Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In With The Awesome, Out With The Jerks

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

"The firing Wednesday of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, for shoving players around, firing basketballs at them, and screaming that they were [expletives deleted] reflects universal condemnation....while that behavior had long been tolerated if not celebrated, his off-court actions clearly crossed the line of acceptability." - "The Basketball Bully," Slate, April 3, 2013

Study after study shows that fear and anxiety inhibit learning:
* Fear = externally imposed, e.g. by a bullying coach
* Anxiety = internal, e.g. a condition you feel regardless of what's going on outside
* Despite our theoretical understanding that learning is itself anxiety-provoking and works best with a relaxed and receptive mind
* Despite the critical nature of continuous learning to the modern workplace
...we continue to think that fear-inspiring leaders are somehow better. (See "Love and Fear and the Modern Boss," Harvard Business Review.)
The problem is that we confuse awe-inspiring leaders with fear-inspiring ones.
* An awe-inspiring leader commands our respect because of their sheer brilliance, or operational competence, diplomatic skills, and so on (think Margaret Thatcher may she rest in peace) - whether we agree with them or not.
* A fear-inspiring leader just scares us, because they do not hesitate to legitimately use (and sometimes unfortunately abuse) their power.
Leadership types can coexist in the same person:
* A single person can be both awe-inspiring and fear-inspiring.
* The same leader can be fear-inspiring for legitimate reasons as well as for illegitimate ones. 
Some people would like to abolish authority as inherently corrupt and corrupting.
But in the real world someone has to take responsibility.
Rather than making everybody falsely equal, we can instead get comfortable and fluent with concepts associated with power.
Some of it is good and useful. Some of it is bad and should be tossed away.
Let's encourage people to be awesome, and awe-inspiring. And at the same time eliminate from leadership positions those who are the equivalent of the former Rutgers Coach who cursed his own players.