Why Bullies Win

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This is a story about a situation in a small resort community. What it illustrates is how a single bully can rip apart family units, schools, workplaces, associations, communities and countries.

As an expert in organizational dynamics with a focus on bullying, this situation intrigued me. What occurred in this town is reflective of the growing polarization and toxicity in almost every aspect of our society.  Bullies appear to be winning the battle for our souls and we as bystanders are allowing it to happen.

Having grown up in a small town, I could well relate to the wonderful sense of community this town has exuded. The long-standing locals and the seasonal residents more than co-exist; they are neighbours and friends who enjoy what those who live in large urban areas can only dream about. However, this utopia is under the spell of a single bully, aided and abetted by bystanders who have been sucked into a vortex of deceit, deflection and discreditation.

It all started with a dispute between a small business owner and his client. In short order, a mutually agreeable resolution was reached. Immediately following this, a third party (the bully), who saw an opportunity to financially benefit from the dispute, inserted herself and influenced the client to renege on the settlement. An ugly confrontation occurred, which included the third party, who accused the business owner of ethical impropriety. Wanting the situation resolved, the business owner reached a second agreement with his client. However, this agreement, unlike the first, involved a financial settlement and was of significant benefit to the third party.  The business owner was out unnecessary funds, but was content in the fact he had a satisfied customer.

This should have been the end of the story.  However, as is the case in most bullying situations, the transaction became an open secret and the fodder of a lot of gossip, innuendo and alienation. Concerned her interference and subsequent financial benefit would look bad, the third party went on the offensive.  She told everyone who would listen her version of the story, implying that the business owner acknowledged his guilt by making a financial settlement. What she did here is turn the target or victim into the villain - a common deflection tactic used by bullies.  Something I refer to as the bully’s trap.

The business owner chose not to challenge the bully’s accusations; he felt by reacting it would only make matters worse and that in time the situation would fade from peoples’ minds.

Well, it did not go away. When a few people close to the business owner started to disassociate with the third party, she used another common bullying tactic by portraying herself as the victim. She doubled down on the accusations and innuendos, infecting more and more people in the community with her lies.  The gossip, innuendos and alienation flourished. In fact, the truth was so corrupted that by some she was being portrayed as a ‘white knight’ who helped the client.

All of this led to people having to choose sides. It should be noted that few of the people, who the business owner felt were his friends, went to him to convey what they were hearing, and get his side of the story.

Sadly, all of this could have been avoided. Here’s how:

First - the third party should never have stuck her nose in something that was none of her business.

Second - the bystanders to this should have challenged what was core to the situation, the allegation of ethical impropriety.  If they had, they would have found, as a matter of public record, it to be false. Regardless of what is being advanced - facts still matter.

Third - (and perhaps most importantly) friends and associates who were drawn into the vortex should have gone to the business owner to tell them what they were hearing, and get his side of the story.

This story is important because what happened here is a microcosm of what is happening to people everywhere. We live in a day and age where the bullies are winning the battles to divide and alienate us. There is no question that the bullies are the root of the problem, however the problem can only flourish if we as bystanders feed it. Most of us do not stand up as witnesses, defenders and resistors.  Some of us are afraid that the bully will turn on us. Some of us join in the bullying because it is part of our barbaric nature. Some of us just bury our heads in the sand, hoping it will go away.  Some of us are just cowards.  And some of us believe it is none of our business – but bullying, wherever we encounter it, is always our business.

If we look at the role of the bystander in the workplace, research shows that two thirds of American workers cannot count on their co-workers for support when things go wrong, something I believe has led to the loneliness epidemic that exists.

What must not be lost in this is the harm this causes to the targets and victims of the bullying. To be discredited and then abandoned is one of the most horrifying things to experience. It ruins livelihoods and destroys relationships. Given that bullying has become more the norm than the exception, it is small wonder we are in a mental health, addiction and suicide crisis.

We, as bystanders, can put a stop to this just by asking - what would I want people to do if it happened to me. Bystanders have the power to nip bullying in the bud. It is understandable that people are reluctant to act because bullies do retaliate. But even as bystanders, we all have the power to not fuel the flames. This story should have been old news relegated to the ages, but it did not, largely because of what the bystanders did and did not do.


Burn-out revealed as detriment to retaining engaged employees

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Last month, burn-out was included in the ‘Revision of the International Classification of Diseases’ by the ‘World Health Organization’. My colleague at Accordant co-authored a paper called Highly engaged but burned out - intra-individual profiles in the US workforce’ ; using the Yale/Faas Foundation study ‘Revolution in the Workplace’; providing valuable insights in retaining engaged employees.


#leadership #employees #forcethedialogue #emotionrevolution #fairness #ethics #civility

Thinking in Time


This New York Times opinion piece is important. Although it talks about Germany, the risk is everywhere. It’s not enough to think about the horrors the Nazis wrought - but how they came to power in the first place. The desperation of the have nots gave rise to this. 

We are seeing the same signs of desperation around the world. Equity is not socialism; it’s as Mayor Pete too aptly put it - “democratic capitalism”. 

#democracy #freedom #leadership #trust #civility

How Emotional Intelligence Can Save Democracy & How the Ombuds Can Influence This

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It is indeed an honour to address a group who, in my view, are in a unique position to protect and even grow democracy around the world by being the catalyst in protecting and shifting institutional cultures.

The premise I make is - diverse, inclusive, fair and safe cultures are by definition democratic; and if all of our institutions were more diverse, inclusive, fair and safe, we would have a more civil and democratic society.Abraham Lincoln warned – “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing will fail, without it, nothing can succeed.”

What has become all too apparent is that institutional leaders are not listening to or hearing the sentiments of people they are responsible for.

Most institutions have become too reliant on polls and engagement surveys to gauge sentiment. These polls and surveys may help to keep score, but they are often too superficial to unearth long-standing cultural issues that drive discontent and create unnecessary stress and organizational risk.

 Polls and engagement surveys don’t delve into why people feel the way they do. The why is critical. Let me tell you why - my first job at Loblaws, Canada’s largest retailer, was in labor relations. We introduced a German-themed delicatessen as a store within a store. As part of the theme, employees were required to wear German costumes. A store manager sought sanction to fire a female employee, named Tillie, because she refused to wear the dirndl. As it turned out the store was close to our headquarters, and I was often served by Tillie, who always exemplified what we wanted from our people. I immediately went to the store and asked to meet with her. “Tillie” I asked “Why don’t you want to wear the dirndl? She responded by rolling up her sleeve to expose a number tattooed on her arm, identifying herself as a concentration camp survivor.

How often do we hear from managers and human resource people - “oh, he or she is a disgruntled or unreasonable employee”? Well my experience with Tillie, whenever I hear this assessment I ask, “Why are they disgruntled or unreasonable.”

When companies who have invested heavily in attracting and retaining people - like Google - experience employee rebellion, it is clear that traditional techniques are failing us. With Google, they clearly did not hear or understand employee sentiment; and it is pretty obvious that they did not have the benefit of having a safe channel for employees to express their discontent.

In your role as Ombuds, you hear directly how people feel; you also hear the Tillie’s why. 

This goes beyond identifying and reporting trends; hearing the why’s gives you information to relay to leadership the cultural gaps and unnecessary stress factors that cause the discontent.

By doing this, you can help make the institutions become more democratic. Also, I will make the assertion that if the institutions who were exposed in the media for wrongdoings had a credible ombuds program, the internal whistleblowers would have gone to them in the first instance, and not put into jeopardy the institution’s

reputation; and the resulting fallout could have been avoided.

Let’s look at the state of democracy today.

Most of our institutions are broken. There is a great divide in every aspect of our lives - where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we worship, where we associate, and where we play - in all sectors, and across all geography.

This is largely due to a society where our institutions continue to be ‘old boys’ clubs; where the wealthy elites wield a disproportionate amount of power and control; where relationships and interdependencies are not fostered; where corruption, greed, harassment, abuse and coverups have become the norm; where “truth isn’t truth” and “alternative facts” prevail; and where extreme partisanship is becoming more entrenched.

 A recent study called ‘LETHAL MASS PARTISANSHIP’ is a sobering report on how entrenched and dangerous this has become.

Their survey asked Republican and Democratic voters whether they agreed with a statement that members of the opposition party - “are just not worse for politics, they are downright evil.”

Here is what they found:

 . Just over 42 percent view the opposition as “downright evil”.
. One out of five agrees with the statement that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered human.”
. 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans think that on occasion “the country would be better off if a large number of the opposition died”.

While these horrible findings speak to partisan politics in the U.S., it is safe to say that the negative emotions of fear, anger and hate have created similar entrenched sentiments and dangers in other countries and sectors of society.

The reason for this is we don’t talk to each other anymore, and if we talk, we talk at each other. We have lost the art of civil discourse.

Civil discourse is at the core of democracy.

The lack of civil discourse is also at the core of our broken institutions. So, this then becomes our challenge - how can we foster relationships where differing beliefs, views and perspectives can be heard and respected. 

To foster relationships there must be engagement.

People, regardless of their status in an institution, must become comfortable in ‘The Six D’s of Engagement –










ØDISSENT, and yes even




I understand that dissent and defy my fly in the face of your role as an ombuds; if we want people to be truly engaged, we should expect them to take stands, particularly when they are asked to do something that is illegal or unethical.

Lack of engagement is an ongoing issue in our institutions. For a couple of decades of polling by Gallop, engagement levels have not exceeded 34 percent. This means two-thirds of North American workers are not engaged.

There is no question that employers have invested heavily in this. Employment training has become a multi-billion-dollar industry; yet has yielded scant returns. The Faas Foundation set out to understand why the traditional techniques and further investments were failing us. Working with the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health America, we have identified seven conditions necessary for active and positive engagement.


They are:

FIRST - A level of TRUST throughout the institution. The #MeToo movement, and the exposures of corruption and wrongdoings in every segment of our society, has highlighted the need for leaders to evaluate their at-risk positions. 

In most of the situations that have been exposed, the situation is secondary to the real issue, which is that they were open secrets for years, and in some cases decades; and leadership was either complicit or negligent. 

Bystanders and targets of abuse were afraid to expose injustices or irregularities for fear of retaliation. 

Given the number of cultural time bombs that have exploded, leadership is starting to panic and desperately looking for a magic bullet on how to protect their organizations from the huge negative consequences. Most are doubling down on what has not worked in the past - more training and revising their policies.

Unless there is trust, any resources applied will be urinated away. Trust is the prerequisite to everything else.

Trust is the magic bullet.

SECOND – The SECURITY people in the organization experience. For most, there is no sense of security, primarily because of the lack of discourse they have with their supervisor. It is not so much that people expect a guarantee of employment; what they expect is fairness in how they are assessed; and if there is a downsizing, that they will be treated fairly.

THIRD - A degree of DIVERSITY and INCLUSION - If institutions do not reflect the communities in which they operate and the customers they serve, they are not getting essential perspectives on what they need to know. We are in an era where the lack of talent is the biggest challenge employers face. Becoming more diverse opens up a huge pool of untapped talent, which is largely unrepresented. 

Without inclusion however, diversity will fail. Being inclusive will force the institution to address the equity, biases, favoritism and the old boys’ mentality and influence.

Chevron, an organization that has participated in our ‘Emotion Revolution in the Workplace’ initiative, is an example of an organization that has made diversity and inclusion a foundational pillar of their culture, which is supported by values and codes of behaviour that are inviolate, not words on a wall or on a website.

‘The Chevron Way’ have been conditions of employment for three decades. Leadership there attributes these conditions for their success in consistently outperforming others in their sector and having only a three percent turnover of staff.

FOURTH - A sense of PURPOSE across the workforce. David Graeber’s book, ‘Bullshit Jobs - A Theory’, cites a UK study that shows 37 percent of people don’t believe their job makes a meaningful difference. Folklore has it that when President Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral in 1962, he did a walk around and asked people what they did. From most being rocket scientists, he got mostly technical answers. A janitor he encountered responded with, “well Mr. President, I am helping to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely.”

Just imagine if everyone you manage or lead would give this type of response.


FIFTH - A sense of EFFICACY associated with the workforce. A sense of purpose provides people with the why of what they do, a sense of efficacy encourages people to constantly ask - why are we doing it this way? Seventy-four percent of North American workers feel their work environment is overly focused on trivial activities and have overly bureaucratic company policies. This suggests that any sense of efficacy is pretty much nonexistence. 


SIXTH - The confidence of every colleague to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. If people are too afraid to tell leadership what they need to hear, it is unlikely they will provide input on how to protect and grow the enterprise. and 


SIXTH - The EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE of managers and leadership. Emotions matter - and matter a great deal at work. They guide complex decision making, help people build and maintain positive relationships, and influence psychological well-being.  

So, where are our institutions on meeting these conditions?

From our Mental Health America study ‘Mind the Workplace’ of over 20 thousand respondents we found:

ØOnly 17 percent feel that their co-workers are appropriately dealt with when they are not doing their job.

ØOnly 28 percent feel that all employees are held accountable for their work, regardless of their position within the organization.

ØOnly 36 percent feel that their supervisor would support them when things get hard.

ØOnly 34 percent feel that their co-workers would support them when things get hard.

Ø77 percent feel that people are being unfairly recognized, while others with better experience or skills don’t get recognized at all.

Ø74 percent feel their work environment is overly focused on trivial activities and has overly bureaucratic company policies. And

Ø71 percent speak poorly about their organizations to family and friends.

From our Yale study ‘Emotion Revolution in the Workplace’ of over 14 thousand respondents, we fou 

Ø55 percent are stressed most of the time.

Ø47 percent are overwhelmed most of the time.

Ø51 percent are frustrated most of the time.

Ø50 percent are burned out.  And

Ø25 percent are pressured to act unethically.

The American Psychological Association reported that bosses cause stress for 75 percent of employees.

Research by the University of Phoenix has proven that 75 percent of employees have been affected by workplace bullying whether as a target or witness.

Considering all of this, it is no small wonder why there is so much discontent.

So, what is the most important thing these statistics tell us? -  positive boss/subordinate relationships are rare. 

What all of this tells us is that two-thirds of North American workers are not being effectively led and managed; rather they are monitored and controlled, and communication between the manager and employee is limited to direct orders, the annual or semi-annual performance reviews, and when things go south.

Most performance management systems do not adequately address the issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, fairness, preferential treatment, cronyism, ambiguity, subjectivity, bias, harassment, abuse and relevancy of activities. These ten issues exist in most organizations.

The boss/subordinate relationship is the most important of the cultural shifts required; and the most important aspect of this is making emotional intelligence a core competency, in particular for managers.

Our Yale study provides some compelling evidence for this.

When asked to describe their experience at work, employees whose supervisors have high emotional intelligence paint a very different picture than those whose supervisors have low emotional intelligence.

We also found that those who work for an emotionally intelligent supervisor

Øare less stressed;

Øhave less burnout;

Øare more engaged;

Øare more creative and innovative; and

Øare less prone to engage in ethical breaches.

You have probably heard emotional intelligence portrayed as a set of “soft skills” or traits such as optimization, assertiveness, or just being “nice”. Though popular, the view that emotional intelligence is solely a soft skill is simply wrong.

The scientific conception of emotional intelligence was proposed by psychologists Peter Salovey (current President of Yale) and John Mayer. Their ability model of emotional intelligence defines the constructs on a set of skills - including the perception and regulation of emotions, that helps people reason with emotions to inform their decisions.

Research shows that emotional intelligence, when measured as an ability, has tangible everyday benefits - better performance, more effective decision making, more satisfying relationships, and greater well-being.


To develop the emotional intelligence skills of managers, we tie the application of these skills to a performance management model that forces regular and ongoing dialogue versus just “checking in”. 

This is the value exchange proposition which we call “The Covenant Model”. It works this way:

Managers sets out clear expectations they have of employees in terms of performance, behaviours and attitudes. Clarity not only on the what, but also on the how. A key expectation is for people to relay anything they are aware of that could put individuals and/or the institution at risk.

The employee is then given the opportunity to solicit (?) what they need to deliver on those expectations.

Once agreement is reached, it becomes their covenant. 

The key to making ‘The Covenant Model’ work is regular and ongoing dialogue, using the covenant as the framework for the discussions. 

Because a significant proportion of your visitors deal with supervisors’ issues, the juxtaposition of the ombuds approach with the emotional intelligence/covenant model can build on trust in this most important relationship and create win-wins for all.

Having used this model for years, I can attest that it not only improves active engagement, performance, behaviours and attitudes; it also reduces surprises, excuses and risks.

Even more importantly - it reduces unnecessary stress.

And by reducing unnecessary stress, it directly tackles the mental health crisis and loneliness epidemic that has led to premature deaths including suicides, which are at unprecedented high levels. To give you an order of magnitude, in the United States there are 120 thousand deaths annually that may be attributable to workplace stress; which makes workplace stress one of the top killers. I intentionally use this hard word because people who die because of willful unnecessary stress, and because of a toxic culture are victims of homicide.

Today, only 13 percent of public companies have a formal Ombuds program. The majority of people are being denied a credible channel to help address their discontent. Without the ability to individually address their discontent, people are starting to recognize collective action is necessary. The #MeToo movement, the worldwide walkout by Google employees and France’s Yellow Vest movement are, in my view, just the beginning of a new industrial revolution. 

France’s President Macron in responding to the Yellow Vest movement by heeding Lincoln ‘s advice on sentiment, by conducting an extensive listening tour. He has been very open in indicating the need for some pretty drastic changes that will have an impact on the public; but he has also indicated his being open to figuring out how to minimize the negative impacts. Rather than fight the revolution, he is embracing it by engaging in it. This is democracy in action. While the jury is out on the success of this - my bet is France will be the better for it. 

The Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence advanced a revolution in schools called ‘RULER’, which has been adopted in thousands of schools internationally.

RULER is an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that supports the entire school community in:

Øunderstanding the value of emotions;

Øbuilding the skills of emotional intelligence; and 

Øcreating and maintaining a positive school climate.

Research shows: 

Øpositive shifts in school climates;

Øenhanced academic performance; 

Øbetter quality relationships; and

Øless bullying and aggressive behaviour.

In the ‘Emotion Revolution in Schools’, a wonderful dynamic that has emerged is what we refer to as a spillover effect, where students in emotionally intelligent schools apply emotional intelligence skills at home, creating emotionally intelligent families.

We anticipate that by creating emotionally intelligent workplaces, they will have a spillover effect in the community. 

Just imagine how having engaged emotionally intelligent families, schools, workplaces, associations and governments can change the global downward spiral we are on and create a more democratic world.

And just imagine how you and your colleagues can make this vision a reality. 



Words 👏 Matter 👏 Words 👏 Incite 👏


This is more clear than ever today, when we are digesting the horror of the massacre at New Zealand mosques.


The use of a Nazi slogan by the CEO of Volkswagen and his lame apology I find deeply disturbing particularly today when we are digesting the horror of the massacre at New Zealand mosques. The rhetoric coming from Trump yesterday which endorses violence goes beyond being disturbing, it is outright scary and a blatant threat to those who do not support him.  

Words incite; and when we better understand the hate that is out there, the risk of what occurred in Nazi Germany in the early thirties becomes very, very real. Take note the absolutely terrifying statistics, in particular how a large percent of people who think others they hate are not even human!

I made a conscious point a few months ago to stop writing about the political situation in the US because I really have no more to add what other are saying - assuming that it would be pretty self-evident that continuing to walk down the current path would end badly. What I did not predict is the entrenched polarization that has occurred. 

Although this began prior to the current administration, this president’s actions and words are giving people a license to act out on their bigotry and hatred. The time has come as Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn) has just stated again, “The glass is breaking”. 

 Those of us who care about the basic premise of democracy must go beyond being concerned at this point. An immediate shift is required; and the first step is for the Republican party to stop what has become a crisis that will end the same way.

Cohen in his testimony issued the warning that the transfer of power is not going to be easy, which adds credibility to Trump’s not so veiled threats. Even I am shocked at the degree to which this situation has evolved despite what I predicted during the primaries - (something I was mocked for by those who had great confidence in the checks and balances in the US system).

Wisdom Reigns


In 2013, I was bestowed with the honour of receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal. I must admit at that time I did not consider myself to be a Monarchist. Since then I have become to better appreciate how fortunate the world is to have the benefit of someone whose power is in her wisdom, and how she exercises it. 

The quote from Her Majesty’s Christmas message (“Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.”) was one of the most popular posts I have done since I started my blog, which suggests that many share this appreciation. 

Her comments this week redoubled my sense of appreciation. “As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of views, coming together to seek out the common ground and never losing sight of the bigger picture. To me these are timeless, and I commend them to everyone.” Long may she reign.

A great example of leadership for the New Year


Chief Justice Roberts, in endorsing recommendations to shield workers in the federal court system from harassment and abuse, is a refreshing example of leadership. 

In his year-end report on the state of the federal judiciary, the Chief Justice endorsed recommendations for clearer standards, easier reporting and better training.

While the court system has a better culture than other government agencies, Roberts took the position which in essence he said, ‘better than others is not good enough’. 

Only one word for this – Bizarre


This Wall Street Journal article demonstrates just how far we are willing to go to make emotions matter, but this is hardly the place to begin.  

Rather than spending millions teaching empathy to machines, technology companies would be better served if they made emotional intelligence a core competency in their organizations. As I pointed out in this article in The Hill, it took a walkout by thousands of employees worldwide to discover how their employees felt and why they felt the way they did. 

Time for CBS to come clean


Here is the latest on CBS, coming on the heels of an investigation by CBS lawyers on 60 Minutes, who blamed what happened there on 60 Minutesworking outside the CBS culture. This finding is bizarre, on the basis that the CBS culture is as toxic, if not more so than 60 Minutes. The report was basically a legalese rationale. Ms. Dushku told investigators she was written off the hit series ‘Bull’ after enduring sexual harassment on the set. Lawyers scolded CBS for its ‘antiquated’ views. 

The network has undertaken a companywide re-evaluation in the wake of the #MeToo movement that has forced three powerful men out of their jobs because of workplace conduct. 

The harassment at both CBS and 60 Minutesare now secondary to how they have addressed it, which has been to deny, defect and deceive. Neither organization has any business investigating and reporting on wrongdoings until they come totally clean. Their repeated statements on their wanting a safe work environment rings hollow.

Similarly, The Catholic Church has no moral authority as I discussed in this blog, again not just for the horrendous sex abuse, but for their coverups - quite frankly to avoid financial exposures. 

Why board reform is required


This New York Times story outlines why board reform is desperately needed. The story’s header ‘Disaster for CBS Shareholders’ misses the even more critical impact, which is the failure of boards to address predators and other ethical breaches. This a disaster for employees. In most of the scandals that have hit the press, boards have claimed they were not aware, which were in most cases admissions of negligence or complicity.