calls within 15 minutes. God forbid  that any written rules were violated; all hell would break loose.I was very unhappy with both their  styles and told them so, in unequivocal terms.But after some time, I checked what  was happening to the employees of these companies, and I noticed  something interesting that I had not anticipated.No one had left the company. Those  who were not there anymore were the ones who had been fired. Those who  stayed worked hard, liked the boss, and would do whatever they were  asked to avoid being fired. Stockholm  syndrome, or something else?What was going on?Was it the Stockholm syndrome, the odd psychological phenomenon  in which prisoners identify with and love their captors?One of the clients mentioned above  told me I simply did not understand that people love to be challenged to  do their best, and that those who were fired feel like losers – and are, if they do not meet  the boss’s standards.Huh?What happened to treating people with understanding, giving  them a chance, being civilized, developing them …?Then, while watching some top-notch sports coaches, I had an  insight. These coaches are extremely demanding, and if someone  repeatedly fails to meet their standards, s/he is out. They are tough as  nails, curse a lot, demean people, shout, and expect the impossible.But the teams love them, and no one  wants to be fired.It is not toughness that people resent. Rather, they resent when the manager is not  fair. To be a tough and unfair manager makes those who are being managed  become rebellious. But to be a humane and unfair leader makes people  despise you.We often confuse being fair with being nice. It is not the same at all.What does it mean to be “fair”?Whatever you do as a leader, whatever  decision you take about people, be sure it is a “clean” decision –  which means you must get your ego out of the way. Pay attention only to  the situation, and respond to the situation. Do not let your personal  agenda become involved.A good coach would be a better coach if s/he did not scream and  yell. Bit if s/he does, it must be in order to build a winning team,  not to build his/her own self-confidence and sense of power.People want to work for a winning  team, one whose standards of behavior are high, and they appreciate a  leader who imposes such standards. Tough  loveWhether a  manager is bad or good depends on how fair or unfair s/he is, not  whether his/her style is rough or soft.Do we teach managers what “fair”  means and that they should take decisions without fear as long as their  decisions are fair?To me, being fair often involves exhibiting tough love, and not all of us like being tough.  We do not like being disliked or rejected.My observation, based on teaching in  several graduate schools of business or management and lecturing as a  visitor at dozens of others, is that we are developing “autistic”  managers – people who can’t relate to those who surround them.We teach them how to handle  computers, do research, analyze numbers, and make presentations … but  how to relate to each other? Not really. We might teach them theory, but  do we give them experience? No. And that is like teaching people who  are color-blind the chemistry of colors and then expecting them to be  painters.It is not  strange, then, that some modern trained managers spend more time on  their computers, BlackBerrys, or similar devices, than talking to their  staff.Most  problems in companies are not about the numbers. They are problems with people; the numbers are merely  the manifestations of the problem.We are teaching our management students how to deal with  manifestations rather the causes.Do we realize what we are doing? Can we change?

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes