Call me “Sir”

To my father, children were polite, quiet, hardworking diligent adults in young people’s clothing.  As a 55 pound eight year old caught between extraordinary fear and respect, I had few choices.

I searched carefully for any signal that I was straying off course. I watched his eyes, the veins in this neck, the tone and depth of his voice, how quickly he turned toward me. If any of these forewarned a problem, I tried to correct it immediately.

Sometimes he got me before I could atone for the indiscretion. When, in a deep, annoyed voice he said, “Come here, big boy,” I knew I was about to get a licking – usually for some minor impropriety. Today, they would call it child abuse; then, they called them spankings. And those who heard me scream probably figured I deserved it.

Whatever you called what he did, I remember this; a small boy running, on command, to receive 10 or so wallops – and peeing in my pants before he ever hit me.  The fear and humiliation was enough incentive to behave. Do as you’re told, never complain, and, above all, be polite above the age of two.

That formula I developed to survive certainly doesn’t cultivate creativity and risk taking; it doesn’t encourage one to spread his wings and learn to fly.  But it keeps you safe.

Sadly, it sounds like many businesses I consult, where the employees drive the boss nuts because they don’t behave the way he wants them to.  With his punitive / judgmental response, he can’t understand why they’re so unwilling to try new ideas, why they’re always covering their proverbial asses, why they’re so uncreative and, finally, why they show little initiative – preferring, instead, to wait to be told what to do and how to do it. Fear is the basis of dependency and an effective extinguisher of creativity.

As I did, they stay out of sight as much as possible.  They’re invariably polite and avoid delivering bad news.  Their response to fear, intimidation and judgment is to go underground, complain and bitch, moan to each other, laugh at “Dad’s” frailties behind his back and, above all, hide the truth and protect each other. 

Not a great recipe for innovation, motivation or productivity.

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