COACHING VS. BOSSY-BOSS: Making a Mark that is Hard to Erase

Someone said, “Business is relationships.” So true. It is no secret that communication runs our lives. Effective communication is a tremendous predictor for personal and professional success. Yet, how good are you really at this essential skill….and better yet, how good is your manager at this potential pitfall?

When I was a teenager, I remember a particular track meet where I was one of the fastest members of our school’s relay team. In the middle of the competition, the coach called me aside and said to me, “Bruce, we don’t have anyone to do the pole vault today. I want you to go out there and do it.” I replied, “Coach, I don’t know how to do it…I haven’t even tried.” “Don’t be a whiner, just get out there and do it!”, he said.

What an embarrassing moment! I had no idea what to do, I had not even attempted it before. My competency rating in pole vaulting was zero. You see, my coach attempted to motivate me by using verbal force instead of teaching, guiding, and mentoring me toward success. In short, he was a bossy-boss that day, and not a trainer.


Many studies have shown the powerful and positive impact mentoring and coaching has on employee performance. “Mentors are committed to providing upward mobility and support to the careers of their protégés” (Ragins & Scandura, 1994). Prior research indicates that an affirmative mentoring relationship between supervisor and staff person results in a number of established outcomes, including job satisfaction, career mobility, increased opportunities, career fulfillment, (Dreher & Ash, 1990; Fagenson, 1989; Ragins etal., 2000; Scandura, 1992). Organizations and companies also benefit by way of effective socialization of new comers, enhanced productivity, and reduced turnover.

And isn’t that exactly what productive companies and organizations want from their people?

However, why is it so often that businesses often get the exact opposite from their staff?


Scholars have demonstrated that the trait of verbal aggressiveness by a supervisor/manager has an inverse effect on employee performance, satisfaction, and organizational commitment (again, these are the characteristics that companies want in their people).

Research reinforces the notion that “employees attachment to or repulsion to an organization is influenced by their perceptions of their supervisor’s mentoring and/or verbal aggressiveness.” (Madlock & Kennedy-Lightsey, 2010).

What is of more interest, is the finding that “the psychological impact of negative events tends to be longer lasting and have a greater influence on individuals’ state of mind than do positive events” (Rook, 1998). What this means is that people will remember the negative statements of a manager/supervisor longer than a positive statement.

Therefore, this cognitive and social study underscores the need for consistent and immediate positive feedback and reinforcement from managers/supervisors to their people.

It’s like the old joke where the wife says to the husband, “Honey, you never tell me you love me anymore.” To which he replies, “I told you that on the day I married you, until I say different….it sticks!”

People are not wired that way, are they? My colleagues and I wrote a seminar entitled, MAKING A MARK THAT IS HARD TO ERASE. It is a session on leadership and modeling; in the program we talk about the two levels in which we communicate. We call these the CONTENT LEVEL and the FEELING LEVEL.

The content level is what you say, and the feeling level is how you say it….and the remarkable part of this equation is that people will remember the feeling level much longer than the content level itself. Thus, one of the primary responsibilities of an effective and successful supervisor is to MANAGE THEIR MESSAGE; because everything they say and do is a model and motivator (or, de-motivator) for their workers.

One employee told me the story of a staff meeting where the manager of the field office was trying to induce increased productivity in his team, so with somewhat of a hostile demeanor, he yelled, picked up the phone and threw it across the room while blaring, “I want those numbers to go up now!!”

What do you think the response of that team was after that tirade? Perhaps they drove home that night and said to themselves, “Wow….he really means it this time. I am going to come in tomorrow and work twice as hard as before.” Probably not, more than likely they thought about where they could get another job to work which provided a more inviting and energizing environment.

Didn’t we all learn in Psychology 101 that positive reinforcement is a more powerful learning tool than negative reinforcement?


To conclude, take a look at who you might be….are you a coach and a mentor, or are you a bossy-boss? Or, your supervisor — which one are they? It all depends upon the longer term outcomes you really want, because each one of us daily makes a mark that is hard to erase on the people around us….whether it be our staff, our relationships, or our children.

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