Different management skills are required to succeed in different situations. The dilemma that creates for many successful entrepreneurs and managers is that the very qualities that made them successful eventually thwart further growth.
Do you recognize someone who has reached their ceiling because they continue to rely on styles that have now become ineffective?
Like them or not, those methods are usually necessary for success when the entrepreneurs are founding their companies. As long as founders have the energy to do everything and make the right decisions, their companies can stay small and afloat. But they can’t rely on the same qualities to make the jump to the next level of organization or profit.
Football teams plan ahead for injuries to their players but usually not for the departure of their head coach. One result: teams often have trouble succeeding even with great replacements.
Many companies set themselves up to fail because they aren’t developing replacements for their top leaders. You can’t start cultivating senior leaders at the last moment, just like you can’t start cultivating a garden the day before you want to harvest.
RHR International, management psychologists who help leaders develop new leaders, surveyed more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and found that:
In the next five years there will be a huge exodus of senior talent. Half the companies anticipated losing half their senior staff.
57 Percent of companies have been developing high-potential talent for three years or less.
75 Percent have low confidence in their ability to meet their growth needs through internal leadership develop.
The cost of putting off leadership development is huge. Instead of a thorough program to find and develop the best people, frantic attempts to fill voids will require accelerated searches at premium prices. Hasty replacement of senior leaders usually means fielding a team that isn’t adequately prepared to work together. High failure rates cascade problems into every area of the company.
Inadequate succession planning can damage any company, big or small. But my experience is that the problems are magnified at small and mid-sized companies because there’s usually less room for error.
Teenage Thinking: They’re invulnerable; don’t care about what happens after they move out; and are shortsighted - too busy and too cheap to spend money on tomorrow.
The Ostrich Philosophy: I’ll deal with it more easily later or it’ll take care of itself. But, just like putting off health care, most people will pay dearly when it’s too late for preventative medicine to be effective.
The most important factor in successful programs is the personal involvement of leaders. Other crucial factors are:
Constantly scout for new talent. Make your effort intentional and integral to your daily activities. Find who sparked successful projects, rallied people and brought in fresh thinking. Ask other senior leaders, “How do we round them out and who’s going to work personally with whom?”
Follow selection of high potential candidates with a systematic, individualized program to help them learn crucial leadership qualities you’ve identified.
Act as a model, not merely a repository of information. Technical skills, information and today’s correct answer are not enough to develop people capable of leading your enterprise.
Be present and clear. Brief potential leaders up front what you want them to demonstrate. During development, include them in the inner circle of your thought processes; teach them how to ask the right questions; give them immediate, timely, specific feedback. Debrief formally.
Have pride in leaving a personal legacy. Successful transitions are usually directed by leaders who want to be remembered for building a company that’s prepared to thrive without them, not for leaving their babies exposed to the elements. Plug-and-play, mobile CEOs usually don’t have the emotional investment required for intensive mentoring.
Spend a little now to build the next generation of senior leaders or you might lose the farm paying the bill later.
Suppose you’ve bitten the bullet and fired an employee for cause such as fraud, harassment or behavior inconsistent with your organization’s values. And now your reputation is being tarnished because the employee and his friends are bad mouthing you. They want to generate fear of and antagonism toward management.
To read the rest of this article from Business First of Louisville, see:
Managers must be proactive to effectively handle smear campaigns
Your overall goals are to resist the insidious smear campaign, maintain your reputation and establish the company’s support of its values and integrity, especially when dealing with sensitive personal information. But, even though you have good evidence to justify firing the employee in question, you can’t reveal confidential, personal information in your defense and you want to minimize the risk of a defamation claim.
A great cue card for a conversation is: “We don’t discuss our employees’ personal issues with their co-workers because those issues are confidential. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your personal issues discussed with others.”
“Unfortunately, sometimes, employees who have left the company or their supporters provide incorrect or incomplete information about their separations. This starts rumors in the workplace and is very disruptive. I’m glad that you came to me with your concerns. I hope you understand that we need to take the ‘high road’ and continue to maintain these matters in confidence.”
Of course, some people will enjoy thinking the worst of you but most people will give you the benefit of the doubt if they’ve come to trust your integrity and judgment. They’ll base their judgments on what you say and do day-to-day, before there’s a situation like an employee’s sudden dismissal to deal with.
If have a reputation for being open, honest and trustworthy, your employees will be more likely to accept that you acted with cause even if you can’t outline the specifics.
But if you’ve earned a reputation for being arbitrary and autocratic, employees will believe the worst – no matter what really happened.
Ultimately, you expect good employees to understand the need for confidentiality.
In addition to value statements containing general words such as trust, integrity, honesty and respect, specifically state company values as situational expectations of behavior. For example:
If we don’t get what we want, then continued participation in negativity, the rumor mill and smear campaigns is participation in a one-sided attack on management, and will be evaluated as behavior below standards of team performance.
Sometimes, the smear campaigners, like terrorists, will attack you for stifling free speech. Stand your ground. We always put limits on what we say in public. For example, free speech does not include shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, slander or promoting treason.
Legitimate leaders must take a strong stand to resist smear campaigns or they’ll create a power vacuum that will attract the most hostile and ruthless seekers of power.
Company rules and employees who follow them are essential for the success of your business. But antagonistic “rule-people” can reduce team effort and sabotage your operations.
To read the rest of this article from the Denver Business Journal, see:
How to deal with antagonistic ‘rule people’ in the workplace
See everything in black and white, need all procedures and boundaries clearly defined and labeled, with rewards and consequences spelled out exactly – no gray areas and no choices. They need uniformity and repeatability, can’t handle ambiguity, uncertainty and what they perceive as mixed messages.
Insist on clear titles and privileges. They want to know everyone’s exact job description, authority, responsibility and accountability. They can’t handle matrix management – multiple reporting and task relationships.
Use authority and experts to back up their opinions.
Don’t like change unless they can see immediate and obvious advantages.
Need closure, want decisions made and set in stone, even if nothing has to be begun for years.
Compare themselves with everybody on every criterion.
Relate only through power dynamics – command, control and obeying orders. They’re bullies. They don’t get things done through relationships or by simply pitching in. They need to know where everyone stands. They’re more comfortable knowing they’re on the bottom, than wondering where they are.
We all follow the rules sometimes, but “Edna” is a good example of an antagonistic rule-person. She uses the rules to intimidate people and advance herself at the expense of your supervisory authority and departmental productivity. For example:
Other typical examples of rule-people in crucial roles are human resource and financial managers, and administrative assistants.
To work with an antagonistic, rule-person, you’ll have to:
Be exacting and clear about rules, and demand what you need specifically in writing.
Be prepared to be challenged if you treat the rule-person differently from anyone else.
Include “professional, team behavior” rules – specific, detailed behaviors, not abstractions or attitudes – as important components in performance evaluations.
Clearly label your actions; indirect cues, kindly suggestions, informal messages or casual conversations will not be counted as important. You must say, “This is a verbal warning” or “This is a disciplinary action.” Antagonistic, rule-people take any softening to mean that your feedback doesn’t have to be acted on.
When they excuse their bad behavior with innocuous labels like, “It was a misunderstanding,” or “I’m just an honest person,” you must re-label it clearly as unprofessional. For example: “Yelling or name calling is not a misunderstanding or honesty. Neither is acceptable behavior at this organization, no matter how you feel.”
Generally, rule-people who want to help can become good managers and administrators, but they won’t be outstanding leaders. They can oversee repeatable operations, but they won’t be able to act creatively and appropriately in the face of uncertainty, novel problems and risk.
Imagine you’re a newly appointed project leader of an existing management team. How do you know if you’re walking into a club of entrenched buddies who want to run the show and will sabotage your efforts? And what can you do about it?
To read the rest of this article from the Business Journal of Jacksonville, see:
Fire people who think they’re entitled to run things
I recently observed a team of a dozen managers with that dynamic. Harry was the newly appointed project leader. His two predecessors, also experienced leaders, had been unable to move the team forward. Both reported problems building team agreement and developing aligned effort.
Sitting in on a team meeting, I saw two people repeatedly cast furtive glances to a third, who signaled displeasure by frowning, eye rolling and head shaking. After each instance, the trio resisted the direction being taken by the rest of the group. During a break, the three clustered outside, reinforcing caustic personal comments about Harry.
A little investigation on my part revealed the extent of the pattern. One person was the Queen Bee, obediently supported by her attentive court. She thought she should run the whole team because she always “knew best.”
The core of the pattern is that righteous and arrogant people feel entitled to special privileges. They make their own rules and have double standards. They’re self-reinforcing, and ignore or don’t care about what other people think.
The pattern is a common one. It’s especially prevalent on boards of directors and in government offices and nonprofits. People like this trio will fracture any group, destroy productivity and subvert the next generation of potential leaders. Their personal agendas to achieve power and esteem take precedence over the job.
What can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?
Recognize that fixing it will take determination and skill. A powerful image of the situation will help keep you on track. Harry saw them as a grown-up version of a high school clique; three princesses who know they’re the best and deserve to be in charge.
You can try reaching out to the offenders in an effort to get them working with the rest of the team. But don’t count on that approach succeeding.
Harry tried a conciliatory approach but the trio was so arrogant and deluded that every gesture he made to find common ground was interpreted by them as an admission that he was wrong, was begging forgiveness and was ready to follow their direction. The previous two leaders had also tried to placate them and failed
But, whether you’re a peer or a project leader, you can’t afford to ignore them. If left unchallenged, they form a not-so-secret power structure that will sabotage your best efforts to succeed. They will force you to take sides. For them, it’s about control and adoration.
Don’t be a faithful drone. Take steps to take away their power to do harm the organization.
Reasoning and evidence won’t change these people. And only a small percentage of them learn their lessons from their obvious failures.
This is not a task for wimps. You’ll need the help of your management, which means you need to do your homework and document your case. Look for a smoking gun. When you’re ready, shine a light on the pattern and confront the offenders head on.
If you find yourself in a situation like this one, quietly build an airtight case, gather allies and act decisively. And be prepared for a battle. People like that trio are a cancer in any organization. Remove them surgically before they metastasize.
If we don’t act promptly and decisively, performance decreases. Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated. Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive. Power hungry bullies take power.
You’ve heard it a hundred times, “A great manager can motivate anyone.”
The fact is some slackers simply don’t care and are beyond motivation. And it’s a waste of your limited time and energy to keep trying. If you’re sick and tired and stressed out because you’ve accepted responsibility for motivating slackers, prepare for the inevitable effects of continued frustration and emotional pain. You’ll be exhausted, burn out and get physically ill.
Unfortunately, managers often find themselves pressured to motivate everyone. And both they and their bosses may see these managers as failures when they can’t pull it off. It’s time to give them a break.
In the real world it’s everyone’s job, including a president or CEO, to motivate his supervisors that he’s worth keeping. Why should it be up to your managers to motivate the slackers on your payroll? Slackers should be working hard to motivate you to keep them.
You probably don’t want an angry, confrontational, bullying boss. But, do you want the other extreme – a conflict-avoidant boss?
I vote, “No.” Conflict-avoidant bosses create breeding grounds for passive-aggressive employees and self-appointed tyrants.
For example, Helen’s boss is nice and sweet. And that’s her problem.
Helen has frequent and critical deadlines, but in order to do her job she needs information supplied by Lindsay, another employee in Larry’s department. Lindsay says she’s too busy to give Helen the necessary information within the agreed-upon timelines.
Helen asks and asks but nothing seems to work. She tries begging, twisting Lindsay’s arm and even explaining her predicament at team meetings. She tries every communication and management technique her friends and human resource professionals suggest. Lindsay simply goes on her merry way and stonewalls Helen. She’s a sneaky bully.
In public, Lindsay always agrees to do that part of her job but then simply ignores the commitment. In private she says Helen’s not important enough. She doesn’t like Helen and she’s going to sabotage her. In one-to-one meetings with Larry, she undercuts Helen’s needs, communication skills and performance.
Larry avoids conflict with Lindsay but creates conflict with Helen. He’s upset with not getting what he needs from Helen but not upset enough to break the deadlock. He’s more afraid of Lindsay than he is of Helen. Lindsay knows she’s secure. She has no pressure to serve Helen and no consequences for resisting.
To be a successful administrator, basic operational savvy is necessary. But to be a successful leader, you must also master human savvy.
For example, Joe worked his way up through the financial ranks and had mastered three of the major skills of internal operational savvy:
Setting high performance standards.
Joe’s teams met their goals within budget and deadlines.
When I explained to Joe that he was missing the human savvy I’ll describe below, he said he couldn’t change. He had strength of character and responded successfully to the ups and downs, and the challenges of business. But he said he was an introvert. He could achieve high performance in operational areas but it wasn’t his personality to excel in people areas.
Joe’s progress was halting when he was simply memorizing lists of how-to’s. But his learning took off when he modeled himself after the subject of one of the best leadership books, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Joe saw himself as having a personality similar to Lincoln: a melancholy introvert who could come out of his shell to make human contact. Lincoln’s human savvy was a crucial component of his success. Joe resolved, “If Lincoln could do it, so can I.” Joe drove himself to use Lincoln as his guide and to learn what Lincoln learned.
Lincoln said that the most important task of a leader, once he has finally decided on a course of action, is to educate people so they are inspired to proceed on that course. Lincoln used insightful comparisons and memorable stories to transfuse people with his vision, dedication and perseverance. Joe realized that appropriate stories have an emotional impact greater than the effects of logical arguments.
Like Lincoln did, Joe can now tell memorable stories of his team’s effort and progress. His staff is now enthused to achieve team and personal goals in the face of challenges that demand their best.
Many people teach basic operational savvy as if it’s all that’s necessary for leadership success. But good administrators aren’t necessarily good leaders. Basic operational savvy is necessary, but it’s not enough. Leadership success is more all or none. You can succeed only if you master human savvy.
With one exception, workplace cliques are bad for business. If you allow them to operate behind the scenes, they’ll destroy morale, teamwork and productivity. Yet, as the economy continues in a recession, people’s fear and stress will lead them to band together to find comfort and scapegoats.
We usually recognize cliques that use bullying tactics to preserve their turf and to get ahead. Let’s focus on one particular type of clique that will become more prevalent and more destructive as the recession deepens – the Whiners’ Club.
Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry. Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally. And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in. These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison. That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic.
I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.
But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.
For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life. Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7. No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about. Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.
However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity.
They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry. They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives. And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.
If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry. Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong. You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.
The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them. Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame. Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.
Victims feel blame, shame and guilt. Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror. They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment. They feel isolated and helpless. Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own. They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.
Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:
Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them. And you’re not being paid as a therapist. Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage. Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification. The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy. It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice. If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.” That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
Face your fears.Don’t be defeated by defeat. Protect yourself. Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children. Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn. These bullies haven’t learned. Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims. Their anger is not your fault. Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children. Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis. Clear your space. Don’t give an infinite number of second chances. Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts. Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies. How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them? A year? Two? Three? Forever? Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be. Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them. Get legal advice. Get help and support. Get witnesses. Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist. File for divorce. Get custody of the children. Get the police on your side.
Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused
Men aren’t the only angry bullies. We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage. There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many. Everything I’ve said applies to them also.
At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many. Anger often succeeds at work. Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs. And the addiction must be fed.
Be strong nside. Ask for what you want. You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with. So only put up with good behavior.
There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers. If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired.
Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator. But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane. She must have a good heart.” She specializes in vendettas. Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.
The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane. Jane is enraged. Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired. Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend. Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.
Is Jane right? Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her? Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?
How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies? Simple. You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.
Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult. They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
Does she threaten you?
Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?
Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting. You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly. But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.
When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with. She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.
Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?” If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.
I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise. The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage. They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts. Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise. You need help with the terminators that you face.
Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.
Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively. Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you. You’ve already given her second and third chances. That’s enough. She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience. Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you. Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time. That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway. You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting. Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning. She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself. Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time. Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way. Don’t minimize or excuse. Deal only with Jane’s behavior.
All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life. Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time. Pay attention to the pattern of actions. If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
Don’t expect her to tell the truth. She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else. She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done. She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you. Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side. State your side in a way that will convince bystanders. Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
Document everything; use a small digital recorder. Find allies as high up in the company as you can. When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings. Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act. It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing. That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company. The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation. All tactics are situational tactics.
A recent article in the New York Times illustrates attempts of one middle school of privileged kids in Scarsdale, New York, to teach empathy for those less privileged. The less privileged included examples from great literature, of old, disabled and autistic people, and even of those students who didn’t get invited to last weekend’s social activities by the “in-crowd.” Similar efforts are being considered by many other middle and high schools.
Can such programs succeed? Should schools engage in social engineering?
Education, in the root of our word and from its earliest time, was based on “cultivation” in the sense of cultivating a crop of good and virtuous citizens capable of leading a society that does good and supports the virtue of all citizens. Leading was usually the vocation of only the privileged. Education of the less privileged also emphasized creating good and virtuous citizens, but was focused more on what we might call vocational training for productive labor.
We can’t convert all schools – elementary, middle or high schools – into strictly vocational training and expect to produce good and virtuous citizens, capable of self-government. In our democratic society, we treat all kids as privileged in the sense that they get training in virtue and being a good citizen. They all also have the potential of serving at the highest levels of government, instead of such service being the privilege of only those born to privilege.
Empathy is a necessary element of being a good citizen, as well as a necessary component of great leadership and management. For example, it’s one of the leadership and management training sets promoted by all business schools. And the current economic recession or depression has a large component of greed and unethical and un-empathetic behavior at its core.
Parents should be teaching empathy to their children even before they’re developmentally capable of it, instead of thinking that a course as part of an M.B.A. training will ever do any good. Since many parents don’t teach empathy, and also in support of those who do, I’m glad that elementary and middle schools are intentionally making that a part of the curriculum, in addition to academic subjects. The key to teaching empathy and virtue is the character of the teacher, not the syllabus or lesson plan.
But teaching at home and in programs at school can’t be expected to solve the problem for every one, even though results in schools in the south Bronx are also encouraging. Many children and teenagers will get it; others won’t. One of the most famous examples of the impossibility of teaching everyone is Alcibiades, a brilliant, rich boy taught by Pericles at home and Socrates at school, who grew up to be unethical, unscrupulous and un-empathetic.
Humans do have free will, but that doesn’t man we stop trying to teach them. We simply try with our eyes wide open. Even in Scarsdale, as the article says, “mean girls are no less mean, and the boys will still be boys.” Also, there’s still “name-calling, gossip and other forms of social humiliation.” Bullies and bullying will always exist.
But now the schools make clear that such behavior is frowned upon. Punishing it can be very difficult because it’s such a tricky area to find appropriate responses. However, the clarity with which we label uncaring and unacceptable behavior gives every student a clear chance to judge the perpetrators and decide whether to try to join the in-crowd, ignore them or stand up for the students who are targeted..
You have a pattern of being bullied all your life?
You’re a target?
You have a chance to join such a pack of jackals and are afraid to refuse because you might get attacked?
You’re a bystander and your heart goes out to a victim?
Bullying, cutting-out and creating and attacking scapegoats comes from a deep place within us and is found in almost all cultures, places and times.
Sometimes you can see that the person on the receiving end has done many things to offend almost everyone else. But let’s put that situation aside for this post and focus on all the rest of the times when the person being cut out or attacked has been okay and the problem is the group that attacks their scapegoat.
If you’ve been bullied all your life, you have a problem that you’ll have to solve before you can deal effectively with a bullying clique. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong to the pack of predators, you’re wearing a neon sign: "Kick me." Lions, wild dogs and sharks can see who the weak and vulnerable ones are. Bullies can too. You’ll have to change your attitudes and beliefs so you’ll have a different sign: "Don’t mess with me!" Let’s also leave this situation for another post.
Many people hope to stop cliques of bullies by analyzing why they do it and then using their understanding to design solutions. Don’t waste your time. You know why some people find others to pick on. That catalogue of reasons is enough.
Management training rarely works. Textbook and educational approaches – we’ll talk and I’ll show them why it’s wrong and they’ll see the error of their ways and become caring – rarely work. They won’t stop bad behavior that’s driven by underlying emotions.
Predatory behavior by packs isn’t driven by intellectual reasons, it’s driven by emotions. Of course the perpetrators can find reasons to justify their behavior, but they don’t do the behavior because of the reasons. They do the behavior because of their own emotional needs and then they try to cover up the ugliness with a pretty picture of justifications.
Make efforts to be friendly in practical ways, in order to give them a chance to change – without doing anything immoral, illegal or odious. Bring pizza and donuts. Cover for them when they need help. Socialize with coworkers.
If they continue targeting you (which they usually will), get help to develop tactics to isolate the ringleaders or get them fired. The key goals are: separation and isolation. Terminated is better than transferred, because transferred means that you’ve helped them create another bully-scapegoat situation. How nice is that?
Get firmer and firmer. Don’t threaten or share your tactics with them. Get an attorney to advise you about local laws. Get allies – HR and managers rarely want to be involved, but give them one chance. Document, document, document.
If you have a chance to join such a pack of jackals and are afraid to refuse because you might get attacked, you have an integrity choice to make. Do you want to live in fear or do you want to win a workplace war?
If you’re a bystander and your heart goes out to a victim, you have another integrity choice to make. Often, if you help a victim, the victim won’t help in return. Be prepared to act alone, if necessary.
The strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
Don’t try to make all your employees happy. But do make your best employees happy.
Do you recognize who the best employees and managers are?
We can’t define who the best are, but we all recognize them. They’re the ones with inspiration – the inner drive to accomplish things and succeed. At all levels, they’re superstars and solid, steady, productive professionals. They’re the beavers eager to learn, develop skills and be competent and productive. They want to be efficient and effective. They take responsibility and they care.
They’re the ones who anchor a culture of success. They keep communication channels open and they get along well enough with other productive individuals in order to make their teams succeed. They take care of customers and teammates. They partner with employees on other teams when success depends on joint effort. They’re the low-maintenance people we can count on.l
It’s a pleasure to make them happy. They appreciate your efforts and respond with more of their own.
You can generalize by thinking that your organization has about 15% stars and 75% solid producers – all in that group of high quality employees you want to keep happy.
Don’t try to make them happy. It’s an impossible task. You’d have to cater to them and give away your organization to them. Instead, good leaders and managers help them go somewhere else. Maybe they’ll be happy at another company or maybe you can get them a job in a competitor’s organization.
Give your time, energy and goodies to your high quality employees. How? You don’t need my top 10 list to get started making your best employees happy. Maximize their chances for success. Give them all the training, equipment, operating systems and support they need to succeed. To high quality people, accomplishment is an aphrodisiac. Beyond that – ask them. Every individual will have an individual list of desires – training, opportunities for advancement, cleansing their environment of losers, more flex-time and money, etc. Then do your best to give it to them.
What if there’s more than 15% bottom feeders at your company, and management doesn’t care? Be one of the best employees. Try to get the attention of leaders. If that doesn’t work, go be a best employee at your competitor’s company.