Is It Ever Justified To Yell?

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The recent headlines of Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo screaming at one of his players on the basketball court has capped off a week of interesting views and content about how leaders should conduct themselves when addressing poor performance.

J.T. O’Donnell of Work It Daily this week posted a video asking what one would do if their boss screamed at a coworker then subsequently asked them for their input on what they thought of the situation. She posed some answers to the dilemma of how to respond to such actions.

I’d like to address today if leaders are ever justified in committing such actions.

As a veteran of the restaurant industry, the picture of Gordon Ramsey yelling at a cook and smashing plates on an episode of Hell’s Kitchen seems like fiction or at least showmanship. Unfortunately much of that is very real and commonplace in the food industry. J.T. O’Donnell’s contribution shows us that most every industry has bosses that scream at their people. And as we saw with coach Tom Izzo this week, it’s common in the sports world. 

So the question is – Is it ever justified to yell at an employee?

I would in general say with a broad brush – No. But let’s look at where it MIGHT be justified and place it into context.

You’re a parent and your toddler is ready to touch a surge protector or other outlet. You’re not able to race over there so in order for them to not shock themselves, you yell “No!” across the room to get them to stop the behavior. Is this justified? Is it mean or bullying?

Think of boot camp in the military. The picture of the drill sergeant getting in a young recruits face and dressing them down just millimeters from their face.

Is this justified behavior? Some say yes, because this style of training is proven and is necessary to get recruits battle-ready and mentally stronger. In the heat of a battle, collaboration and asking nicely may have to take a back seat to a yelling command to “Do” when lives and mission are on the line.

Which brings me back to Coach Izzo. While sports is not the same in context as the military or parenting, it’s still an intense situation, given the main goal is to win and a limited period of time to do so. Most of his players backed him up in saying it’s the nature of the game. But does that justify him going onto the court and losing it all over the player who was not giving his best effort? Could he have done so in a better way?

Sportscasters and former professional athletes in the days afterwards justified his behavior as well. The basic premise was that a pro athlete needs to be sharp and on their game at all times.  But does that excuse yelling as the order of the day in sports or any profession?

I played baseball up until college. My best coach was one who demanded perfection and flawless execution of the fundamentals. When he would raise his voice it was always to get a message across or be heard, but it was never an angry, profanity laced yelling. “Get that glove down!!” across the field as a ground ball eluded us was always understood as a quick correction to be ready for that next pitch. Coach Mike was even keeled in his coaching style and knew how to be quietly intense yet always encouraging us to give our best effort all the time. I played my heart out for him and was MVP runner up that year, having never been a great ball player leading up to that time. If he was the angry yelling type I probably would have never played up to his expectations, but because of his approach, when he would get on me I would always try harder because I felt I disappointed him in my performance. It was never from fear of ramifications.

Gary Vaynerchuck had a couple of posts in the last week of this subject in general. One was about how a boxing coach should approach boxers not with a one-size-all, do-it-my-way-or-else mindset but by adapting and learning each athlete’s needs and getting the most out of them based on what will motivate them towards greater effort and success.

His second post is the attached graphic below:

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Gary always like to place things in context. His message here is that no matter what profession a boss is, they should have the default of serving their employees to ensure they are given the tools, culture and support needed to perform at their best.  Understanding the needs of the individual should be preeminent over the leader’s agenda or feelings. Meeting those needs in congruence with the mission and culture will always yield better results than the increased, non-sustainable immediate performance gained from being screamed at.

My belief is that we should always be self-aware enough to know how our actions as leaders impact others. We’re human and can lose it when the pressure is mounting. And if that’s the case, we need to make it right if we erred. (I have been guilty of this as well, and here is my lesson learned on this post). Or if yelling was needed to course correct, then take the employee aside immediately after the incident and explain what transpired and ask how you could have gotten the employee to perform better and address how you could have better handled the situation to them.

Leaders too often hide their willingness to change their approach because they want results now (or yesterday). And many times leaders yell because they say they’re passionate about what they do. To use that as a facade for yelling means it’s all about themselves, and not about building up the team and the individuals therein.

One-off yelling happens. Emotions take over at times. It may be justified or not. But if a pattern persists, then there is a real problem with the leader, and perhaps the organizational culture, and things need to change quickly. Prolonged anger and screaming will create a platform for bullying, disengagement and loss of quality talent.

People are emotional beings. Happiness ebbs and flows just as frustration does. Yelling may occur from time to time as humans interact, but this should never be anyone’s modus operandi or default mode. We should consciously avoid any yelling in any working relationship we have.

Always seek to encourage and keep a strong yet professional set of performance standards. Think twice about yelling even if the situation seems to warrant it. Most of the time, it never should occur.

Agree or Disagree? Please comment and would love to hear your thoughts so we can help each other shape better leadership and have a more profound impact on others!

(image: pixabay)

About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on March.24.2019, in Leadership, Leadership Development. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. 1 yell doesn’t fit all

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  2. The analogy to boot camp is somewhat misleading. Everything that goes on there is carefully controlled. When the DI gets in the recruits’ faces, it is planned in advance for the purpose of “breaking them down in order to build them up,” to foster mental toughness, and to show them that they are capable of far more than they ever imagined. Likewise, in sports, when the best coaches seem to lose it, it is often just an act, or a motivational tool. What is bad, in work or anywhere else, is when the boss totally loses self-control and starts abusing subordinates.

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    • Appreciate it Greg! The macro of this post was to ask questions of ourselves in various aspects of life – sports, parenting, military (and helping think of other aspects) – and apply some questions to keep us thinking and guarding our actions towards a positive outcome.

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  3. I thought it was interesting that you posed the question in the context of “is it ever justified to yell at an employee?” and then proceeded to use illustrations related to toddlers, the military and baseball – none are employee situations – the military is closest, but still in a different vein than a more typical employee/employer relationship. I would also argue that a loud dressing down at a baseball game of high school age players is not a good comparison to the noise level during an NCAA indoor basketball game – you have to yell to be heard in that setting. Context is important and words and animation and relationship. I would almost always say yelling at an employee except to avoid a tragic mistake is wrong. The list of acceptable situations for it to happen between coach and player is longer.

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    • Deb, thanks for your input!
      The context of my juxtaposition of the other instances was that there are instances in our lives where we yell and it’s justified, but we say no to yelling at employees. The questions posed are to make us more self aware of how we react and respond in a given situation. If we can ask those of ourselves and learn to lead better and avoid common pitfalls of poor leadership, then we can make a profound impact of change.

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  1. Pingback: Yelling and Results: Changing Behavior – Pivot Point Solutions

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