Silent Witness: why bullies thrive in today’s workplace

Posted November 6, 2014 in Latest News & Insights

I’m sick of Jian Ghomeshi. I’m sick of hearing about him. I’m sick of reading about him. But what makes me the most sick is knowing that there were numerous leaders walking the halls at CBC who knew about his abusive behaviour at work and did nothing about it. My friend Pam Ross just wrote a thoughtful blog about the need to not tolerate jerks in the workplace, but it got me reflecting on why we do. I’m sure that the vast majority of leaders at the CBC are good people trying to do good work, like leaders in most organizations. So why didn’t any of them stop Jian Ghomeshi in his arrogant, bullying tracks?  Here’s my observation:

Throughout history the vocal minority has bullied the silent majority. The late comedian George Carlin once said “never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”  Well, never, ever, ever underestimate the power of narcissistic megalomaniacs who deliver results in performance obsessed organizations I say.

With more and more pressure being put on leaders to drive results – in the case of CBC leaders, there is an ongoing battle to prove the viability of public broadcaster so of course highly rated programs and hosts are going to carry clout – more and more leaders are making deals with the devil.

It’s all interconnected…executive compensation gets tied to performance…results “at any cost” begin to trump “results the right way”…integrity gets blurry as leaders’ personal needs/wants and lifestyle requirements get tied to corporate growth targets that are seemingly becoming increasingly unrealistic.

So, it’s very easy to say and there’s even a great book dedicated to it: Bob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule” but to make this stick takes courage and a deep belief that by cutting loose your abusive star performer, the team will rise up and achieve even higher results. It can seem like a gamble and – for leaders who are trapped by their own needs and wants – may seem like too much of one.  Hmmmm….Do I really want to fire my arrogant top sales guy when I know he brings in 80% of the revenue which drives my own comp plan? I really want to pay off my mortgage this year.

Here’s the thing. Nobody said leadership was easy. It’s not. A true leader makes tough calls and sometimes (maybe even MANY TIMES) has to sacrifice things that are good for themselves for things that are for the greater good of the team.

Whose crappy behaviour are you currently enabling at your workplace that you know needs to go? What I know for sure is that the short-term pain of making tough calls on abusive, bullying employees is well worth the long-term gain you get from having a happy and productive team.  I promise.

Happy leading!


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