As I drove away from my home on Friday, the day of the West Coast tsunami warnings, I wondered if my home would still be here when I got back. I live about half a mile from the Santa Cruz small craft harbor. It sustained much damage and is now mostly closed by the Coast Guard while they fish boats out and clean up the mess. I walked down there today and the reality of it was much more compelling than the news reports. Life as we know it can change in an instant.

In Japan things are a billion times worse. What’s really getting me in my gut is this: How people treat each other in an emergency. The Japanese are reportedly treating each other like family – one newscaster described a restaurant owner who lost his home and is now serving food at no cost to the patrons. There is no looting, no gang activity, no tagging, no rioting. Here in the US, I received a call from a car dealer I had been talking with. He told me I should buy now because the Japanese would be shutting down their operations and I might have to pay more. Let the shark attacks begin. I wonder when the t-shirts will hit the streets.

So here’s the reason for this post. I got to thinking how much of an emergency mindset we have. I myself have practiced panic, worst-case-scenario, awful-izing. It happens in the workplace all the time. People are so insanely busy and the media reminds us how we need smart phones so we can send that critical powerpoint presentation from a cab at 3am. OK, maybe a little exaggeration, but maybe not. As I work with employees at all levels I hear stories – stories of bosses who freak out when they don’t get an immediate response, stories of people who are expected to take calls from work at any and all hours, stories of people yelling, criticizing, insulting each other. My take on that is, unless you’re a brain surgeon with an open skull on the table, it’s not that much of a true emergency.

If you’re a manager, you have a lot of influence over people and their lives. How do you want to use that influence? One way to get performance from people is to beat on them, control them, threaten them and make everything an emergency to get people’s attention. But there is a better way. Treat people with respect. Tell them what you expect, set them up for success, show them why the work is important, even critical. Let them know where they stand in their performance. Give them a chance to improve if they aren’t meeting your expectations. If they don’t fit, talk with them about it and part ways.