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Is Humiliation a Leadership Tool?

When I first got my Saint Bernard, Ponca, the biggest behavioral challenge we had was that she beat the other two dogs up.  Bloodfang and Knight, the existing members of Team Dog, didn’t understand her boundaries and rules because their rules were different.  One rule on Team Dog was that water is an infinite, shared resource because Alpha Dog kept them fully supplied.

One day, Knight drank out of the communal water bowl, and Ponca beat the living hoo-ha out of him.  Alpha Dog disciplined her so forcefully that all of Team Dog scattered.  What Ponca learned from this emotional trauma was to never drink out of the dog bowl again.  Toilet, yes. Bowl, no.

The reason I tell you this story is that it illustrates human behavior perfectly.  When someone has a significant emotional event (hereafter, I will call it a SEE), they will often create something we coaches call a Limiting Decision.  This decision is usually along the lines of, “I will never do that again,” and it parks itself in the unconscious.  That means, when that person runs into a similar situation or context, the “I’m not going to to that,” behavior triggers automatically.

The reason why this happens is that a SEE gets processed just like pain.   The brain sees emotions like humiliation as social threats, and this triggers the fight or flight.  The unconscious’  job is to avoid pain.

You see from this example why helping your employees to create Limiting Decisions can backfire.  Clearly, Alpha Dog’s intent was for Ponca to quit beating up the other team member, not to stop using the water bowl.

Is Humiliation a Leadership Tool?

In 99% of situations, no.  There may be an exception for the military… maybe… but it Corporate America and your Small Business, as a leader it makes you look like a bully who doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to lead the situation differently.  And you risk earning the contempt of your staff.

What do you think?

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann

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