An environment intimidation is a tool usually deployed by weak, insecure, and incompetent superiors. They use it to mask their inadequacies. A halo of aloofness is the first sign to identify this class of managers. They refuse to follow an open-door policy and even if they do so, for the sake of looks only, then it is a case of closed-mind with open doors to the cabin.
The various other ploys to avoid ‘exposure’ to colleagues, is to ask for meetings and presentations. If you examine their diary, it is cluttered with meetings. It makes this species look very busy, but that ain't the case. The singular purpose is to ensure that they (the managers) are feared. It is a reverse application of the Aesop's moral and I would twist it to define these managers that they are “sheep in wolf’s clothing”. They are timid, frightful, and unsure of themselves and their skill set.
There are several signs to spot this ilk of managers. They are found to use expletives in conversations, the choice of words is invariably, inappropriate. Some have an uncomfortably high level of decibel, while others again try to hide behind the low, unbearable whispering tones. The centrality of all the inherent and employed traits is to create a climate of fear.
Having worked with and having witnessed from close quarters the coteries of these despicable managers, the conclusion of own analysis is that it is usually the frustration of nonperformance and non-achievement of targets that triggers these tendencies. Some, of course, are naturally unbearable, whereas others rise to this kind of stardom because of the aforesaid reasons. The nonperformance of teams is usually the consequence of the managers’ inappropriate attitude towards them. The teams need motivation, not intimidation.
The creation of an environment, where fear rules, is a guaranteed formula for disastrous financial results, not to mention, the fall in share price and damage to reputation. Instead of encouraging quality performance, such managers inspire negative results. Nobody excels in the face of threats, except for those who have a job to be the guardians of our territorial borders. Everywhere else in life, through threats, no manager or leader can even think of obtaining the best results, from their colleagues. A culture of fear freezes fires of enthusiasm in the teams.
The threats too are of varied nature, from small-time public jabbing to the ultimate insult of being shown the door. Many managers blackjack their employees by denying them increments or bonuses. Here, readers are reminded that almost all mangers who employ ‘threats’ for performance, are themselves employees too, but because of their high perch in the corporate hierarchy, they feel, they are entitled to play masters, who would be deciding destinies of their fellow colleagues. Demi-gods! That's what they think they are.
And some managers operate like mouthpieces or spokespersons, many a times on a self-styled basis, of the Sole Proprietor. It is no secret that the best amongst the many ‘corporations’ and even those listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange are run like ‘Sole Proprietorships’. The governance standards are down in the dumps.
The vast majority of employees owe their status in life to the job they hold. Hence any threat to those creature comforts is taken seriously. No manager, while hurling threats keeps into consideration that like their own selves the colleagues too have, their set of obligations and responsibilities, towards their families. The fear of joblessness makes employees vulnerable and cautious.
In view of this, the culture of fear lets in a tone where options to decide are never taken up, even though they may be completely risk-free alternatives. No employee wants to take new initiatives. An enterprise’s profits are dependent on assumption of risks that are measurable, calculated, and duly mitigated upon. Low risk, low returns, low enthusiasm, low productivity, low sales, low profits. That’s the chain of progress of an organisation that believes in fear instead of motivation.
To use, the words of William Shakespeare from Macbeth, all staff knows, “present fears are less than horrible imaginings”. Remarks from the manager like, “if you don’t get your results fixed by the end of this quarter, be ready for action…. expressed threateningly, trigger wild and grievous imaginations.
These internal conversations of team members resulting from external environment, with disregard to apathy, play havoc on productivity. Fear is the single deadliest impediment that prevents new initiatives for new business, new ways of doing things, etc. The reign of fear makes employees so timid that they can’t even say boo to a goose!
Against this, an intended smile, directed at a single individual within a group, does wonders to their motivation. In my experience, I always received phenomenal performance from my team members, who were inspired, did not feel threatened and knew with absolute confidence that consequence of nonperformance, despite best efforts, will always get for themselves an impregnable bulwark of support from my side. The buck also knows where it needs to stop. Their performance, hence, always exceeded budgets. The leader must know, “no passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear”. (Edmund Burke). Death is a preferable alternative than a life of fear.
All that has been said about fear is not to suggest that at another extreme, it is best to promote and witness, a culture of sharing only good news, no matter how bad the conditions are. On a plane of realism, there are occasions when the CEO/manager is required to lead by intimidation – yes, too much, it can be demotivating, demoralizing, and often demeaning, but it gets highly effective to put down those who are rebelling against the corporation’s values and vision, with shock and awe treatment.
Alexander did it to the revolting Greek city-state of Thebes, during their intransigency; it is another matter and also a fact that despite his unheard of cruelty, such as against the Thebans, a sense of nobleness, chivalry, and kindness pervaded Alex’s entire twelve-year reign. He burned the city to the ground to set an example for other states.
As an incoming manager/supervisor/CEO, I always looked at volunteered information, as that of being “intellectual arsenic”. This coinage is borrowed from Lou Grestner, who turned around IBM when, in his words, was literally on the verge of being split up in thirteen different ways. No harm befalls the corporate culture in being direct but politely. It is when it is direct but is also demeaning, humiliating, and insulting, that the culture becomes threatening.
Managers must connect with staff in such a manner that they are able to earn the Napoleonic title of “the little corporal”. A general with his troops behaved like a corporal.
The price of those who live by the notion that their positions (corporate titles with limited life spans) give them an allowance to scare the living daylights out of their colleagues, do not have any glorious end. Their arrogance gets the better of them. At the end of it all, only the good and noble prevail.
The writer is a freelance columnist