Do Leaders “Pick on the People They Really Like”?

When I was in 6th grade, my music teacher, Mr. Jones, played us some “Switched-On Bach” – Bach performed on synthesizer.

That was pretty cool back in 1980. If you’re over 40, I bet you know what I’m talking about. It actually got me really interested in “real” Bach music; I’m a fan to this day.

Mr. Jones was a real advocate, and fed me more to listen to, and encouraged my unusual (for a 6th-grade boy) passion for Baroque music.

Until one day…

The big payoff at the end of the year (if we were good) was the “Rock and Roll Filmstrip Series.”

(Again, you gotta be over 40 to dig all these references. Sorry.)

When Mr. Jones announced this was coming, he said offhand,

“Then there’s Alan. All he wants to listen to is Bach!”

My classmates laughed, of course. Mr. Jones smiled at me, as if to say, “Just kidding. I know you can handle it. I only ‘pick on the people I really like.'”

I was embarrassed, sure, but more so, I felt betrayed.

Who was this guy? The one who encouraged my Bach passion, or the one who made fun of it? Jerk.

Fast forward to recent history, where I am the jerk.

After a witty exchange with an acquaintance, in which I was extremely funny (really, quite hilarious, I assure you), my wife said to me:

“You know, when you’re sarcastic, it keeps people guessing. Even people who know you well. Do you really want that?”

No. Who is this guy? The one who encourages genuine connection and positive relationships (for a living!), or the one who uses them for cheap laughs? Jerk.

Effective leadership requires positive relationships, which require genuine connection.

And that just isn’t possible with sarcasm, or “only picking on the people you like.”

There is no place for sarcasm in effective leadership. Humor, yes! Sarcasm – picking on people – no.

Sorry. While it may be hilarious, it keeps people guessing, and wary.

And you don’t want that.

3 Responses

  1. Melissa Miller
    | Reply

    How true is this? It is so easy as a leader to use your “friends” to make a joke- but let’s face it, no one likes teasing, ESPECIALLY in groups where they want to earn the respect of others. I cringe when I think of leaders I know who do this repeatedly, even after I gently remind them that it makes people (including ME) uncomfortable. *sigh* There are so many clean bits of humor you can use that don’t include sarcasm!

  2. Sally Wilke
    | Reply

    When I was doing training on a regular basis, the witty retort not only hurt the participants, but it also made me lose track of what I was doing. This is a wonderfully reflective post. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Alan Feirer
    | Reply

    Yes, it can derail in several ways. And you “lose the room.”

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