The fine art of Admonishment

All of us have experienced being screamed at or at least we have screamed at some subordinate or the other. How did you feel when you were at the receiving end? Energised? Motivated? Enthused? Galvanised? Petrified OR did it trigger Sullenness? Petulance? Rebelliousness? Grouchiness? Did the process improve productivity of the individual or of the team? When you completed yelling at some unfortunate soul did you feel energised? Or was it a pyrrhic victory?

I had couple of experiences, which moulded my approach toward the fine art of admonishment.

Incident 1 – In the esteemed companies of my course mate was forced to experience epiphany – while at OTA during my senior term. My course mate and I had cornered a hapless junior termer and were venting our collective spleen on the unfortunate soul. Unbeknownst to us, a senior Officer hearing the verbal fusillade walked up behind us. Seeing him, both of us simultaneously went into a geosynchronous orbit for a nanosecond and by the time we descended we had greeted him by straining our vocal cords to break point. He dismissed the hapless junior and turned towards us both and we immediately understood the meaning of instant karma. The officer asked us, “What are you guys up to?” Obviously, we both were left spluttering, and he repeated the query a couple of more times. I noticed that with each repetition his voice dropped a couple of octaves and with each drop we stiffened imagining all the punishments aka character building exercises coming our way. Luckily, he stopped otherwise we both would have imploded as we had stiffened ourselves to breakpoint. He then smiled to put us at ease and asked, “Did you notice that each time I repeated the question I just kept lowering my voice. With each lowered pitch you guys were getting more terrified. And did you also notice that I did not use any flowery adjectives. So if you want to convey a message, then ditch the high volume, flowery adjectives and most importantly the concealed barbs and deliver the message. Otherwise the recipient would concentrate on the volume of the voice, the adjectives and the barbs.” He dismissed us.We instantaneously evaporated from the scene. It was a Eureka moment for me.

Incident 2 – This time I was in the midst of solving the riddle of parenting, whence I broached the subject of disciplining with my maternal aunt who said that if there was an occasion to deliver corporal punishment, only then purchase a suitable cane from a shop and proceed to deliver the punishment. I pointed out that my anger would have dissipated. She explained that the idea of the punishment is to ensure that the child corrects itself and the process must not be used as a vent for anger and frustration. Another Aha moment for me.

I know many Managers who pound desks and scream expletives and use barbs, insult and belittle their subordinates and they take pride in telling that they are hard taskmasters.

Is that just it? Is it a reflection on their childhood/formative years that they experienced such kind of shellacking leaving them psychologically scarred? Making them associate corrections with such aggressive and invasive methods? Uncomfortable queries.

But if you ask these ‘managers’ if they would like to be on the receiving end of such methods, there would be an emphatic NO. Let’s face it, each of us presumes that oneself are a valued talent and would like to be treated just so. All these displays of contrived aggressions just destroy the individual and thence the team. So a question to the Managers masquerading as Leaders – you want to win the game or to win the championships and have such repeat Championship winning performances? Or would you want to imprison them in golden gilded cage and whip them each day and call their miserable efforts as productiveness? Well you know such people are not leaders, maybe managers but having the DNA of slavers of the bygone era.

What I have learnt/ am learning is- if we treat our teammates as individuals rather than as automatons and give them clear-cut directions then a lot of these heartburns can be avoided. My friend Jolly Lazar always intones that you can tell unpleasant stuff in a pleasant way. But unfortunately perverse is what holds forth with some. I remember the quote of John Dalberg Acton “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, this holds good for the psychologically shallow. Another oft thrown about comment is that the screamer or tormentor is man with a clean heart so he screams and berates but does not carry anything forward. What about the people who are at the receiving end of your frustrations? Are your subordinates a punching bag to vent out your frustrations? Another difference between a leader and a manager is that you maintain relations with the former and cauterise connections with the latter. I have ardently followed that principal.

People conveniently forget that managing people is a fine art, which has to evolve constantly for you to remain relevant. The methods, which worked yesterday, may not necessarily work today. Correcting a person should be done with sensitivity and should be aimed at making the person understand their mistakes and ensure that the person takes corrective actions. I have served with Leaders and I have slaved under managers and my productivity has peaked under the former and dived under the latter. I am thankful to the leaders who developed me and am obliged to the Managers who set forth an example that I have learned to avoid.

So, my oft-repeated query is “Do you want to be a Leader? Or do you want to be a Manager who is forgotten and avoided the minute you change organisations.

Your actions must follow suit accordingly & it will speak louder than the platitudes that you may dole out. Leaders shine incandescently.

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