Expose Yourself to Good News / Consequences of Managers' Negativism Are Predictable and Disastrous

Article excerpt

Almost all reporters and cops are cynics.

It's hardly surprising. Unless they work for USA Today, reporters start out writing obituaries, go on to cover auto crashes or the local crime beat, advance through corruption at city hall and, if they are wildly successful, get to cover major crimes, wars or famines. Cops, by definition, deal almost exclusively with society's misfits, from the excessively greedy (on Wall Street) to mass murderers.

The average boss, junior or senior, has a lot in common with police officers and reporters. The first-line supervisor or senior middle manager devotes almost all of his or her day to problems on the shop floor or in the committee room. His or her daily fare is labor disputes, rifts between functions within the firm, squabbles with suppliers, franchisees and customers, cost overruns and schedule slippages. Ever see a manager poring over a schedule that is being met? I doubt it.

To be sure, all this is what managers get paid for. Nonetheless, the plain fact is that the typical manager, like the aging reporter or police officer, would be hard pressed not to sour as the years roll by.

The consequences of managers' characteristic negativism are predictable - and disastrous. Consider a football team, a Burger-King outlet or a check-processing unit. I repeatedly observe that such organizations perform well if the participants feel good about themselves (competent, autonomous), have a worthwhile goal (a state championship or a quality-improvement award) and are having fun. They are most likely to perform poorly when their self-esteem is low, their autonomy is constrained (they sense the institution's, team's or firm's lack of faith in them) and their goals are petty (stay out of trouble, avoid the boss's scrutiny, don't risk anything).

But, given the previous analysis, just how likely is the average coach/boss to be turned-on and energetic - a consistent source of optimism and builder of esteem? The answer is worrisome.

While, of course, there are good bosses and good coaches, the majority fail to regularly incite their troops to achieve ever higher plateaus of involvement and quality performance. A principal reason is the pessimism and cynicism that comes with the turf. That is, they turn people off, not on.

So bosses naturally gravitate toward controlling, nit-picking, cop-like behavior, as an unintentional by-product of being bombarded daily with negative signals. Suspicion breeds suspicion. Negativism breeds negativism. Overcontrol breeds immature, unmotivated, lethargic employee behavior - and performance deteriorates or is lackluster at best.

A critical implication flows from all of this. Bosses of all stripes desperately need to counter-bombard themselves with good news - exciting acts of service to the customer, innovative employee ideas and acts of spontaneous cooperation between functions. …