Scaling Up: Five Dangerous Feelings

29 August 2017 | Sutton & Rao suggest there are five feelings that, when pervasive, signal that bad behavior already exists— or soon will. These feelings are symptoms of the sorts of bad behaviors that infect a team or organization. Each provides clues about the root causes of such destructive deeds and guidance about which cures will clear the way for scaling up excellence.

1. The first dangerous feeling is fear of taking responsibility, especially the sense that it is safer to do nothing, or something bad, than the right thing. Silence is one of the most reliable signs that people are afraid to take personal responsibility and that the learning and self-criticism that fuel excellence aren’t happening. When people worked in trusting and caring settings, and focused on finding and fixing mistakes, they would make fewer errors.

2. The second bad feeling is the fear of being ostracized, or socially excluded. This particular brand of fear fuels bullying in many schoolyards and prevented those sawmill workers who were morally opposed to stealing, and never did it themselves, from expressing disapproval to their thieving coworkers. In general, embarrassment and exclusion are best applied in small doses and with proper precautions.

3. The third dangerous feeling is anonymity. That feeling that no one is watching you very closely, so you can do whatever you want— be selfish, dishonest, unpleasant, free-riding, or a bit careless about your work. Subtle cues that create feelings of anonymity can provoke bad behavior. Recent evidence shows that darkness instills “a psychological feeling of illusory anonymity, just as children playing ‘ hide and seek’ will close their eyes and believe that others cannot see them.” Apparently, darkness and dim lighting trigger “the belief that we are warded from others’ attention and inspections.”

There is another way that the feeling of anonymity can be dangerous: accountability is difficult to sustain when employees perceive the people they serve as nameless and faceless, as mere objects or numbers to be processed , rather than as living breathing human beings who deserve their full attention and talents. Making such humanity more vivid to employees increases accountability.

4. The fourth warning sign is feelings of injustice. Numerous studies show that when people feel as if they are getting a raw deal from their boss or employer they give less in return; bad behavior runs rampant; and effort, efficiency, quality, civility, and other excellence metrics plummet.

5. The fifth dangerous feeling is helplessness. When people believe that they are powerless to stop bad forces and events, they shirk responsibility, fail to act, lay low, and hide.

One comment

  1. […] Warning Signs: Five Dangerous Feelings There are five feelings that, when pervasive, signal that bad behavior already exists— or soon will. These feelings are symptoms of the sorts of bad behaviors that infect a team or organization. Each provides clues about the root causes of such destructive deeds and guidance about which cures will clear the way for scaling up excellence. […]

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