Blog 9B. “The Beatings Will Continue until Morale Improves”


[This continues the discussion from Blog 9A.]

In What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith considers flaws in behavior that damage relations within a company. These include needing to win too much, needing to add too much value, needing to show how smart one is, making excuses, clinging to the past to deflect blame, refusing to express regret, and demanding to be “me”.

They include executives or mangers beginning sentences with “no,” “but,” or “however”; explaining why whatever won’t work, withholding key information, and “speak[ing] when angry: using emotional volatility as a management tool.” Destructive comments, sarcasm, cutting remarks, and falsely claiming undeserved credit are also damaging. So are passing negative judgments, not giving proper recognition, making excuses, refusing to express regret, failing to express gratitude, passing the buck, playing favorites and punishing the messenger.

Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” concerns management consulting, “organization development.” Lencioni’s a pyramid of dysfunctions is based on Absence of Trust: needing to feel invulnerable. The members of the team are suspicious of or afraid of each other.

Fear of Conflict is fear of open, free-flowing discussion. The lack of mutual trust produces a meaningless, superficial, harmony.

The members Lack Commitment. They’re ambiguous about it, afraid to decide. They try to please everyone — which never works!

Avoidance of Accountability: being afraid to point out errors. They’d rather let things slide and lower their standards.

Inattention to Results is upholding personal ego rather than the worth of the team. They don’t pay attention to their results. They can’t, because they are in “fight-or-flight” mode.

Fight-or-flight mode? This brings us to a neurologist’s perspective of leadership. Largely the remarks below are based on my own knowledge of the brain. I practiced neurology and studied brain diseases for 40 years to learn what diseases could me tell about the normal brain. In part, the remarks are based on Rock’s work on “SCARF” traits. I’ll begin there.

Rock described traits for creativity and people doing their best [The Neuroleadership Journal 1 (2008)], a sense of having the “SCARF” traits

  • Status,
  • Certainty,
  • Autonomy,
  • Relatedness,
  • Fairness

The traits foster increase comfort, creativity, and intuition to improve productivity.

If a manager counters one trait, just one, it shuts down effectiveness and productivity of subordinates in a fraction of a second. Correcting this takes hard work over weeks!

“Status” is social or intellectual status; a sense of honor and worth in a company.

“Certainty” means always knowing how actions will influence outcomes or avoid errors. Certainty is a subconscious state of the brain when planning or carrying out complex tasks.

“Autonomy”: freely choosing between possibilities. The person or group know they  control what they’re doing.

“Relatedness” means feeling part of a friendly group.

“Fairness” means feeling that superiors treat you like all others: no favoritism, no insiders, no prejudices.

We all like working under the SCARF traits. We all know when they’re gone. At least we do as subordinates. Our executives or managers, good or bad, usually don’t feel them.


The discussion will continue in the next Blog, “Blog 9C”

Illustrations in my blogs are either my own drawings or courtesy of 

Contact me at 650-762-6755 or for more information or to start a conversation.

Pieter Kark, MD, San Mateo, CA 94401-2238




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