Destructive Discipline

How those at the top conduct themselves with the less politically powerful, is a subject I obsess over. Bad leadership often corrupts a group, along with its ability to accomplish goals and operate as a team. I write often about figureheads who infiltrate a cooperative team and then unwittingly disassemble that team's effectiveness through sheer autocratic ego.

Leaders have a responsibility to carry out their duties with integrity. They have a responsibility to wield their power constructively. The problem is, absolute power has this funny way of ... you know the rest.

I am obsessed with bad leadership because I see it around me and I see how tough it can be to fix it.

It happens in politics and gridlocks cooperation.
It happens in business, from mammoth Corporations to small boutiques.
It happens in clubs and cooperatives, volunteer agencies and communities - basically, anywhere people are expected to work together for a common goal.

Even in collectives without dictated leadership, there are still de facto leaders who, often by the sheer force of their personalities, become figureheads who are leaned on a bit harder for input and advice. My point being, there are leaders in any group, even socialist collectives, and the way those leaders operate determines the effectiveness and impact of the civilizations they inhabit. I know this may sound like overblown, hyperbolic nonsense to some, but I disagree. It's a vital topic.

Dysfunctional power relationships result in one or both parties feel disenfranchised, misrepresented, and unappreciated. Since a manager, or leader, represents the interests of those they're in charge of, it is their responsibility to discipline constructively. That is not happening if a subordinate feels like no one's in their corner, and that the slightest mistake, even if not entirely their fault, is theirs alone to bear the blame for.

Often, dysfunctional managers set people up for failure to protect themselves, then knock them down, and lack the self awareness to know they're even doing it. Discipline should have the effect of motivating people, not alienating them.

Leaders like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and others made headlines for the way their antagonistic leadership styles motivated their employees to success. I am not harping on that, or justifying it. This behavior, when tempered, finds the most success in large companies where any single deviation from the company's vision can result in branding disaster.

Unfortunately, some assholes are merely useless assholes. They don't compel people to improve or do better, because the improvement needed is often theirs, and they won't admit it. Being a jerk for its own sake doesn't help a group succeed. Like the small number of failed leaders I've had the displeasure to observe or work under, they have a vague but powerful dislike of 'insubordination' and stamp it out wherever they can, but they expect loyalty from others without the responsibility of fostering relations with them that are built on professional respect or essential communication.

When it comes to relationships, either professional or personal, I am solution-oriented. Even if you are right, I am concerned with you being right (or wrong) in a responsible, constructive way, not in a way that take's someone's mistake (yours or someone else's) and blows it out of proportion, making it the focal point rather than the starting point.

I discipline by building up with positive affirmation. If its clear that someone is willfully, habitually and repeatedly not performing fundamental tasks, despite a demonstrable grasp of what's expected of them, it is appropriate to confront them and ask what's going wrong and what can be done to fix it. In fact, I am not afraid of raising an issue if something is going wrong.

However (and any politician, ad agency or lawyer will tell you this) - it's all about the delivery: how you say something, the way you carry yourself, the meaning of your words, and the overall demeanor you impress upon those who answer to you. Personality matters. Some don't think it does, but they're simply wrong. It matters.

No matter the situation, or the obstacle, or the complexity of a company's problems, there is never an excuse for a leader to engage in destructive - as opposed to constructive - discipline. Destructive discipline is nothing more than ego masturbation, bordering on abuse and harassment, and wherever it emerges, those of us with more at stake, and less political power, have a moral and ethical obligation to call it out, then stamp it out.


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