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The Tale of SLB– Really, I couldn’t make this up if I tried

Photo by Zoe

Photo by Zoe

Oh, you guys…. I’ve been sitting on this one for over a week because I didn’t know how to tell you about it in a way that wouldn’t be disparaging to the individual, because I think I’d like him as a client.  I know the person who related this to me would like me to have him as a client.  But this is just so…. The Office or maybe Dilbert.  To “Dick” – oops, sorry.

Once Upon a Time (two weeks ago), “Dick”, a director for a large telecommunications company, had a meeting with his group, another director, and that director’s team, ostensibly to discuss “The Truth” about how their groups have been working together.

Author’s Note:  People live from their own perception, so unless he was going to talk about something like gravity or sugar exploding into a carbon brick when its exposed to sulfuric acid, “The Truth” probably represents his perception.  And, it probably is a negative one.  Does anyone want to discuss “The Truth” when it’s a good thing?

He brought in a teddy bear, and set it on the conference room table in front of the group and said, “I brought this in because some of you need to grow a thicker skin.”

Author’s Note:  A little Steven Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” might have been advisable here. This isn’t headed to a good place.

This director continues, “His name is SLB.  That’s short for Sensitive Little Bastard.  Things could get a little heated here, and so if any of you get your feelings hurt, you can just pick up the bear and hug it.”

And, “The Truth” came out, some people were silent, others pretended like nothing was said that made them angry or hurt their feelings, and everyone made nice at the end.  All returned to their already-cleaned-out cubicles feeling more resentment and anger towards the other team than ever, and they lived miserably ever after.

The End.

I was incredulous when I heard this for a few reasons.  One is the sheer disrespect alone.  Another is that the bully-them-into-cooperation method is so clearly ineffective in the long term because it destroys trust and respect.  It is only mildly effective in the short term because people want to contribute, and most either get defensive or clam up when they’re threatened.  It encourages passive-aggression as people sabotage out of the room where it is less threatening.

I also wondered why his peer allowed that type of interaction to continue.  Score one for the bully because he did get the set the tone going forward which is now going to be hard to undo.

So, what are the pro’s and con’s of this interaction?

Dick set himself up as the guy in charge.  Pro.  People will probably perform for Dick, because they want to avoid being bullied.  Kind-of Pro.  This has a con side, because people will also spend time worrying about how Dick will respond instead of producing value.  And, they may keep Dick out of the loop because they don’t want to deal with him.  Dick gets to feel powerful.  Pro – at least for Dick.

Here are the cons.  Dick’s lost the respect of his peer and his team.  This story never would have been told had that not been the case.  Dick looks small, because he’s resorted to this tactic.  His team was uncomfortable getting dragged into this.  His peer’s team likely wondered why their boss didn’t stand up for them (if he is anything like me, he was probably so shocked, it didn’t dawn on him to do anything until it was too late). And, anyone who felt like the “lost face” feels the stress of that, too.

This interaction didn’t bring the teams closer, if anything, it made things worse.  Fingers were pointed.  Blame was cast (and avoided).

And, the message was sent loud and clear that having feelings aren’t allowed in his organization.  My guess is that anyone whose feelings were hurt spent the rest of the afternoon nursing their hurt feelings instead of getting things done.

Folks… emotions drive behavior which drives results.  Good leaders capitalize on creating passion and energy around achieving the vision.  Tearing people down undermines this because stress and anger shut down thinking.  In a knowledge based economy, which is what 80% of us work in, people have to think to produce. They can’t think well when they’re angry or upset.

As a coach, I have to point out that this entire interaction was a past-based conversation that focused on the problem.  Avoiding a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

What I help my clients to do is to be creators in their businesses and lives.

So, for those of you who are having a team dynamic problem or a relationship problem, I invite you to try something different today.  Describe what you want to create and ask how that result can happen.

Be Your Best You Today,


p.s. – I just stepped off my soapbox, so it is safe to call or email.

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