Visionary leaders often follow a simple formula to succeed. To avoid getting swamped by details they select independent, result-driven managers, train them, clarify goals and deliverables, and get out of the way. Then they track progress.
But how do you recognize managers who create ever-widening unhappiness, friction, turf fights, turnover and missed deadlines?
Turf protectors believe, “What’s good for me is good for everyone.”
Snooping Puppet Masters seem to think, “Success depends on manipulating, blackmailing or destroying the competition.”
Leaders can see these problems in missed deadlines, high absenteeism, turnover and transfer rate, in exit interviews from a particular department or in anonymous suggestions and internal dissatisfaction surveys. They might hear about them from an executive assistant, trusted manager or brave employee. Discerning leaders will notice turf battles at budget meetings or looks passed around the table behind one manager’s back.
What can visionary leaders do? You have more than enough on your plate and you can’t waste time in details trying to decide which of the fighting children is right. But if you ignore the problems, they’ll grow into disasters.
The two key steps for stimulating change are: - see the original article for details.
Be clear and firm: The manager must change or else.
Bring in a consultant/coach to evaluate and act as the turn-around agent.
These problem managers will need:
Continued pressure to change.
Specific, individualized plans for how to succeed with a new approach.
Cue cards for exactly what to say and do in initial, small steps.
Expert guidance to help them pick the best situations to begin with.
Plans for consistency and perseverance; other people will distrust their new approach.
Behavioral signposts to measure progress.
Frequent review, counseling and independent checks to see that they’ve actually done what they claim.
Often, these problem managers can help themselves by telling other people that they are trying to change and will have to see success with their new approach. Under these conditions, managers who want to continue rising in their companies can change their ways.
Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents.
Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home. He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion. He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.
They’re good at arguing. They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money. You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return. Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change. They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.
They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together. A caring mom would help me.” They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company. If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.” They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them. They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.
Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive. No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it. So you give him one more chance – over and over and over.
In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure. That’s the path of giving them what they want. The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers. The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.
In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings. They’ve already grown too big for the nest. In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.
Of course there’s a risk. They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves. They might give in to depression. But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that. Leeching off you will only make them weaker.
Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing. Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.
Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:
“I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life. Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over. Struggle and succeed. I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.” Use the word “loser” a lot. Challenge them to prove you wrong.
“This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote. This is definitely not fair according to you. I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is. I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him. You can try to argue but it won’t change anything. It’ll just waste your time. If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.” Don’t engage in debate. Walk away.
“I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me. If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty. I won’t regret what I’m doing.” Then walk away.
“I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life. After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal. But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you. Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you. Yes, that’s blackmail. You pay for my attention, kindness and money. Be the nicest to people who are closest. Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger. Suck up to me as if you want something from me. You do. Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
“You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age. Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother? Every one of your ancestors faced this. Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery. They lived through worse than you. I know you have the stuff of a hero in you. Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
You have the body and mind of an adult. You want to make adult choices in living the life you want. Now you’re being tested. Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically. You probably didn’t prepare yourself. That’s your problem. I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice. We both know that. You think you know everything. You think you know what’s best for you. Now prove it. The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now. So what? That’s just struggle. I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
Mom, make a specific plan. For example, “You must be out by (date). If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to. No negotiation. No promises. We allow little children to get by on promises and potential. When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance. Now that you’re 19, I demand performance. Your performance earns what you get.” Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise. Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions. My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it. Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.” The more calm you are, the better. If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.
Stepchildren can jerk your chain more. A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.
This is a start. Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching. Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?
Stay strong and firm. Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month. It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.
Bullying is often, but not always, by older kids against younger kids and by bigger kids against smaller kids. Bullying can be physical, relational and verbal, and it’s always emotional. Mean girls are adept at gossip, put-downs and exclusion. Boys use relational and verbal abuse just as much as girls do. Boy bullies are masters of put-downs, excluding and leading malevolent gangs.
Check out summer camps and organized activities where the same kids go for an extended period of time. Usually the staff at summer camps and recreation centers is too busy and too swamped to stop school bullies on vacation. Often, staff tolerates or condones bullying. You’ll hear them say, “That’s just kid stuff. It’s a rite of passage. Kids need to learn to deal with bullying by themselves.” Oh, some staff might lecture or yell if they observe bullying and they care, but their attention will be drawn away by other concerns and the target will be left unprotected. There won’t be enough consistent oversight and you won’t know what’s going on.
Find out ahead of time if staff is trained to detect and stop bullies. Do they have a policy and training program? What specific behaviors are staff trained to observe? Have they ever sent a bully home? Do they train the kids how to witness and standup for each other. What’s the refund policy if you pull your children out because they’re being bullied? Express your concerns in writing so there’s a record.
Prepare your children to tell you what’s going on. Being a target of bullying is not their fault. Not defending themselves or not getting help will create long-lasting problems for them. Telling is not tattling. Convince them that the bullying will get worse if they don’t tell you.
If they’re sleeping over, have them send letters home, not postcards. Is there an increase in anxiety, stress and nightmares? Are they suddenly uncommunicative?
If your children are in a day activity, stay and observe it.
If there’s an incident or you’re suspicious, talk to the counselor, teacher and head of the organization in person or by phone. Follow up in writing. Don’t be put off by promises and platitudes. What concrete actions have they taken? A chat or lecture is not an action that will stop a real-world bully. Don’t accept, “Ignore it and it’ll stop.” Do bullies still have unsupervised access to your children after a lecture? The Golden Rule doesn't stop real-world bullies.
If you hear the administrators say that they’re trying to build the bullies’ self-esteem or increase their empathy, or if they think that the bully will benefit from therapy or counseling while they’re still at the activity or camp, or if they appeal to your understanding and sympathy for how difficult the bully’s life is get your children out of that place immediately. They’re more concerned with the bully than the victim. They’ll sacrifice your children in order to help the bully.
Check out supervised areas like pools and water parks where your children go but where there can be different kids each day. You have much less control here. Usually staff is focused on physical safety. You may have to go a number of times despite your children’s protests. You’ll probably have to analyze the situation and train them how to escape bullies and get help. Help them identify lifeguards who will protect them. Teach them how to elicit those lifeguards’ help.
Check out unsupervised areas like parks and malls where your children hang out. Are you afraid of the other kids who hang out there? Do your children know how to get a police officer and what to say to get that officer on their side? Are you available in emergencies?
Make sure your children go with a larger group of friends. Let them go only if you trust the group to stay together and protect each other. Of course, your children think that the most important thing in their lives is being accepted by their friends or the crowd they want to be liked by. But that’s not your primary concern. First and foremost, you’re not your children’s friend; you’re their protector and your better judgment counts.
Let them earn the privilege of going places without you in a step-wise way. When they’ve proven to you that they know how to stop bullies or to escape in a fairly safe situation, then and only then, give them a little more freedom that’s age-appropriate. Encourage them to make those steps, but don’t give in to nagging. Whining and complaining aren’t evidence of good decision-making.
Current statistics show that bullying is prevalent – over 50% of kids report being bullied or observing bullying. Bullying by girls is just as prevalent as by boys (although they often use different tactics) and bullying in “good” neighborhoods is just as prevalent as in “bad” ones.
Most parents want to understand why bullies bully, “Is it because bullies have low esteem, or they lust for power or that’s the only way they know how to get control and admiration?” Those parents usually tell their children never to use violence to stop bullies. “Violence never solved anything. Don’t stoop to the bullies’ level.”
Those parents hope that understanding bullies will help them create programs that will rehabilitate bullies. Then their kids will be safe when they’re away from home or when they’re online.
Parents who say those things are the number one risk factor in making their children targets of repeated bullying.
Their strategy is based on the false idea that if children love and forgive bullies enough, they’ll melt bullies’ hearts and bullies will stop bullying and become their friends. That strategy rarely stops bullies.
Similarly, bullied kids grow up with low self-esteem and low confidence; they expect to be beaten down – mentally, emotionally and physically – to be taken advantage of, to lose. They become repeat victims.
The number one risk factor in our children’s becoming targets of repeated bullying is not bullies or schools – the number one risk factor is us, the parents of the targets. Bullies have always existed and will always exist, most schools never protected kids and many still won’t.
Take your focus away from psychotherapy of bullies. Focus instead on stopping bullying right now. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time. I want to protect target children right now.
In the real world, bullies are predators, like hyenas, looking for the weak and isolated people who don’t know how to protect themselves. Real bullies have a language all their own – they take our children’s kindness, reasonableness or holding back as weakness and a sign of easy prey. Our kids’ weakness brings out the worst in bullies.
A real-world perspective is that it’s more important to stop bullies first; that counseling, therapy and rehabilitation efforts come second. In fact, stopping bullying behavior and having stiff consequences for kids who bully repeatedly is one of the best steps in changing their behavior.
In the space of five days, we honor Jackie Robinson’s finally breaking into the major leagues by having every baseball player wear his number and we also memorialize Eric Harris and Dylan Klebolt’s massacre at Columbine High School ten years ago. Looking at the similarities and differences between the three people is instructive.
They each faced a failed system – but in opposite directions – and they illustrate character and courage – but at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Rotten Systems
Jackie Robinson was 28 when he was first allowed to play in the major leagues. Think of what his records would have been had he not lost about 6 of his best years. The stories about what was done and said to him fill volumes. For starters, he couldn’t get a cab to Ebbets field on April 15, 1947 because he was black. Some of his teammates were so racist that they wouldn’t play on the same team with him. He couldn’t stay in many of the same hotels or eat in many of the same restaurants as the rest of the team, even after his fabulous rookie season. Players on other teams threw balls at his head and spiked him on the base paths. His and his family’s lives were continually threatened.
I grew up in Brooklyn and was old enough to go to Ebbets Field to see Robinson play in his second year. The insults, curses and threats from the players and fans were still going on. It was my personal introduction to racism.
The system that kept Robinson out of baseball and harassed him for years was rotten – full of anger, hatred and the very real possibility of killing him and his family.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebolt faced a rotten system on the other extreme. They were allowed to act out and show the world what they meant to do, but instead of being removed from contact with other students who were their victims, the two were coddled.
Part of what made their shooting spree so horrible for many people not directly connected with the slain students and teacher, was that it showed a generation that their basic assumption about rehabilitating even the most psychopathic-psychotic teenagers were wrong and could have terrible consequences for their own children. The assumption was that if you kept extremely troubled kids in contact with the rest of us and gave them lots of counseling and even more chances, the troubled kids would stop being crazy bullies and would become nice people and good citizens.
Previously, kids like Harris and Klebolt would have been called juvenile delinquents and removed in order to protect the rest of us. Of course, a few of those were removed unjustly and could have been rehabilitated if treated differently. So we swung the pendulum all the way to the side of ignoring the signs, keeping the juvenile delinquents with the rest of us and hoping for the best. Harris and Klebolt showed a generation what the price was for living that false educational philosophy; each one of those psychopaths could kill about ten innocent people.
That coddling attitude is very much like letting drunk drivers continue driving. You don’t know who the next victims will be, but you know there is a very high percentage that there will be next victims.
We still haven’t righted the pendulum. Maybe that will take a kind of well-publicized, civil rights movement or maybe just the eventual dying off of the generation that espoused such weird ideas supported by spurious educational research. Thousands of innocent kids are bullied and harassed at school each day while society, the legal system and school principals don’t stop the bullying juvenile delinquents, psychopaths and psychotics.
Character and Courage
Jackie Robinson had the character and courage to endure and surmount far worse than the bullying that is claimed to have pushed Harris and Klebolt over the edge. Robinson kept his promise to himself and to Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers’ President, to hold himself in check until he had proven his quality as a baseball player. He endured in order to make a point for his race. He endured when most of us, with less character and courage, would either have given up or exploded.
Neither Harris nor Klebolt had character or courage. Bullying didn’t push them over the edge. They ran willingly and repeatedly right to the edge and then jumped off. None of the adults stopped them or removed them.
When will we swing the pendulum back to the middle and start protecting the rest of us from the bullies and crazies?
Julie (late 30’s) had been living with Harry (also late 30’s) for 6 months when she discovered that he often snuck off to his computer room in the middle of the night to look at internet porn. They both have good jobs and Julie says the sex is good, so what’s with Harry?
Harry says that there’s no problem; it’s perfectly normal and it’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect how he feels about her; it’s on his own time and there’s no reason for him to stop. She shouldn’t be so judgmental.
Julie can’t find a good reason to justify her dislike of it, but she’s concerned about where it might lead.
What would you do?
Julie shouldn’t debate about what’s normal or try to convince Harry that her feelings should matter.
She should see clearly what’s ahead and get out of there. She has already gotten her gut response to the question, “Do I want to be with someone who leaves our bed and sneaks off to look at porn?” She should trust her gut response of “No.” Her feelings are sufficient for her to act; she doesn’t have to convince him she’s reasonable or right.
She may be getting along well with Harry now, but in addition to dealing with a person who leaves their bed to look at internet porn, she’s also dealing with a narcissistic, covert, stealthy bullying boyfriend.
When there are problems or pressure in the relationship, he’ll choose porn over her. He’ll withdraw from the difficulties of face-to-face intimacy and turn to virtual, not real, reality. Later, as a stealth bully, he’ll get blaming, manipulative and demanding. He’ll try to make her feelings sound wrong, old fashioned and uncaring. He’ll claim that his porn habit is her fault. He’ll say that she should stop nagging and trying to guilt-trip him. If she only gave him what he needed, he’d stop. But no matter what she does, it’ll never be exactly right or it’ll never be enough for him.
Why do I predict that? Experience as a coach and therapist. I’ve seen it over and over. And it also happened in this example.
Julie should focus on behavior she wants or doesn’t want in her environment; not on philosophical arguments. She’s never going to change him. Later responsibilities as a husband and father won’t change him. He’s a bullying, narcissistic control-freak who’s addicted to porn. She doesn’t need to convince him that he needs therapy to end his addiction. She should get the coaching she needs to get away as fast as she can.
Julie needs coaching to decrease self-doubt and self-bullying (Case Studies # 8 and 9 in “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks”). She also needs counseling to get past her fear that Harry is right; if he leaves, she’ll never find anyone else. She should ignore her self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like her, that tells her that Harry might be right.
She needs to start living the life she wants to lead. Just like Lucy in case study # 14 of my book, if she doesn’t trust her own guts, she’ll get sucked in. The longer she goes on Harry’s roller coaster ride, the harder it will be to get off. Does she want to settle for Harry as the best she’ll ever get? Does she want the pain?