Screaming Is For Losers

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith
Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith

With the upcoming Super Bowl, a lot has been said about the two coaches: Indianapolis’s Tony Dungy and Chicago’s Lovie Smith. Yes, the big story is that they are both the first African American coaches to take a team to the Super Bowl. But I’m more fascinated with the fact that they are both great managers.

Friends from long ago, it is nice to see two truly “good guys” get to the top of their game. It’s even a little sad for one of them to have to lose on Sunday. Reading an item in the Wall Street Journal comparing the two of them with their calm and reasoned style to some screaming managers got me to thinking.

I’ve seen a lot of screaming managers. The pressure cooker world of high tech seems to attract the a-type personalities that end up as bosses who find volume as an easy substitute for reason. I’ve seen numerous cases of managers (I can’t say “leaders”) who use intimidation, threats, and personal attacks in their regular daily lives.

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer

In fact, I’ve worked directly for one of the world’s great screamers, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer. He is legendary for loud volume, having once required hospitalization for vocal chord damage after an especially vigorous affair. I’ve witnessed him at his best (a fantastically energizing and motivating speaker) and his worst (reducing senior managers to tears during the semi-annual business reviews). Steve regularly barging through my door, fully on fire and with no regard to my current situation, was a key factor in my choice to leave Microsoft.

Now, I don’t begrudge Steve, or anyone, the right to get animated and excited when things are going wrong. Unfortunately, Steve, when in a tough spot, is inclined to take things to a personal level that simply crosses the line. He goes from criticizing the idea or the results, and moves to things designed to hurt the person. Although Bill Gates is famous for saying “that’s the stupidest f&*%ing thing I’ve ever heard”, it is more Steve’s style to say “you are the stupidest person I’ve ever met, who hired you?” It costs dearly in respect on both sides, and never serves to motivate anyone for very long.

The problem is that yelling and intimidation work… in the short term.

The problem is that yelling and intimidation work… in the short term. Much like what falsified financial statements, “stuffing the channel”, and keeping secrets do for business, yelling and intimidation do similar things for organizations. They work for a while, people do scurry around frantically to avoid a follow-on beating. But soon they tire of the abuse, and before long, they move on or shut down completely and resign themselves to the pain. Neither makes for a great team.

This brings me back to Dungy and Smith. As the WSJ article noted:

Both believe they can get their teams to compete more fiercely and score more touchdowns by giving directives calmly and treating players with respect.

This is a pattern I have seen time and again. Calmer, reasoned, thoughtful leaders get better results, have better loyalty with much lower turnover, and have better luck hiring people (word gets around). People enjoy coming to work, and don’t live like abused children in fear of the next beating. They are happy to give extra effort for people who they respect and know respect them. And undoubtedly, if given enough of a chance, they make the whole organization more successful. Perhaps they even take it to the top of their game.

A great leader is going to win the Super Bowl on Sunday

There will be plenty of screaming on Sunday, with more than a few fans coming to work hoarse on Monday. But that won’t be the case for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. The good news is, a great leader is going to win the Super Bowl on Sunday. The bad news is we don’t know yet which one it will be. I’ll be cheering for them both.

Update: And the winner is Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts. Congrats to them all.