Classic: The Screamer

Originally published 5/29/11

The Screamer is the alpha-wolf of his corporate pack and if you don't figure that out in the first fifteen minutes of meeting him, it’s probably because you're deaf.  Screamers come in a large variety of styles -- yellers, cursers, table-pounders, etc.  I once met one that would throw things at people.  Interestingly, I’ve never encountered a female Screamer, although I’m sure they’re out there.  In my mind Scream-leadership is primarily a male thing.

The Screamer usually gives the impression he is a hot-head, and sometimes the explanation is that simple.  The out-of-control, temperamental Screamer deserves limited attention in our treatment of this extreme leadership types for a simple reason – he rarely survives into middle management and almost never make it to a senior position.  When you’re working for a Screamer that simply can’t control his temper, you should probably get out.  As soon as possible.  No matter how many apologies (which are quite rare), vows to change, or counseling sessions are undertaken, it is highly unlikely that the basic, raging temper is going to change – as the old saying goes:  “It is easier for the tiger to change is stripes….”

Some Screamers are more deliberate, harnessing their white-hot anger to probe, test, and challenge anyone and everyone in the organization.  Of the Screamers I've met, it is only this second type that seems able to ascend the corporate hierarchy -- boards appear to see them as “strong,” or “demanding,” as opposed to “out of control” and “a risk.”

The Screamer sometimes wants subordinates who will "stand up to the boss" and “fight back.”  From the perspective of the average subordinate, however, their raging boss looks like a lion roaring and licking his chops just prior to a kill.  And it's a rare person indeed who will go toe-to-toe with a lion.  The underlying assumption by The Screamer is that only “the best people” will actually take him on and that the weaker ones will be encouraged to move to another job or organization.  The fallacy of this assumption is that an employee with excess courage is not necessarily any better or worse at their job than someone more reserved.

Those employees foolish enough to attempt to appease The Screamer will be unsatisfied.  By attempting placation, subordinates classify themselves as "lambs," and we all know what lions do to lambs.  This is exactly the kind of employee The Screamer is either consciously or unconsciously trying to drive out of the company.

The Screamer either seems to subscribe to a form of social Darwinism (where only the strong survive,) or to simply feel it is better to be feared than respected.  This latter viewpoint seems to have some merit.  I've seen employees working for Screamers put out some pretty amazing work (more emphasis on quantity rather than quality) when the Screamer has them in his sights.

In smaller organizations, it is rare to find more than one Screamer.  Being the alpha wolf means that great effort is expended making sure no one else will challenge the Screamer’s leadership position.

In larger organizations a curious thing appears to happen.  I’ve seen the primary alpha wolf allow a few younger, potential alphas, to stick around.  Perhaps the motive is simply flattery – imitation being, perhaps, its most sincere form.  It is also possible the decision is more deliberate, such as for succession planning purposes – at least when The Screamer sees continuation of the behavior as an essential part of ongoing organizational success.

The balance of the organization is either sheltered from the Screamer (usually by being buried well below him in the organization,) or live in nearly constant terror of every encounter.  Exposure to this leader is definitely seen as both a blessing (an opportunity to stand out) and a curse (the risk of being crushed under heel), and is not typically sought after by most of the management team.

In cases where The Screamer is in place for an extended period of time, a collection of “sooth-sayers” can develop.  These are employees who attempt to inform others what the bossreallywants.  Sooth-sayers create a lot of useless busy work, and can waste enormous amounts of the company's efforts.  

Since the ability to survive an emotionally charged battle is NOT normally a key to success for most corporate jobs, there is at least excess turnover and possibly an adverse selection process in The Screamer-led organization.  The behavior tends to also result in a shortage of good qualified candidates (hey, the word gets out) with many of those forced to remain wondering why they continue to stick around.  The Screamer can generate risk aversion like no other extreme, resulting in the organization becoming regimented, calcified, and inflexible.

I once worked in an organization led by a Screamer, and once I fully understood how the leader functioned, I couldn’t get out fast enough.  Even though I eventually came to understand that The Screamer’s routine was at least partially an act, it certainly felt 100% real when you were on the firing line.  I eventually reached a point where I dreaded every corporate meeting The Screamer might attend, and even hated to encounter his Screaming “Mini-me’s.”

Screamers seem to do fairly well overall when compared to the other extreme leadership styles.  There seem to be quite a few of them in positions of high authority, and their companies seem to suffer less than the organizations of many of the other extreme leaders.  Still, The Screamer would be the last extreme leader I would personally want to work for.  I'm sure many others feel the same.

Other Posts in this Series:

My LinkedIn profile is open for your connection.  Click here and request to connect.

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.



To the right is the cover for INCENTIVIZE.  This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.