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Embarrassment and life lessons

Twice a year when I was a child, the Diehl’s Clothing store in Woodsfield had a sale. It was a sale my mother, my brothers, and I never missed.

On the appointed day right after school, Mom made sure we attended this event, which occurred in early spring and late summer. There were sweaters, shirts, and pants cheap enough to meet our clothing needs for the coming school season.

For a long time, Joe and I wore the same sizes, and Jack was much smaller. Therefore, when we selected sweaters and shirts, Mom bought most of the clothes for Joe and Jack. Mom’s assumption was that I could wear the clothes Joe had just grown out of that still looked good. By the time I finished wearing them, they looked pretty worn and Jack was several years away from growing into them. So Jack got new ones, too. This hand-me-down process also worked with bicycles and toys. It really wasn’t a bad process. I had my share of the things that kids had in those days.

Pants were a different story. I was chunky as a preadolescent and the waistline of Joe’s pants were too small for me. I remember during one of our visits to the Diehl’s store when all the other clothes had been purchased, the time came to choose my pants.

Mom called across the store, “Glenn, come over here to the Husky Department and let’s find you some pants.”

I can still feel the flush of embarrassment that flashed across my face. I quickly looked around to see if any of my classmates were there to witness my shame.

Embarrassment is a powerful emotion. There were times like when my Mom called me “husky” in public, that the embarrassment is unintended.

However, I have known leaders whose motivation style largely consisted of embarrassing employees who made a mistake or forgot a task. I strongly suggest that leaders avoid purposefully embarrassing their employees. Looking back on the times during which I was embarrassed at work by a peer of leader, I remember a lingering bad feeling toward the embarrasser. My trust for that individual diminished.

With the techniques of embarrassment, a leader may succeed in reducing a certain behavior or increasing other desired behaviors, but the cost is heavy. Commitment to the organization is one of the most important characteristics of an effective employee.

Instead of relying on cheap embarrassment, spend time talking to the employee about required changes and the importance of completing certain task. This process takes more time, but pays dividends in the form of increased commitment to the organization.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the President of RayCom Learning, which focuses on leadership, team development, and organizational communication processes. To learn more about RayCom Learning, visit the website raycomlearning.com. The above article was excerpted from the book, “You Can’t Push a Pig into a Truck: Everyday Leadership Lessons.” Glenn can be reached at 1-740-629-4536 or at rayray@raycomlearning.com.

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