Last Sunday night I watched with great interest as the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with great emotional intensity, yelled at his teammates on the sidelines. Loudly and forcefully.
To say he was riled up was putting it quite mildly. His passion was way, way out there.
And what happened after the rant? A great victory for the Patriots over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a magnificent performance by Brady.
Seeing these kind of things always brings to mind my own experiences with bosses who have used these kind of “rants” as part of their motivational repertoire.
They can be effective, as was demonstrated by Brady. He fired up his team, and himself, to top performance.
But it also can be totally destructive and demoralizing – 20 years ago, I was on the receiving end of a series of yelling sessions that put me into a real funk for almost 3 years.
There’s clearly a fine line at work here – but after my own experience as a leader, and my own use of what I would call “emotional intensity“, I would suggest that we look past the volume and intensity, and dig a little deeper, to answer the question:
To Yell or Not To Yell?
The first thing we have to remember is this: like any other messaging delivery system, what we really need to look at is the content of that message.
A rule of thumb here: if the message is inappropriate, belittling, confusing, or outright silly at a whisper, increasing the volume doesn’t make it any less so.
Then there is the timing of that message. I don’t think Brady’s rant would have been as effective if he said it at the pre-game meal the night before , or even at the start of the game. He picked a time when everyone was already in a heightened state of awareness.
Frequency also needs to be considered. If you are prone to yell at the slightest provocation, or need to jack up the volume every time you feel you need to provide inspiration, it will get old really fast, and people will tune you out.
Another consideration is the person behind the yell – how “outside the box” is this outburst? I classify rants in several ways – there are the natural “in the moment” sounding ones, very contrived and fake ones, and then there are the “fight or flight” fear generated ones. Humans are very perceptive creatures, and they can pick up on these nuances very quickly.
Lastly, you have to “put your money where your mouth is” - that is, if you’re going to yell at people to get them to perform at a higher intensity and focus, then you better do the same yourself. Tom Brady was a fantastic example of this. He forcefully asked for more, and then HE gave more. He led by example.
No doubt, yelling is a leadership tool. But use it wisely, and use these helpers to decide - for while the upside can be great, the downside can be catastrophic.