The Exercise of Power and Authority

You can get your employees to perform their jobs well without getting nasty, without manufacturing a climate of fear.

From time to time, I meet professional managers or leaders whose style might be characterized as harsh with an over emphasis on the use of fear and intimidation. They fail to understand, given the current winds in laws that govern workplace behavior, the need to shift their predominant people management style. After all, they’ll often say, any good employee should be able to take what ever they through at them. Their power relationships are filled with belittling, sarcasm, criticizing, threatening, and punishing.

On an intellectual level, their aggressive, uncivil behavior, to them,  is a harmless game. Yet, in my opinion, it’s a failure to understand that we all experience life on an affective level. In other words, interactions and experiences in the workplace come with an emotional content. At times the emotional content exist as a simple subtext. It’s not in your face, but still present deep below the surface. The intellectual and affective are intertwined and for some more so than others.

The hand of empowerment

Performance is intertwined with our emotions. Brain research in the field of education, has led teachers to recognize that kids don’t perform at their best in an environment riddled with fear and oppression.  A teacher that uses fear and coercion to keep a class in line or motivate students will affect their performance in a negative way.

Kids in an aggressive environment tend to be in a flight or fight mode. A brain in that mode doesn’t learn. It’s charged to react and not to construct meaning from the ideas being taught by the teacher. I believe that understanding is transferable to the workplace environment.

Fear is important in the workplace. However, it should be fear of the consequences of stepping over a boundary, not fear of the person they report to directly. Employees should respect their leaders and fear the consequences of failing to fulfill their obligation.

Anyone who has some aspect of another person’s life under their control should be bound by rules of engagement. The intent is not to tie the hands of management to effect order in the workplace, but about balance.  Leaders should use their power and authority to help the people who report to them carry out their jobs well. Like a teacher in the classroom who gets nasty or manufactures fear to keep the kids in line, it has a negative effect on performance.

In my next post, I’ll introduce Choice Theory, developed by William Glasser, as a framework for managing employee performance.