Leadership by Screaming

“I’ve yelled at people, and I’m not ashamed of it. We have to run this company . . . without a bunch of babies who say, ‘Mommy yelled at me today.’ It’s impossible to run a leveraged operation like camp. If you don’t like it, leave.”

– Linda Wachner, former CEO, Warnaco

 How do I get better at difficult conversations?

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger, studies show that when bosses (or customers) yell, employees speed up their work on “simple, familiar asks.” But not without a cost. Recipients of screaming:

  • Bring less creativity to their jobs
  • Experience a decrease in working memory
  • Become less competent in performing complex tasks

From those who’ve experienced screaming personally, none of this seems surprising, does it? Screaming as a leadership style is allegedly decreasing in the workplace, in part due to grudging recognition by “screamers” that it’s not effective, and in part due to the litigation climate.

What might come as a surprise is the purported “downside” of less workplace screaming: “The not-so-good part of the no-yelling trend is that people are pushing things under the carpet . . . research shows that suppressing anger can also keep underlying problems from being exposed and solved.” Really?  As if there’s no middle ground between screaming and saying nothing? One can be angry but express that anger appropriately.

Here’s a novel concept:  organize your thoughts, approach the conversation with the benefit of helping the recipient, and have a candid, courageous conversation in a normal tone of voice.

Screaming remains still alive and well at offending motorists, hapless customer service representatives, and at referees at children’s sporting events (one-third of children ages eight to fourteen wish their parents would not attend their games because they yell too much). Screaming is no doubt just as ineffective here as well. 

Here’s to leaders at every level leading passionately, but doing so with little if any screaming, thank you very much.

File under: Lead
Subheader: How do I get better at difficult conversations?

Notes and sources: Linda Wachner quote taken from Stanley Bing, What Would Machiavelli Do?, Harper Business, 2004. Sue Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal, “When the Boss Is a Screamer,” August 15, 2012.

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