Carrot Power! (Or, Do you really need to twist and shout?)

24 Jan

Carrot and Stick :)

For someone who didn’t lift a finger till a month ago at anything that even closely resembled physical exercise (actually, thats not really true – coz the only parts of my body i did move were my fingers as they tapped away at the comp/ iphone day in and day out), it’s surprising how much inspiration my daily aerobics class is providing me!

Every morning, from 8 – 9, picture me – wayyy shorter than normal, wayyy more obese than normal, – in company with folks who remind me of Erma Bombeck’s (yes, you have to excuse me, I’m re-reading her nowadays) famous one – “I exercise with women so thin that buzzards follow them to their cars”. But, as I huff and puff my way on the steppers and floor exercises, what keeps me going is the few words from Niru the instructor – all she has to say is – “Good job, Sangita!” – and I’m ready to pump a few more weights! This, despite the fact that I KNOW I’m not doing even a passable job – forget “good”. But i guess, as all leaders/ coaches/ mentors know, positive strokes don’t hurt you, infact they only inspire your teams to work harder.

It reminded me of an appraisal I had done for a mid level manager a few months ago – He was someone new we had hired via an internal company transfer from our larger (by far!) parent company. His biggest worry about his career was that all along, he had been given feedback from his previous managers that he “lacked aggression”. He thought this could potentially be career limiting. Now, this was a bit of a surprise to me – as – according to me, he had displayed a fair amount of aggression in terms of getting business, leading his ops team, flagging issues and coming up with suggestions to senior management. But then i got it – what this boy was, was mild mannered – he didn’t scream and shout at his team. Unfortunately, he came from a culture where success equated with features of “sternness of big leader” – i.e., if your team wasn’t shaking every time you uttered something, you weren’t a “good”/ “aggressive” leader!

This is classical Mecgregor’s Theory X vs. Theory Y isn’t it? And modern management principles teach you that Y is better than X (infact, Theory Z – which is a kind of derivative of Y and says that what drives most employees is self motivation (as assumed in Y) but with active and empathetic company support) is what most pundits propound. Unfortunately, it looks like most managers do believe in the fear psychosis to get work done.

Now i have a theory on this – I think Theory X as a CULTURE has been propounded and lauded of late in companies that have grown really big really fast. Think large BPOs/ IT companies – we know that the outsourcing industry, while it propelled India into the next wave of growth, gave rise to large corporations with a very YOUNG workforce. Because of the exponential rates of growth witnessed, young employees had to become managers very fast – and didnt get the chance to garner appropriate ORGANIC experience and maturity – most of which, by the way, comes from handling many and many more people situations. But the growth of the industry mandated that they had to deal with responsibilities way earlier than they were ready for it. Ofcourse organisations invested in training of all kinds – soft skills, managerial acumen, project management, people management – etc; but the fact remains that there were 22 year old Team leads needing to manage 25 year old associates. They obviously didnt have that much extra experience, so the only way they had to assert superiority was – fear! (translated to screaming and shouting!). As the orgs got bigger and bigger this culture got so ingrained that everyone thought it’s THE way to get work done – instill fear, use sheer “muscle power” – become “Laxman” instead of “Ram” in Hindu mythology…(btw, I think Ram was a bit of a wimp myself and Laxman was way more interesting, but…). To be fair to them, that was also probably the only way you could afford to deal with LARGE groups of people – so large, that they are not people anymore, just statistics and metrics (He is an E performer, while she is only A!!!)

You know what this results in — people in large organisations start managing not so much by a sense of “what is right”/ “what needs to be done”, but by their sense of “what will the boss like”, or, taken to an extreme – “what will make my boss not yell at me!” I was myself in a bizzare situation as a result of this – we were, in a group, deciding pricing for a big (I’m talking 5 million USD) bid, and ofcourse it was controversial. We had to get clearances from the boss – guess what the finance guy told me – “why dont you talk to the boss about this, he’s less likely to yell at you!” (I think that day cemented my decision to not work in a large company πŸ™‚

So, am I saying that everyone should always be honey and sugar, sweetness and light? That’s a foolish deduction, and you know it πŸ™‚ Also, if I’m naturally autocratic, should I become “anti-me”, thus rendering a Jekyll and Hyde type personality and confusing everyone, including me? Certainly not! The answer, which boringly is really really obvious, and everyone knows, continues to be – one has to be situational – stick with what is commonly “you” – be “true” to yourself largely (and if u do it well enough, you WILL lead successfully in general); but temper your “Y” style leadership with some sticks (note the picture above has “angry birds” on the stick! appropriate, I thought πŸ™‚ ), and your “X” style leadership with some empathy…This, remember, is not really a treatise on personal leadership styles – we know successful people of all kinds – but a diatribe against people who think its the “right”/ “done” thing to do to always yell and shout, irrespective of what state of Maslow’s hierarchy the employee in front is/ what the situation demands..

By the way, (and don’t even get me started on this – this post is too long as it is), the situation becomes many times more complicated when it is women managers. Remember Sheryl Sandberg’s (I love her, btw!) famous TED speech on “successful women are NOT liked”? I think that needs to be the topic of another post.

While you think about the above, decide whether you want to “smile and shake” or “twist and shout”, I’ll go do a few more bench presses with Niru telling me – “way to go Sangita”!! Happy hunting!

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14 Responses to “Carrot Power! (Or, Do you really need to twist and shout?)”

  1. Shoma January 24, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    I love this one too! Nowadays my daily routine includes reading your really well-written blog posts which are peppered with real life examples/corollaries, management theories/fundas, practical experience/anecdotes, and so much more :). Keep ’em coming!

    • joshsang January 24, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      u are my biggest supporter πŸ™‚ (Feeling’s mutual of course – an 8 1/2 yr old habits difficult to break! πŸ™‚ )

  2. Anindita Das January 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    I love reading your posts! Did anyone tell you that you are really good? Keep writing….

    • joshsang January 26, 2013 at 6:31 am #

      Tx – not true but friends’ support always helps πŸ™‚

  3. wendynewell January 29, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    Love this post Sangita.

    • joshsang January 29, 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Ta – I kinda like it too, only I think it ended up being too one sided..

  4. wendynewell January 29, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    Love this post.

  5. Nandini Pande November 20, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Hi Sangita,

    I chanced upon your blog via Facebook and it seems almost serendipitous! I really enjoyed reading your post about organization cultures and your thoughts on the Google advert. Reading your blogs is a lot like listening to you speak in public, which btw is also very enjoyable!

    I shall visit this site again soon to check out what’s new …. πŸ™‚

    • joshsang November 20, 2013 at 10:07 am #

      πŸ™‚ Tx. The habit of “giving gyan” became so deeply ingrained that I found cyberspace a good substitute for the EmPower folks πŸ™‚

  6. Guhamba November 21, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Nice one, ma’am. Quite enlightening… Enjoyed reading this.

    • joshsang November 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      glad u enjoyed it πŸ™‚

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