Two Super Bowl Coaches Offer Lessons for Screaming Managers

By Carol Hymowitz The Wall Street Journal Online

The Super Bowl should be required viewing for managers who think screaming at employees is the best way to motivate them -- or simply their prerogative as bosses.

They won't see that kind of behavior Sunday, as the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears for football's highest trophy. The Colts' head coach, Tony Dungy, and the Bears' Lovie Smith don't curse or sarcastically chew out players, which makes them stand out in the National Football League's scream-and-holler culture.

The two men -- the first African-Americans to lead Super Bowl teams -- became close friends when Mr. Dungy, formerly head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hired Mr. Smith as an assistant. Both believe they can get their teams to compete more fiercely and score more touchdowns by giving directives calmly and treating players with respect. This doesn't mean they aren't demanding or don't push hard. Mr. Dungy has a grading system that counts players' "loafs." If someone isn't running at full speed, or eases up or fails to hit an opponent when he could have, those are loafs, and it's hard to get through a game without getting at least one.

When Mr. Smith, who uses the same system, became the Bears' head coach three years ago, he told players to lift more weights and eat better because he wanted a slimmer, faster team. When he gets mad, he stares straight ahead in silence. His players call it "the Lovie Look" and say it's more frightening -- and more of a warning to play better -- than a torrent of angry words. CEO screaming is certainly less in vogue than it was a decade ago, judging from the leadership changes at some of the nation's largest companies. Home Depot's new CEO, Frank Blake, is far milder-mannered than former CEO Bob Nardelli, who was ousted earlier this month. Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger is contained and evenhanded, unlike his predecessor, the mercurial and explosive Michael Eisner. But there are still numerous business executives who ridicule and scream at employees. As a result, they undermine productivity, discourage innovation and may cause a talent drain at their companies, says James Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization.

"There's a big difference between saying 'you made a stupid mistake' and screaming 'you're really stupid,' " agrees Gary Hayes, a psychologist and co-founder of New York consultant Hayes Brunswick. He worked with a New York law firm where a senior partner flung heavy law books across the room at an associate. "The associate told me it was all right since the partner intentionally threw to miss -- not hit him," says Mr. Hayes. "But the associate soon moved to another firm." The vice president of marketing at a Silicon Valley company attributes rapid turnover at many West Coast technology companies to what he calls "screaming-bully bosses."

One such boss, a body builder who liked to show off his strength to managers by doing 25 pushups at the start of meetings, called him at all hours to scream about things that had gone wrong. A second bully boss, the CEO of a semiconductor-network start-up, ridiculed him and his colleagues publicly. "He'd pick up something I'd written and say, 'Who wrote this? A second grader? It's the stupidest thing I've ever read,' " the marketing vice president says. On a trip to Japan, the CEO exploded after the marketing vice president spent two hours on a Sunday looking for a gift for his wife. Back at headquarters, he was told he'd report to a lower-level executive. "It was my boss's way of punishing me," says the marketing vice president, who quit. Also quitting, in quick succession, were the vice president of engineering and the vice president of human resources, who were also tired of their boss's harangues.

Margie Lubet, a Pittsburgh communications and marketing manager, distinguishes between "bosses with a passionate point of view and belittlers who often want an audience when screaming at you." Belittlers cause emotional distress because they undermine your confidence, she says. One of her first bosses was like this. She says she learned to let him vent while asking herself, "What's really bothering him?" For some managers and athletic coaches, screaming is a way to show they are in charge -- and behavior that may be expected by their bosses.

The Colts' Mr. Dungy says he didn't get some jobs earlier in his career because he was considered too laid-back and polite and didn't believe being a great coach required him to sacrifice his family or faith. On one interview, when an owner asked if he would make the team the most important thing in his life, he said no.

"I figured I probably wouldn't get that job, and I didn't," he said at a press conference last week. "I think your faith is more important than your job, family is more important than your job. We all know that's the way it should be, but we're kind of afraid to say that sometimes." Lovie Smith and he "aren't afraid to say it," and both run their teams in the same way, Mr. Dungy said. The Colts and Bears play "tough, disciplined football even though there's not a lot of profanity from the coaches, there's none of the win-at-all-costs atmosphere. I think for two guys to show you can win that way is important for the country to see."