Beat Down is Not Better Leadership

When was the last time you felt like a leader, manager or some other person beat you down about something you had done or not done, accomplished or not accomplished? My guess is that most of you could quickly think of a time when you were beat down, and for many of you it was probably fairly recently. There are two simple reasons for this approach to leadership. First, many leaders and managers believe that beating someone down is the best way to change their behavior (at least that is what their actions say). Second, many leaders and managers do not think that they are beating down their team members. This is perhaps even more important because if you do not think you are beating someone down, then there is no reason to consider changing your approach.

Here’s an even better question: When was the last time that you verbally beat down a team member, relationship partner, friend or family member? Wow … that truth hurts doesn’t it? As much as we want to believe in our own leadership, we all have those moments when we revert to the easy approach to management – beat them down and perhaps even shame them. Now, before you start feeling your own shame, give yourself a break – we all have old thinking and tools that are part of our leadership equation. But be ready to catch yourself, unless you still believe that the beat down is better leadership. If you really want to know, ask the people around you, and hopefully they will let you know honestly if the beat down has surfaced in your leadership and communication.

The next level is perhaps an even more challenging question and shift. When was the last time that you beat yourself up or down over something? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably clear and recent. Despite all that we know and believe about the damaging impact of the beat down, we love (apparently) to do it to ourselves. I have been asking this question of many leaders over the past few months, and they all admit to regularly beating themselves up (and sometimes to continuing the flogging for days and even weeks). Interesting, isn’t it – even if we do not believe in the beat down as a leadership approach, we seem to embrace it against ourselves. 

Here is the typical answer I hear as to why leaders beat themselves down: “I’m just trying to make sure I learn something from the experience.” My response is always the same: Do you believe that beating yourself up is helping you to learn? You can probably guess the typical answer – No! You see, we know better, but we do not lead better. When I ask most leaders if they would continue to ruminate over past choices with team members (and thus beat them down), nearly everyone says no. Yet, they are quick to do this to themselves.

One question I love to ask leaders about the topic of beat downs and self beat downs is whether they would apply this approach with their children, and to that one everyone immediatelysays no. I am guessing that we all want the best for our children, so if you would not beat them down (or insist that they continue to replay their prior choices), then do not do it with your team members or with yourself. 

One quick note – some leaders tell me that they are not continuing to beat themselves (or others) up, but that they are just replaying the situation and thinking about it in order to learn from it. It is interesting, however, that when I then ask leaders if they think they (or others) really learn more from rehashing the past, they again say no. Yes, it is important to process your prior choices and actions to learn from them, and then move on. Let the learning lessons happen and then move forward, focused on new choices and actions in the future. Yes, learn from the past, but leave the past in the past. Carrying around your past mistakes and choices is not good learning – it’s just a beat down. And remember, the beat down is not better leadership.

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