Last month’s Super Bowl gave the rare glimpse of opposing coaches who also happen to be brothers, John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and sibling Jim of the San Francisco 49ers.
A disgruntled New England Patriots fan, I amused myself during the game (which I secretly hoped both teams would lose) by observing their wildly contrasting leadership styles. John seems the low key, thoughtful type, while Jim is… well, uhm, not.   As he has demonstrated in the past and again at the Super Bowl (sidebar left), Jim Harbaugh is an undisputed master of the complete executive freak out. Why is it funny? Because it’s TV. It’s grown men playing a game. But, tantrums in the workplace, particularly those thrown by leaders and role models, lose their entertainment value very quickly. Here’s a (slightly) more serious take on leaders behaving badly.

When Leaders Froth at the Mouth

When an executive goes into freak out mode, productivity goes out the window. People stop and gawk. Trying to appease, they do anything and everything -all of it futile – to prevent it from happening again. Or, they become paralyzed with fear.

If tantrums are an executive’s “go to” move, people very quickly disengage. Eyes roll. Shoulders shrug. Trust and respect follow productivity out the same exit as staff suspect desperation and lack of self-control, characteristics no leader can afford.

Worse, when outbursts are tolerated, others may conclude “that’s how we roll here” and that’s when it goes viral. Talk about creating a toxic environment.


If you are a leader prone to tantrums like the unfortunate 49ers coach, ask yourself three questions as you fill your lungs with air: 


1. Will this matter in 20 minutes? Five days from now? In a year? In other words, is it worth the stink? 

2. Check your ego. Is what you’re about to rant about relevant to anyone else in the room or is it all about you?

3. Is this behavior going to produce the outcomes you really want? The answer to this, by the way, is always “no.” (This would be a good place to note that Jim Harbaugh’s team LOST. ) 

If you are a defenseless receiver facing an offensive  onslaught, these plays might turn things around:

1. Don’t reward bad behavior by responding to it. Do not try to bargain or reason with the wild one. Bad behavior in leaders should be ignored.  

2. If it doesn’t stop, walk away. If pursued, walk faster.   

3. When the time is right, find a way to let the ranting raver know the negative impact it has on you, the work and the bottom line.  I’d suggest guidance from HR or co-workers you trust before entering the lair of the beast. 


I wish I knew why some adults behave like children, but that mystery will not be solved by me today. All I know is that in football, hockey or reality shows, it’s funny as all get out to watch. At work, not so much.

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