The Reckoning Ball

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These essays, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, articulate the realities of workplace dynamics. Directors and boards should take serious note. A Mental Health America / Faas Foundation survey of 17,000 workers in North America called ‘Mind the Workplace’ revealed that 70 percent of workers do not speak well of their organization.

Based on research I have done for my books and articles, I assert that power and control cultures, which beget wrongdoing and abuse is the primary reason for this. Yes a revolution is necessary, which is why the Faas Foundation partnered with Yale University on a major initiative called ‘Emotion Revolution in the Workplace’ to help organizations create psychologically safe, fair and emotionally intelligent workplaces. 

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WHEN DISOBEDIENCE IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO

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When immense power is in erratic hands, the readiness of subordinates to disobey becomes critical. Even a dog knows that. In a riveting article by Roger Cohen in The New York Times, we realize that being disobedient is the right thing to do in certain situations. Fortunately for us, Air Force General John Hyten asserts that he would not obey an illegal order from the Commander-in-Chief.

My bet is the directors of all of the organizations, where wrongdoing, including abuse and harassment are part of the culture, are regretting the absence of disobedience. I have written about the importance of bystanders becoming witnesses, activists, resistors, protectors, and defenders of injustice. Many years of working in the corporate world, focusing on creating psychologically safe, fair and emotionally intelligent cultures, has given me the life experience necessary to be a credible expert in handling the injustice, harassment and abuse that occupy much of the news headlines today. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I provide insights and a method to safely stand up for what is right.

We are all endowed with the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. What we must do now is to stand up against a force not seen since World War II.

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#MeToo - SOME WORDS OF CAUTION

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Time Magazine has named “the Silence Breakers” - the women who came forward to divulge their experiences with sexual abuse - as their Person of the Year; The New York Times discusses how their reporters and Ashley Judd continue this national debate about sexual harassment in the workplace; and The Washington Post describes how Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is carrying the banner for sexual misconduct within government. And, there can be no question that the #MeToo movement is raising the level of awareness and outrage on sexual harassment and abuse. As a result, this has become a very public debate now. While this is a massive force exhibiting very positive action, we must be clear that there are also some very significant dangers to cautious about. 

I have conducted extensive research on workplace dynamics and, through my career, handled numerous incidents of sexual harassment. Therefore, I feel I can speak with some degree of authority on the topic.

My purpose in writing this is not to discourage exposure, but rather to provide some observations for people to better understand the implications of outing sexual predators. I want to encourage the #MeToo movement as a credible force - effective, proportionally more focused on the future - and not to simply be seen as a method by which people can seek revenge.

Here are my observations:

. Not to diminish sexual harassment and abuse, but it should not overshadow the much bigger issue of bullying, harassment and abuse in the workplace. According to a Harvard/Stanford study, over 120,000 deaths annually may be attributable to workplace stress; and according to a recent Mental Health America survey, much of the stress is unnecessary. I have found that where sexual abuse and harassment occurs, usually the workplace culture is toxic and other wrongdoings are condoned. Uber has illustrated this in spades. But in general, the IT industry in Silicon Valley, where, as I have discussed in a blog, the harassment and abuse is mostly culturally driven, with few ground rules and parameters on behaviors. Note also that people beyond the victims of the abuse are targeted when, for example, bystanders are forced into complicity under the threat of retaliation if they expose the situation. 

. Distinctions must be made between what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The allegations that are being made range from rape to flirtation, and should be identified and dealt with as such. We cannot and must not abandon the fundamental principles of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, ‘punishment fitting the crime’, and ‘due process’. The #MeToo movement and the media must not become the judge, jury and executor. 

 

. Most of the allegations have focused on the entertainment industry and the media. It should not be assumed that this issue is not a problem in other sectors. In the research I have done for my books, blog posts and articles on the topic, it is of epidemic proportions in all sectors. 

. What did they know, and when did they know it? Most of the situations that have recently been exposed, and most of the many situations I have been involved with have been open secrets; and the abuse has been going on for extended periods of time, even decades. Boards and bosses who claim ignorance either don’t know what’s going on in their organizations, or they are lying. There is no question that predators should be penalized; however, the bigger issue is complicity, where for a variety of reasons, predators are allowed to abuse. I suggest that boards, bosses and human resource people who failed to stop the abuse should be penalized even more severely than the predators. I have often asserted that while there is no question that the predators are the villains, because there was no intervention, the predators may also have become the victims. Employers at the first whiff of bad behaviour should nip it in the bud.

. Bullies and sexual predators have an uncanny ability to entrap their targets, turning the victim into the villain. In exposing this situation, people must understand that it is an allegation; and most who are accused will do everything they can to discredit the accuser. They will fight back - and with a vengeance.

. Inclusion of women in the workplace could take a serious hit. To avoid the risk of exposure, organizations could be motivated to take the path of least resistance. Diversity may not suffer as much because of legislation and optics, but we should remember, as discussed in this Harvard Business Review article that being diverse does not translate into being inclusive.

. Along the same line, concern about being accused could lead to significant change to workplace dynamics beyond changing the abusive behaviors. Margaret Wente, a feature writer for Canada’s Globe and Mail, articulated this when she wrote, “The post-Weinstein era will be a better place for women. But there will be losses, too. For example, the ordinary, garden-variety banter in the office will be lost. Colleagues will be walking on eggshells, afraid that ordinary gestures of teasing or affection, including all kissing, touching, hugging, flirting and almost all kinds of humanity, might be misconstrued and give offence. Men will no longer meet with women behind closed doors, alone. Casual informality and warmth will be replaced by stiffness, anxiety and prudishness. The world will be a slightly colder place. And that’s too bad.” When Mike Pence revealed that he does not eat alone with a woman other than his wife, he was mocked. My bet is that many men have taken note. 

. False accusations, when validated, have the potential to totally discredit the movement. The Washington Post almost being duped into reporting a false accusation by Project Veritas reinforces the requirement for the media to fact check. 

. In the many situations I have dealt with, a high proportion were a result of a romance between a boss and subordinate soured. Organizations who do not have rules in place for office romances are at huge risk of facing a sexual abuse challenge. For the companies I was responsible for, employees were required to disclose the relationship and where there was a boss to subordinate (direct or indirect) relationship, either the romantic or working relationship needed to be severed. Breach of this rule was grounds for immediate termination for both.

As indicated at the outset, I do not wish for my observations to discourage exposure, but rather have people understand this process of exposure is fraught with implications, the biggest being the #MeToo movement being considered a modern form of McCarthyism.

 

(Andrew Faas is the author of ‘ From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, and a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University)

"L" is for Loyal

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This article is part of the series, A BOOMER’S GUIDE FOR MILLENNIALS; THE A B C’s of LEADERSHIP, I am writing for MoneyInc.

I assert that loyalty is the most precious gift that can be given and received. I also assert that loyalty is the most fragile of characteristics that are outlined in this series of articles. 

A recent New York Times article by Sara Chaplin ‘Is Loyalty a Virtue’ captures the complex nature of loyalty citing “The last two years in American politics have revealed our very different senses of loyalty, from it’s purpose to its objects.” Chapman concludes, “We are seeing with unsettling clarity the limits of fidelity to a person, a faction, and agenda. And we are beginning to search for some better place to direct it.”

Loyalty is a commitment people make to support, defend and protect. Loyalty should be clear-sighted, not blind and be based on a level of trust and respect for those (a person, institution or cause) you bestow it on. 

In whatever relationship, whether it beis family, friend, boss, association, employer, coworker, community, political party, country and place of worship, loyalty is an expectation or a dictate. In all too many cases, the expectation runs counter to our personal values and beliefs; yet it is still expected, and not giving it becomes tantamount to betrayal or treason.

Unfortunately when put in this situation, most have to play along with it. Not doing so could jeopardize the relationship itself, termination of employment, expulsion, or exclusion. If we think in time, not becoming a Nazi in Hitler’s Germany cost not only their lives, but also the lives of their entire families.

More than ever in our lifetime, in almost every aspect of our lives, our loyalties are being tested. We have been witnessing an unprecedented amount of wrongdoing in every segment of our society. The abnormal is becoming the norm, and the demand for blind loyalty, as when Trump made such a request of James Comey, as discussed by Jason Zuckerman in a blog for whistleblower.org, or more specifically becoming complicit, has become a constant in our lives. Consider what the people in the Weinstein Group, Wells Fargo, Uber, Fox Media, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Volkswagen, etc, etc, etc, have been through. In all of these cases, the wrongdoings were allowed to go on for years, even decades, without challenge.

Companies that use layoffs as a first resort, when short-term results are not met display an overt lack of loyalty. It never ceases to amaze me when I ask organizational leaders what their expectations are of their employees, loyalty is in the top quartile of the list, yet when I reconcile this with their history of layoffs, I find that loyalty may not have been reciprocated. When I question leadership on this, they rationalize it by indicating employees should not expect lifetime job security. My response is, I have been around long enough to understand that, however, what employees should expect is minimizing the negative effect on employees when seeking to reduce costs, and layoffs are a last resort vs. a first.

Last quarter a major Canadian company of 200,000 employees announced the immediate termination of 500 employees to satisfy some pressure from shareholders. Yes a significant number, however minuscule relative to the total. Based on the many calls I received from existing and former employees, what was significant was the loss of loyalty from their employee base.

I assert when a company looses the loyalty of their employees, they loose significantly more in customer loyalty. A recent Mental Health America survey of 17,000 people, found that an astounding 71 percent of the respondents speak poorly about their Company to others. My experience has been that loyal employees are an organization’s best ambassadors. 

Of the many cases of wrongdoing that have been exposed, most had a common element; namely, the situations were open secrets for years, and in some, like Fox Media, for decades. Were people, who were in the know, being loyal in their silence? No. Most do not put their hands up for fear of retaliation. 

That fear is an understandable reality; however, it should not have to be so. There are safe ways to expose wrongdoing, which I discuss in my book, ‘From Bully to Bull’s Eye - Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’. Is it totally risk-free? No. But when you consider that your just being a bystander may be a betrayal of loyalty to those who are suffering because of the wrongdoing. 

Perhaps even more important than putting your hand up is to reach out to those who are negatively impacted by the wrongdoing, lending an ear, asking how they are doing, giving advice and letting them know you are there for them - and then being there for them.

I can speak with some authority on this. After blowing the whistle on a corrupt CEO, I was subject to being retaliated against and suffered, over eighteen months, the most extreme forms of bullying, including receiving a death threat. Ironically, the reason I took this action was out of loyalty to the organization and the board of directors, many of who I was instrumental in placing. The board could not muster the courage to even conduct an investigation. I was taught that loyalty is a two-way street. Eventually, I was proven right, and the CEO was forced out.

There is no question that I felt betrayed. But what hurt me more was the lack of support I received from so many I believed were loyal to me. Combined with the trauma of being retaliated against, the betrayal of so many caused me to have symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  - PTSD. I was laid up for six months with a serious case of shingles; and I became a bitter person, totally immersed in negativity.

While there were many who abandoned me, a few did recognize the huge change in me and forced interventions, which I have come to recognize as the truest form of loyalty. They told me what I needed to hear, and they gave me ‘tough love’, which gave me a much needed awakening, which started a journey on reversing the negative energy into positive, focusing on helping organizations create psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces. To those brave few, I will never forget your loyalty, and how you helped me to better understand and forgive the many others who betrayed me. These few also strengthened my courage to give the ‘tough love’ to those who are in need of it.

Since the event, I have reached out to many of the many who betrayed, to discuss what happened, in an open, honest and direct way. They needed to hear from me how disappointed I was, and I needed to better understand from them the barriers to their becoming defenders, protectors and resistors. The one thing that really resonated was my question, if the situation was reversed, what would they have expected from me? To a person, they all would have expected my support, and believed that they would have gotten it. Also to a person, they all felt ashamed for not being true to the basic ethic of reciprocity.

As a leader, to have earned the trust and respect of the people you are responsible for, and then being given that gift of loyalty should be considered your greatest achievement. You must also consider, to keep it is your greatest challenge.

 

Andrew Faas is a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University and the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Moving Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

 

A DIRE WARNING THAT MUST BE HEEDED

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Today former President Obama invoked Nazi Germany in a warning to America. As we speak, the conservatives are predictably going nuts over former President Barack Obama’s remarks, criticizing him for comparing Trump to Hitler.

This comparison is something I have been making since Trump won the nomination. From corrupting our youth to espousing bigotry, hate and intolerance, I have warned people about this systematic and purposeful unraveling of our democracy.

All people have to do, as I recently blogged, is read Eric Larson’s book - ‘Beasts in the Garden of Evil’, and David Frum’s article in The Atlantic  ‘How to build an Autocracy’ to make the comparisons. I have discussed Trump’s white supremacist stance, and reiterate here that it is the resistors and not Trump who will make America great again.

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THE WORLD LOSES HUMANITARIAN JUDGE HARRY PREGERSON

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In many aspects of society, the human element has being eroding. In the workplace, employees are generally considered commodities and/or liabilities. In The Washington Post obituary, we gain a glimpse into the life of Judge Harry Pregerson, who defied the evolution in the legal system, which resulted in courts being, as Mark Twain once admonished, “Young man this is a court of law, not a court of justice.”

I have personally just gone through a four-year court battle on what should have been the resolution of a very simple matter, but which became more complicated than Google’s algorithm. The culprit was a system that allows the arcane technical components to deflect from the real issues. In essence, Judge Pregerson separated shit from Shinola to give people what they are fundamentally entitled to - Justice.

The legal system needs to be reformed where not only the human element is brought in, but also compassion. This is the most fundamental issue lacking in the courts today. Out of most people’s reach to get justice today. By him cutting through shit, it made justice available to the majority.

Andrew Faas is the author of ‘ From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, and a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University

Treason By Any Other Word

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Why is everyone dancing around the word treason? We all remember at the Republican National Convention where former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn chanted ‘Lock Her Up’, referring to democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. People should now be saying, “hang him, hang him, hang him”!

Lying to the F.B.I. about Russian involvement is nothing short of treason. Lawmakers must resist imposing capital punishment before the due process has concluded, a process which is essential to our very democracy. It is puzzling to me that more people aren’t weighing in on this critical dynamic, including the media.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle are joining the growing bandwagon of those being judge and jury, relative to the zero tolerance policy. This smacks of McCarthyism because it goes against the fundamental principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. It is not sufficient to say that just because people say and accuse someone of a crime that it’s true.

Mr. Flynn is rightfully being given the right to defend himself. Now that he’s admitted to lying to the F.B.I., he is guilty of treason and deserves the maximum sentence the law can give. This same procedure should be followed for all other people involved, with maximum sentencing given to others.

Although no one other than Flynn has been implicated so far, the investigation is entering Trump’s inner circle. It is logical that a next step will likely be to re-examine Mr. Trump’s firing of former F.B.I chief James Comey because he wouldn’t fire Flynn.

Andrew Faas is a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University.

Complicit – Top Word for 2017!

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According to Dictionary.com, the word ‘complicit’ is the word of the year for 2017. In a Washington Post article by Amy B. Wang, she explains the meaning, “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others”, in today’s political climate.

This is in fact the perfect word for our times. Combatting complicity comes with a heavy price tag, which is why bystanders are reluctant to raise their hands up in resistance. The primary reason for this is that most people don’t have a choice because of retaliation.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I advise people on how to safely expose wrongdoing. If you implement the twelve actions I clearly elucidate, you can become part of the solution to the greatest challenge of our times.

Andrew Faas is a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University

Photo credit: Wikimedia

 

Be Proactive - Protect Your Employees First!

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In an article in The Washington Post, Shauhin Talesh discusses the idea that insurance plans covering corporate harassment allegations actually benefit the employers, not the employees.  This tactic is akin to the ineffective harassment training I have blogged about previously.

Companies use these ‘arcane tools’ as legal shields for themselves, and not to protect the victims. Not until organizational leaders stop trying to protect their own behinds, and begin being proactive and transparent in creating positive, safe and fair cultures, where bullying, abuse and harassment are just not tolerated.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I advise that when inappropriate behaviour does occur, it is swiftly investigated and dealt with.

Andrew Faas is a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University

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What We Really Should Be Thankful For

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On this American Thanksgiving, we have time to reflect on the past year. Charles M. Blow summarizes his astute observations of the administration’s tumultuous year in this Op-Ed column. Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opines about the valiant fight so many are shouldering in an effort to save our democracy and how thankful we should be to those who defend us everyday. These pieces reflect the dire situation the US is in today; and while I am thankful that there is resistance, I live with the hope I can say the same next year. 

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