I’d been thinking about this for a good long while. Many private conversations have been had in recent years about it, too.
Language and demeanor.
Retired NFL head coach and current NBC Sports football commentator Tony Dungy was on a local sports talk radio station here in Dallas this past Friday. I’ve read quite a bit about him and I’ve even perused his book, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life. He’s written quite a few books, including most recently, some books with his wife, Lauren.
In this radio interview, Dungy was asked about the HBO’s series, Hard Knocks, which always features coaches hollering, screaming and cussing. I was rather pleased to hear him respond as I suspected he would. He pointed out how that TV show is about entertainment so they purposefully chase high drama. Tony said he didn’t think it was shocking that the teams featured on Hard Knocks aren’t often playoff teams or serious contenders. He’s worried that future coaches, especially at the high school level, will take their cues from watching shows like Hard Knocks, and think that’s how successful coaches behave. He was quick to point out that success can be achieved without all that nonsense.
On his first day with a team, Tony Dungy said he’d ask the players to raise their hand if they needed him to yell, scream, get foot-stomping mad or cuss in order to have them do what he asked. No hands go up. Admittedly, a few players (but not many) took a few days to get adjusted to it – because they’d experienced so much anger, yelling and cussing in their playing careers. Dungy would speak with them calmly and deliberately with clear feedback and instruction. Of course, that doesn’t make for very entertaining TV.
And it’s too bad.
The short answer to our question today – Do you have to be angry, yell and cuss to get improved performance? – is, “No! You don’t.” But let’s give it a bit more consideration.
It plays well on the Internet, YouTube and wherever else content is consumed. People pay attention to that kind of behavior. It garners far more attention than calm, deliberate, considerate behavior — which seems boring, mundane and low energy. Just like the humble, intentional listener most often gives way to the larger-than-life-hey-look-at-me personality. Some people are driven to draw attention to themselves at every turn. They exhaust me. I wonder if they exhaust others because their behavior sure seems to pay off with people giving them attention.
Today’s topic transcends leadership, business ownership or entrepreneurship. But in that context, I suspect Tony Dungy is right. I suspect too many people are taking their cues from what they see and hear online. They think if they don’t drop F-bombs and use crude language, then their point of view lacks validity. And if the delivery isn’t animated with an over-the-top delivery, nobody will listen.
Permit me to focus on that last phrase of our question though, “…to get improved performance.” And let’s broaden that a bit to mean influence. Have an impact. Serve. Help.
Tony Dungy’s question is a great one.
“Who needs me to get angry, yell and cuss in order to help you improve?”
Would you raise your hand if somebody asked you that? I sure wouldn’t.
I can’t speak for Tony, but I can speak for myself. I’ve been angry before and shown it. I’ve yelled some, too. I’m not a foul-mouth though so that last one has never been much of a temptation. I just don’t use that kind of language. Mostly, my demeanor though is laid-back. If you listen to a single podcast you can easily conclude what kind of a guy I am. I don’t give any effort to trying to be somebody I’m not. And I don’t play ball with people who would prefer me to be somebody different.
Does that kind of behavior work? Depends on the kind of work you’re doing. If you’re trying to gain attention and followers, yes. It clearly works. Scroll through YouTube or iTunes and you’ll see it pretty clearly. And I know I risk coming across as an old fogey. That’s okay. Right is right and I subscribed to these notions when I was a teenager. So think what you will.
When you start working retail at 16 and you’re meeting the public daily, you learn how to speak and behave (if you didn’t know how already). If you walked into a store and the person helping you dropped an F-bomb I suspect you’d be surprised. But you can watch some guru on YouTube lay down four F-bombs a minute and be enthralled.
I’m not naive. I knew retail people who had terrible language away from work. Like a radio or TV personality who habitually watches their words while on the air, but off the air they can cuss like a sailor (apologies to any non-cussing sailors)…some people watch themselves when they must. Maybe most people do that, I don’t really know. But I do know people are being much looser with their profanity in all circles than ever before. There’s no regard for the ladies in the room anymore. Or anybody else. We’re in a let-it-fly zone all the time these days.
What does it do for us?
I don’t have a good answer. The people who I need to be surrounded by in order to grow great don’t serve me best by being angry with me…angry enough to be provoked to yell and cuss at me. Maybe I’m not typical, but I suspect we know I am (at least in this regard).
Immune. Hardened. Desensitized.
Those worry me. I worry that the people we’re leading, and attempting to lead, will achieve all of those things if the trend continues. If shouting is the route to attention, what happens when the whole world is shouting? How is my shouting going to appear more valuable than anybody else’s?
I’ve sat down with many people over the course of my life and career. People who often disappointed me with poor behavior or poor performance. In hindsight, most often I’m told how difficult it was to sit before me and endure a calm, deliberate conversation about it. “Worse than a beating,” is how quite a few folks described it. “But much longer lasting,” would be quickly added. I wanted to have an impact. The goal was to teach and make it memorable.
Getting angry. Yelling. Cussing. Those aren’t memorable anymore. Entertaining perhaps, but not memorable. Late night TV is filled with them. Reality TV shows are, too. We’re surrounded by angry, hollering and cussing characters.
I don’t get it.
As I lay dying I’m fairly sure I’m not going to remember anybody who treated me that way. Or anybody I saw treat others that way. I’m pretty certain, and hopeful, that I’m going to remember the people who cared enough to help me become better by making sure I heard and properly understood them. Mostly, that I understood how much they cared about me.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!