How Toxic Workplaces Can Lead to a Bullied Childhood

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When bullying is all you know as a child, it tragically becomes your foundation; escaping these patterns becomes your biggest struggle and a lifelong challenge. While some familial bullying is the result of generational programming, a fair share of it arises from what I call “the continuum of bullying” – a parent bringing home reactive stress from a toxic workplace where bullying is the culture.  

A recent article in The Globe and Mail by Dave McGinn discussed emotional abuse in childhood and how a therapist can often help by bringing to light, for the child and the parent, just how insidious and long-lasting a pattern of emotional abuse can be. Even with this type of professional support, divorcing oneself from abusive parent(s) is frequently the best solution.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the continuum of bullying: The shareholder bullies the board; the board bullies the CEO, the CEO bullies the executive committee, the executive committee bullies the managers, the manager bullies their employees, and the employees bully their families. This is a toxic dynamic. I assert that creating psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces will go a long way in curtailing this horrible chain reaction.

Organizations must become aware that bullying is a present danger and threat to their sustainability. If this does not begin with the CEO, often the chief bullying officer, the required systemic change cannot occur. Sadly, because many employees live in a state of fear as the result of bullying and emotional childhood abuse, they are resistant to speaking up, fearing retribution.  And the cycle continues.

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Federal Reserve Board Suggests Terrifying Action

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In one of the most terrifying and perplexing moves to date, the Federal Reserve Board proposes to relieve banks’ boards of directors of “excessive regulatory duties,” which makes no sense at all. Although I am not a proponent of over regulation, boards must be held accountable and provide oversight on important bank decisions that influence the long-term sustainability and reputation of the bank.

At a time when Wells Fargo is under intense scrutiny, and for good reason, Donald Trump is attempting to lessen accountability rather than increase it. How is a board expected to effectively fulfill their fiduciary responsibility, including advocating for a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace, if it is kept in the dark about the inner workings of their organization? Toxic cultures are perpetuated when boards are uninformed or misinformed about important organizational actions. When the board is kept in the dark about such actions, their ability to function effectively ceases to exist.

I maintain that if the boards of directors of Wells Fargo and Uber had been better informed earlier, the companies’ gross mistakes in judgement could have been avoided. As it now stands, both companies are in great peril and their very survival hangs in the balance.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the importance of good board governance and the dangers associated with its demise. Without supporting bank boards to improve their oversight capabilities, the Federal Reserve Board is essentially removing a basic and essential tool from their proverbial toolbox.

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Guest Post: Civility in the Face of Bullying

The following is a guest post by Jay Remer, known across Canada as The Etiquette Guy.

Bullies seem to rule the world today. Thanks to the abuse of power that fuels their egos, society feels the heavy burden of injustice and discrimination on many levels. There is little or no time set aside for dialogue or discussion. Every day we see news headlines demonstrating this sorry and frightening state of affairs. The rhetoric of fear used by today’s leaders to gain and maintain control over their employees and constituents has led many of us to step out of the fray and become bystanders. This is exactly what helps perpetuate the culture of bullying that is so prevalent.

Now is the time to stand up to bullies and take action. If we put ourselves in other people’s shoes to understand what it feels like to work in an environment where the deck is stacked in favor of aggressiveness, to feel oppressed, and to carry these feelings back to our homes and families, we would understand why we become frozen and unable to know how to make things better.

I have written about The Golden Rule and Common Sense for many years. We are inching closer and closer towards an Emotion Revolution, when we will understand how feelings drive our behavior and injustice will no longer be tolerated. A time when we understand that diversity, inclusion, and equality are essential to living the fulfilling life we all deserve – as a right, not as a privilege.

The question arises – what steps can we take to make that change? How do we go about moving from the awkward and uncomfortable position of the bystander into the role of resister and activist? Naturally, most of us are reticent to take on such a mantel for fear that we will lose our job, our friends, and even our families.

These changes must begin at home where our support systems are usually the strongest. As we build foundations of trust within the family, we can continue them into our communities. At work, leaders must understand that their employees’ engagement and productivity is dependent upon the support they are provided.

High-stress jobs, such as the armed services (including the RCMP), health care, and education, require far more support than they presently receive. We have all heard the old argument: that people who enter these professions should know ahead of time that the jobs are high stress. This argument does not mean that appropriate support is not essential. 

No one is going to argue that first responders and others are very susceptible to PTSD. For those of you unfamiliar with living with this painful condition, I can assure you that the agony endured on a daily basis is at time unbearable, hence the hundreds of suicides victims commit annually. Psychological and physical support must be improved and increased significantly to realize any real improvement. The change needs to be systemic; the old band-aid approach no longer is sufficient.

Most of us have experienced or have friends who have experienced difficult situations at work. These difficulties can take on a whole range of manifestations, none of which are enviable. What we can do about these issues is found within the Six Pillars of Civility, a framework I have devised that incorporates the essential life principles needed to create and maintain a sustainable and healthy society and a psychologically safe and fair workplace.

Our elected officials and corporate leaders must take the lead and be held to the highest standards. Inclusivity should be the goal of any healthy organization, where diversity is valued and recognized as an engine for creativity and innovation and is an automatic part of any workplace.

I was criticized lately for a stance I took on the radio about equality. I stated that I was baffled by the need to have such discussions anymore. Not everyone agrees with me, nor does everyone believe equality is realistic or appropriate. Some early scientific studies suggest that men and women have clearly differing skill sets, thus justifying such companies as Google to hire a widely disproportionate number of men for programming and other high-tech jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The work currently being carried out at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence provides quite a different and enlightened understanding of the subject. If we are to achieve cultural changes within organizations, we must treat everyone equally and with respect. Our communications must be honest and open. Remember the etiquette rule espoused by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he advises us to never speak ill of someone not present to defend him or herself. 

Human beings have many more shared qualities than divergent ones. While both are essential, focusing solely on our differences allows us to fall into the trap of tossing out the baby with the bathwater. I suggest that we must refocus our attention on positive virtues, on encouraging others to achieve their best with the support required for the job at hand, and on insisting, either vocally or by the written word, that fairness must replace bias; that humility must replace bullying; and that honesty and civility must replace the distractions, diversions, and denials that allow bullies to run the show. The time to begin is now – first with us, then with our families, our community and our places of work. Imagine what a different world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren!

Illustration credit: Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business

Trump's Brownshirts: Sieg Heil!

Today, Donald Trump finally gave a speech where he condemned what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. What took the Bully-in-Chief so long to call out White Supremacists in response to the recent horrific incident where a motorist killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer who was protesting against white nationalists?

In a review I wrote on Eric Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Crown; 2012), one can see clear parallels to what is going on today in America. Trump is a master of deception, deceit, denial, DIVERSION, and manipulation, who when backed into a corner will do anything to hang on to his power. Mueller and the congressional committees are closing in and he knows it.

Although Trump finally issued a condemnation, how are we to believe that he is sincere when we already know that almost everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie? Instead of further placating his diminishing number of supporters, what he should be doing is using the full force of law to punish the hate crimes.

There is no doubt that Trump sees the world through white privilege. His own father was arrested after attending a KKK rally in 1927. It is interesting how Fred Trump, like his son, sought out those who use fear as a weapon. This is why Trump deserves the title Bully-in-Chief; he instils fear in those around him in order to hold onto his immorally obtained power at any cost.

There are many who spotted this dangerous attitude months ago. My mother, who served in the Dutch underground during World War II fighting the actual Nazis, shared her warnings about the cost of unchecked Fascism in this column, “An End-of-Year, Near End-of-Life, Message From My Mother.

To combat the use of hate, what is required now is a full-on assault against bullying, especially in the workplace. Without psychologically safe cultures in which to work, there is no chance that bystanders will stand up to the injustices which bullies like Trump use to dominate others with no sense of fair play.

Because the highest office in the land is doing everything it can to unravel the republic, question the Constitution, and bring the country to its knees, organizational leaders must take the initiative to actively embrace the Ethic of Reciprocity. Executives have the power to change attitudes, so this begins with them. They should take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of the oppressed. To combat the growth of fascism, everyone must do their part. As Edmund Burke observed, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

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Beware Twisting Science to Justify Prejudice

The tech industry was rocked last week when Google engineer James Damore wrote a memo in which he was trying to justify why 80 percent of his company’s employees were male. The questionable science he used to justify discrimination in Google’s employment practices illustrates how the biggest barrier to diversity today is still bias. What we are witnessing is people feeling empowered to express their hate and use false narratives and junk science to validate their prejudices.

The Globe and Mail article by Deborah Soh continues to perpetuate the idea that women and men are more or less suited to various jobs based on assorted scientific research. This perspective raises a number of questions. My primary concern is that the results stemming from this approach are misleading, and in some cases untrue. Broad stereotyping, while arguably more efficient, is inappropriate from every other perspective.

Scientific studies, based as they are on objective data, are open to interpretation. Although according to earlier research, men may score higher in certain skillsets, when we take the time to examine the situation from a broader perspective and look at more current studies, real balance emerges.

According to emotional intelligence expert David Caruso, PhD. of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “when we look at data on our ability test of EI (Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test), women score a bit higher on all four abilities. They score slightly higher on ‘Facilitating Thought,’ suggesting that women, as a group, have more emotional empathy than do men (feel what others feel). That could be problematic and lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, etc.; but the biggest gender difference (although none are huge) is for the ‘Manage Emotions’ ability. Women outperform men on that ability. This means that you can have empathy, but if you manage the emotions you feel, you can achieve your goals (the ‘what’ of performance) as well as be a decent person (the ‘how’ of performance).” 

Because of the culture of fear that power-hungry executives instil in their employees as a way to control them, many people who do feel compelled to express their opinions, do so rather thoughtlessly, by only going after the low-hanging fruit. This is a dangerously slippery slope to follow as one usually only finds the obvious glaring faults, rarely ever seeing any virtues.

Ironically, it is the bullies of the group who themselves are fearful of losing their power. By swiftly disseminating false narratives, more thoughtful and reasoned perspectives can be avoided, deflected, and ignored.

This toxic dynamic, if allowed to continue unchecked, will lead to the downfall of organizations.  In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss bullying and the attraction and retention of talent, whereby the top talent finds more verdant pastures; those who remain disengage further; and profits plummet.

Instead, we need to encourage systemic change within an organization’s culture, in order to make true progress towards diversity. The necessary change can only happen if organizations commit to making inclusion part of the foundation of company culture.

This can be achieved through the Ethic of Reciprocity, allowing organizations to balance profit with employee engagement, productivity, and retention – a real cultural about-face.

Image credit: International Business Times

 

 

The Consequences of Negligent Leadership at the Board Level

I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write about Travis Kalanick, former CEO and founder of Uber, again. As regular readers know, I’ve had a lot to say about Kalanick and the toxic workplace culture that led to his resignation as CEO. Now it looks like his investors are gunning for his spot on Uber’s Board of Directors as Benchmark Capital sues him for fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Had Uber’s board heeded my advice they would have avoided this whole mess. My prediction: Uber cannot survive this.

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The Insidiousness of Hidden Ageism Can Destroy Careers and Lives

There was a time when the companies believed in “last hired, first fired.” The reasoning was that these new hires were usually younger, so it was easier for them to find new employment, and had less training, so the company would retain the experienced heart of their workforce.

Those days are no more. Now my generation, the baby boomers, are the first to go when companies seek to cut costs. According to this article by Elizabeth Olson in the New York Times’ DealB%K, older workers cost the company more money so they’re the first to go regardless of the fact that it is increasingly hard for them to find new jobs—a fact confirmed by AARP. Ironically, companies who indulge in ageism also find that they no longer have competent, experienced employees as a foundation of good operating practices.

I wrote about this at length in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, where I shared the case of William, who was systematically forced out of his job after restructuring to save costs. Ageism is a particularly insidious form of discrimination that makes little sense: we will all be old one day—if we’re lucky.

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Sessions' Threat to Lock Up Journalists is an Attack on the First Amendment

Maybe he was doing it to get back into the good graces of his bully boss, but Attorney General Jeff Session’s announcement today that the Justice Department has increased investigations to find “leakers” even if it means jailing journalists is nothing less than an attack on the First Amendment.

“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” Sessions told a press conference where he allowed no questions. This comes on the heels of bullying comments from Donald Trump calling Sessions “weak” because he’s been frustrated that the DOJ and the FBI haven’t been looking for who is sharing what happens behind closed doors.

Although Trump refers to these people as “leakers,” I think we need to clearly define the difference between someone who leaks information and a whistleblower. A leaker, according to the New York Times, is someone who provides “confidential information to the public in a surreptitious way and without official authorization.”

A whistleblower takes it up a notch. Whistleblowing is usually about abuse of power or illegality that involves governmental or corporate wrongdoing. Because the stakes are even higher, whistleblowers have a hellish time. I know because I was one and suffered the consequences, which I discuss in my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. But imagine the consequences if Deep Throat hadn’t blown the whistle on Richard Nixon. Because of the necessity of keeping people in power honest, we should do more to support those who come forward. I fear Session’s actions will do just the opposite and make it difficult, if not impossible, to hold Trump accountable.

The irony here is that Trump himself is a leaker. Remember when he revealed sensitive intelligence about Israel to Russian officials? That might be a good place for Sessions and his department to start.

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Scaramucci is Out: The First Thing Trump Got Right

Even at a time when breaking news from the White House happens almost hourly around the clock, the firing of now former communication director Anthony Scaramucci happened at breakneck speed. Hired on July 21, he’s already packing his bags as the incoming Chief of Staff retired General John Kelly gets “…a clean slate and the ability to build his own team,” according to current press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Firing Scaramucci and hiring Kelly are the first things Donald Trump has gotten right during his presidency.

I can only speculate that the twin embarrassments of the defeat of the healthcare bill, and the blunt statement by the Pentagon that they don’t take policy orders from a tweet, compounded by the heat he’s taking from the Republicans and the Wall Street Journal, must have spurred this change. Why Kelly? It may seem counterintuitive, but bullies like authority figures and Trump, who attended military academy and had a dictatorial father, seems to worship military generals.

Kelly would be well advised to put his energy into managing the White House staff, an excellent piece of advice from the man who was considered one of the finest in his former profession—James Baker. Baker gives clear advice in this New York Times piece: “Sage Advice From the ‘Gold Standard’ of White House Chiefs of Staff.”

If Kelly listens to Baker and Trump allows him to do his job, I predict that Steve Bannon will find his wings clipped in fairly short order. It will give everyone in the White House much-needed parameters and allow Robert Mueller to do his job. We can only hope and wait and see.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

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Addiction Reaches Every Corner of Society

The University of Southern California is reeling under allegations of campus drug use by the former medical school dean, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, who has been fired. People are calling this situation a scandal, which it is in the way the university covered it up, but I view this as more of a tragedy. Addiction is an issue that impacts almost every organization and every walk of life. It is an illness that is poorly understood and even more poorly treated. Addiction never happens in a vacuum. There are always indicators that there is an issue. What is lacking are appropriate interventions. If a school of medicine fails to understand this, how in the world can we possibly expect other organizations to do so?

 Last week, I blogged about the tragic death of a lawyer who was lost to addiction. It is incumbent on every organization to contact professionals who deal with addictions in order to recognize the indicators, understand the positive methods by which to intervene at the earliest possible stage, and learn how to support the individual. Bystanders, friends and family also have an obligation here. They almost always know there is something amiss. To them I offer the same advice—educate yourself. The life you save may be someone very close to you.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Photo credit: USC