Leaders must never forget how much influence they have on workplace relationships, attitude and productivity. According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book Power of Full Engagement, “Leaders have a disproportionate impact on the productivity of others.” What I find so interesting is how often it is either the leader or the highest performer who offers the most disruptive behaviors, which I refer to as “the persecutor” on the drama triangle.
Once upon a time in my working life I had a boss who had a bad attitude that rippled into the workplace relationships. When anyone called in sick, he would hang up the phone before the conversation ended. To the employees it seemed that this disruptive behavior was his way of punishing anyone who had a notion of missing a day of work.
This boss also used other intimidation tactics to control his workforce. When someone approached him with a complaint, he made no bones about expressing his irritation: In a raised voice he would say, “That’s just the way it is.” In most cases his tactics worked. His employees learned not to express grievances because it was a no-win situation.
However, when an employee refused to accept the status quo, the boss would say, “I didn’t ask you to work here.” If the employee continued complaining, the bosses’ final statement was “If you don’t like it, find yourself another place to work,” end of subject.
These persecuting behaviors definitely stopped the complaining but it did little for improving workplace relationships or increasing productivity. For example, the boss never connected the dots that the reason the line went down for two hours was sometimes because of a complaint that went unanswered or an employee with a bad attitude wanted revenge. Yes, there is always a ripple effect to disruptive behavior no matter where it emerges.
I remember one time getting the courage to confront my bosses’ attitude. I explained to him that when he hangs up on others it is intimidating. His response was to tell me that I was the only one who felt this way since I was the only one to bring it up. His second response was to tell me that he never raised his voice it was only my perception. (Had he never heard of the theory that my perception is my reality?) He then justified his behavior by paraphrasing Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel anything without your approval.”
Looking back on this situation I realize that there are two philosophies when it comes to responsibility and workplace relationships: The idealistic philosophy and the realistic philosophy. The idealistic approach is that each person is responsible to choose his attitude no matter how someone else treats you. The idealistic approach goes along with Eleanor Roosevelt’s saying” No one can make you feel anything without your approval.”
The realistic approach is more of a William Penn statement: “No man is fit to command another who cannot command himself.” The realistic philosophy embraces the philosophy of personal choice but acknowledges the truth that we are often influenced by each other. Although we are each responsible for our own experience and our own attitude, a good leader makes it easier to choose a good attitude.
Workplace relationships are more often positive when the boss has a great attitude and leads by example.