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Big stick or magic wand?

Earlier this week a visibly shaken senior executive recounted how “the boss” had chastised a senior manager in a public forum. The manager has no recourse, other than to eat humble pie. Walking out is not an option. Today, even the most disgruntled employee has to weigh up the harsh reality of meeting bond repayments, school fees and car repayments against the very real prospect of long-term unemployment. As for reporting the culprit, this would be career suicide.

Many of us have personally witnessed such incidents – these always leave a nasty aftertaste. The experience is very much like eating durian fruit – the taste, which assaults one’s senses eventually fades, but the memory remains.

The problem with these incidents is the individual concerned feels demotivated and humiliated. When he wakes up the next day, or possibly even until he retires, his stomach turns at the prospect of going to work. As for the boss, he walks away unaware of the damage that he has done to the individual, the team and the organisation.

Many of us have encountered “bully boy”” or “bully girl” bosses in our careers. I have been very fortunate to interview many senior executives and CEOs. The individuals who really stood out are those who used soft words of support to encourage and motivate staff. These leaders mentor colleagues and individuals, their junior; they encourage, mould and empower them to perform optimally. Where necessary, they chastise and “correct” behaviour, but this is done in a firm, but loving manner.

I have thought long and hard about the leaders I have interviewed, who really stood out – one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest. I have interviewed this leader on numerous occasions, and in various roles, although not in recent years. I have also experienced the joy of seeing one of his mentees, blossom into a highly successful senior executive.

I have never forgotten one particular interview, about twelve years ago, in which he handed me a book and asked me whether I had read it. It was “The 5 love languages” by Gary Chapman. He raved about the book and told me he had bought his management team copies and encouraged them to apply the teachings.

Chapman contends individuals express and experience love in one of five languages – gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. Gifts, and physical touch may be inappropriate in the workplace, but the rest, if deployed, could create magic in an organisation because they enable the boss to “connect” with the individual.

Imagine if leaders used a magic wand of love and instead of harsh correction, deployed quality time, words of affirmation and acts of service to motivate staff – we would transform our organisations into high-performing organisations, staffed by highly motivated employees. Our employees would come to work because they loved their job, not because they were compelled to do so because of financial pressures.

Will you wield a big stick or wave a magic wand of love in the workplace in the weeks ahead? Sticks cause serious damage, however magic wands, which speak the language of love heal and inspire greatness.

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