When it Comes to Doing Right By Your Coworker, Forget HR

What does it mean to be a bystander in a toxic workplace? Sometimes it means being forced to decide between doing what you know is right and protecting your job. In this excellent installment of The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine, Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses the quandary of an office worker who knows a young coworker was unjustly fired. The advice given is very sound and reflects the situation that many people face at work. In a perfect world, the correspondent should have been able to go to human resources with her problem. However, as I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, in toxic cultures human resources is part of the problem, rather than being part of the solution—which is what makes Appiah’s advice in the column so on target.

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Bill Cosby to Teach Sexual Predator Wannabes How to Get Away With It

At times there seems like there are two Bill Cosbys. The first was THE comedian of the second half of the 20th century, the man who made everyone laugh with his bestselling comedy albums, reassured children with wonderful animated shows like Fat Albert and Little Bill, and inspired as the lovable Dr. Heathcliff  Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Who didn’t fantasize being invited to visit the Huxtable living room and listen to Christopher Plummer spout Shakespeare and B.B. King sing the blues?

Then there’s the current Cosby, the sexual predator who has been accused by 60 women of having drugged and sexually violated them. This is the Cosby who characterizes all of those women as liars and had the audacity to complain that former Pennsylvania District Attorney Bruce Castor reneged on his deal never to criminally charge him—even though that deal was illegal.  This is the sexual predator who wants to travel across the United States convening “Town Halls” on how not to get accused of being sexual predator. Or, as Christina Cauterucci on Slate put it—“Bill Cosby Wants to Teach Cheating Husbands and Male Athletes How Not to Get Accused of Rape.”

In other words, the real Cosby.

It should be clear by now that Cosby, like many sexual predators, is a bully. He attacks those who call him out with false accusations implying that his victims’ initial openness and trust was an invitation to sexual intimacy. And his talents at deflection would put Donald Trump to shame. According to attorney Gloria Allred who represents a number of women who have accused Cosby of assault, these proposed Town Halls are actually an insidious strategy. She recently told the New York Times that the “workshops appear to be a transparent and slick effort to attempt to influence the jury pool from which jurors will be selected for his second criminal trial.”

The only thing anyone needs to know is if you don’t want to be accused of sexual abuse—DON’T ABUSE ANYONE. These transparent attempts to turn his victims into villains and regain public sympathy are sinister and chilling.  

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

Photo credit: MMM

Frustrated Board and Shareholders Put Cash Flows Before Bros -- Finally!

Activist board members and shareholders can be a last line of defense when a CEO is bullying his entire company, which is why Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned today.  According to reports, investors demanded that he step down, in what New York Times reporter Mike Isaac described as an “outright rebellion.”

Some news sources were more cynical about the departure. The tech news site Pando said that Silicon Valley puts “cash flows before bros,” but whatever you believe, it’s about time. I’ve been calling for Kalanick’s resignation for months as this textbook case of a Silicon Valley “bro” who mismanaged the company he founded and allowed the regular abuse of his employees has dominated business headlines. It’s amazing how motivated people can be to stop abuse when their investment is at risk.

According to Adrienne LaFrance at the Atlantic, “It was ultimately concerns over the bottom line—not merely the toxic culture, or Kalanick’s trademark hubris, or explosive allegations of sexual harassment, or revelations about Uber’s secret software to evade of law enforcement—that forced Kalanick out. Well, out of his job as CEO, that is. He’ll still be on Uber’s board of directors, and he will retain his control of a majority of Uber’s voting shares.”

This doesn’t sit well with Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business Review. He sees Uber’s troubles as deep and systemic: “I suggest that the problem at Uber goes beyond a culture created by toxic leadership. The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.” For this reason, Edelman is calling for regulators to shut down the company.

I’ve discussed all of these issues at length in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, and dedicated the entire first third of the book to the critical question—“Is Your Workplace Culture a Ticking Time Bomb?” The bottom line is that Uber was a ticking time bomb, but shareholders finally got it right. Investors and boards have a responsibility to employees to be responsible for a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace. I’m glad to see that they’ve stepped up at last. Maybe now we can have a news cycle without Uber dominating the business headlines.

Illustration credit: Jack Ohman/Sacramento Bee

A Bully Sheriff with the Power to Change Murder to Suicide

It’s a chilling case—a young, single mother dies from a gunshot wound that is consistent with homicide and the powerful sheriff covers up for her boyfriend, a deputy sheriff. 

The power of the sheriff in St. Augustine, FL is frighteningly similar to our current Bully-in-Chief. Happy when he’s being praised and glib before an audience, Sherrif David B. Shoar doesn’t like to be crossed. In fact, when Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent Rusty Rodgers was sent to investigate the poorly handled case, Shoar spread lies and innuendo to try to get Rodgers fired. It’s upsetting how discrediting the opposition has become the norm. The result is no justice for the victim, no closure for the family, endless grief for the investigator and a bully drunk with power. The parallels with the bully currently in control of the nation are chilling.  

Photo credit: City of St. Augustine

Cosby Proves Once Again Bullies Turn Victims into Villains

We like to think that we’re a society that protects the vulnerable, but the continued power of celebrity bullies like Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly makes you wonder. Both bad Bills are fond of the bully’s favorite tactic—turning their victims into villains. In Cosby’s case it’s the brave woman who came forward to seek justice for being sexually abused. O’Reilly meanwhile is promising an all-out assault on those who put an end to his decades of misbehavior by promising an “exposé” of a “left-wing cabal”—just as soon as his current legal quagmire is finished, of course.

It makes me feel deeply that hope is in short supply when it comes to helping victims seek justice.

At least O’Reilly is widely known as a bully, braggart and blowhard. His ability to avoid justice has been due in part thanks to his late friend and fellow bully and sexual predator Roger Ailes, but the accusations against him have been no surprise.

This is contrary to Cosby, who was beloved by an entire generation for his clean humor, intelligent children’s cartoons and endearing turn as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. That’s why the revelation of multiple cases of rape and molestation has been such a shock. When America’s favorite dad turns out to be a serial sexual predator, how are victims expected to get any sort of closure?

This is where the justice system is flawed. More than 40 women have come forward with stories about being sexually violated by Cosby, but the trial allowed the testimony of only one of them. This made the trial a case of he said/she said without giving the jury the full picture. Why should they listen to a young woman against the word of the most lovable father figure of the 1980s?

The system is clearly stacked against people who are targeted, especially if they’re marginalized or not people of means. Tragically, this allows bullies to think of themselves as bullet-proof and continue their misdeeds. No wonder so many of us are losing faith in the justice system.

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Why Women in Power Keep Getting Interrupted

Disrespect toward women who had achieved the highest levels of power was rampant on Tuesday. At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was interrupted during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by Sen. John McCain, who was frankly out of order. Meanwhile, at a meeting of board and employees to discuss sexist practices at Uber, a male board member tried to shut down a female. As Arianna Huffington discussed how one female director makes it possible for others, David Bonderman quipped, “more women means more talking.”

As Susan Chira pointed out in New York Times Business section, social media outrage ensued and Bonderman resigned from Uber’s board. But that doesn’t change reality—study after study proves that when women speak up they are shut down. Who can forget the fracas when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was determined to read Coretta Scott King’s letter on the floor of the Senate? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut her down with a little-known rule.

“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” he said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Those last three words became a rallying cry—but as Tuesday showed, they’ve done little to move the bar toward equality.

The truth is that without a systemic change, no amount of public chastisement is going to help. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the corporations I’ve worked with—they throw millions of dollars at diversity programs, but little ever changes. Without a complete overhaul of the culture of a company, no amount of pithy sayings or public outrage will make the slightest bit of difference.

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How Charming Bullies React to Being Challenged

It’s amazing what gets revealed when a bully is under fire. We’ve seen bluster, braggadocio and bilious rage when Donald Trump feels threatened because bullies can’t accept any sort of challenge. But U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who was grilled today by the Senate Intelligence Committee, is no ordinary bully. He’s a folksy charmer, a sub-classification of bully who can be insidiously harmful. Charming bullies show a genial face in public, but don’t hesitate to harm anyone who disagrees or doesn’t conform to their world view. Things get really interesting when their veneer gets stripped away.

U.S. senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), held Sessions’ feet to the fire during the committee hearing, and, as the temperature rose, so did his temper.

“You are obstructing…and I think your silence speaks volumes,” Heinrich told Sessions after the attorney general continuously refused to answer questions.  

“I would have to say that I have consulted with senior career attorneys in the department,” he countered.

“I suspect you have,” Heinrich shot back.   

Sessions’ bully personality was in even higher reveal when Wyden pointed out that the American people “have had it with stonewalling.” USA Today reports this exchange then occurred:

"Sen. Wyden, I am not stonewalling," Sessions said. "I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice."

As their exchange continued, Wyden asked about Comey's testimony, in which he said that there were problematic issues with Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation.

"What are they?" Wyden asked.

At this, Sessions grew visibly agitated.

"Why don't you tell me?" Sessions answered. "There are none, Sen. Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it."

But the senator that got Sessions red in the face was Harris, the former California attorney general and prosecutor. It was clear from the start that he didn’t like the fact that she refused to allow him to deflect or prevaricate. As the Los Angeles Times reported:

When Sessions said he didn't recall any conversations with Russian businessmen at the 2016 Republican convention, Harris interrupted again.

“Will you let me qualify it?” he responded in a tone of annoyance. “If I don't qualify it, you'll accuse me of lying. So I need to be correct as best I can. I'm not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.”

Harris continued to pressure him to answer her question about what policy Sessions was citing when he refused to discuss his conversations with Trump. That’s when McCain interrupted Harris for the second time in two weeks.

“Mr. Chairman, the witness should be allowed to answer the question,” he said. Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-SC) told McCain that he’d handle things, but upheld McCain’s demand.

The relief on Sessions’ face was obvious. 

 Photo credit: ABC News

Will Findings Force Uber’s Kalanick and Michael to Drive Off into the Sunset?

The results of former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s investigation have been released and I applaud the report for recommending that Uber undergo a systemic change. This includes dismissing Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael, a top lieutenant of CEO Travis Kalanick, and having Kalanick take a three-month leave of absence. According to an article in Sunday’s New York Times, the Uber board has voted unanimously for all of Holder’s recommendations.

As I discuss in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, no amount of small-scale changes will fundamentally fix a company as plagued as Uber. The only way to make lasting change is to make a complete shift in how business is conducted and institute the Ethic of Reciprocity as a core value. 

Stripping the misbehaving CEO of a key ally is a step in the right direction, but there must be safeguards in place for the health and well-being of all employees, including the founder. According to the Times article, Kalanick hasn’t taken time off since 2009, not even for an accident that killed his mother and hospitalized his father. How can such a man understand the need for a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace? No wonder employees have been driven to the point of suicide.

Will Uber follow the recommendations laid down by Holder and approved by his board? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure—to ignore these findings could bring the entire company crashing to a halt.

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Understanding Why Targets of Abuse Stay Silent

There was a moment during Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted what was in the mind of every American woman watching: “So Comey told Jeff Sessions he didn't want to be alone with Trump. Women across the country can relate.”

As Bill Cosby stands trial for one of his many sexual assaults, and Bill O’Reilly struggles to remain relevant after being fired by Fox News following sexual harassment revelations, Donald Trump’s predatory behavior seems clearer than ever. In an op-ed in the today’s New York Times, Nicole Serratore lays out exactly how Trump’s behavior played out with former FBI director James Comey.

She wrote: “As I listened to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.”

The parallels are numerous. From whispering in Comey’s ear about how excited he was for them to work together, to the dinner where Comey was surprised to find himself alone with Trump, to pushing everyone out of the Oval Office so they would be undisturbed, all of these behaviors are quite familiar.

Members of the Intelligence Committee even questioned Comey like he was a woman who had been victim of a male predator. As Elle magazine pointed out:

Throughout the hearing, Comey was peppered with questions about why he didn't somehow stop Trump from being a creep. "You're big, you're strong," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong–I cannot discuss that with you'?" Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) argued that "You said [to Attorney General Jeff Sessions], 'I don't want to be in the room with him alone again,' but you continued to talk to him on the phone… Why didn't you say, 'I'm not taking that call?'" Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) acknowledged that "[The] president never should have cleared the room and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go, to let the investigation go. But I remain puzzled by your response… You could have said, 'Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate.'"

Perhaps the aspect of behavior that resonates the most with women I’ve spoke with was Comey’s description of trying to keep his face entirely neutral so as to neither anger nor encourage Trump.

This is not to say that men haven’t been prey to manipulative and practiced sexual predators. After all, predatory behavior is really about abusing the balance of power and no one abuses power more than a bully. Given his stature as a white man with prestige and authority, and the lack of distracting salacious elements, perhaps Comey’s experience will help raise awareness of how harassment is always about an abuse of power and an attempt to defame and villainize the victim. And maybe, just maybe, it might help prevent the kind of situations that happened at Fox News.

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

Photo credit: New York Times/Andrew Harrer

 

The James Comey Guide for Bullied Employees and Whistleblowers

As an expert in workplace dynamics, I was struck by how today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with former FBI Director James Comey was really an issue aboutworkplace wrongdoing and a bully boss. While a few of the senators asked pointed questions about the Russian investigation and, perhaps in the effort of obfuscation, Hillary Clinton, the questions centered on why Comey was fired.  Comey’s answers really made me sit up and take notice—they were a master class in what to do when dealing with a bully or the need to become a whistleblower.

1. Trust Your Instincts

When Donald Trump sent the attorney general and the vice president out of the Oval Office in order to talk privately to Comey, red flags popped up in Comey’s head. Additional concerns were raised when Trump changed the reason he had fired the FBI director. This is where the skills of emotional intelligence are vital—understanding the mood and tenor of a situation will let you know when to be on your guard.

2. Keep a Paper Trail

Given the red flags and his solo meeting with Trump, Comey felt compelled to keep a detailed account of every interaction they had. This was unnecessary under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who only spoke to Comey on rare occasions and never improperly. Because he kept a paper trail, investigators can now use the documents to get to the truth.

3. Try Not to Be Alone with the Bully Boss

It‘s important to have witnesses when malfeasance happens. Comey knew that Trump’s request to have a meeting alone was highly improper and went to great lengths to keep it from happening again. This is also why he celebrated the idea that there might be tapes.

4. Go to Independent Investigators Outside Your Company

Comey gave the detailed memos he wrote to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller III for his investigation for a good reason. According to the New York Times: “I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, ‘cause it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation; there might be a tape,” Mr. Comey said, referring to May 15. “And my judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. So I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”

For more information about dealing with bully bosses and protecting yourself if you need to become a whistleblower, please read my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Photo credit: CNN