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No place for bullying

4 min read


I recently had lunch with the “Denver tweeps,” my moniker for a group of respected local Twitter colleagues that I’ve engaged with IRL (in real life). We are linked by our passion for helping leaders inspire others. Once a month or so we share a meal, update each other on “what’s come clear” to us lately, and ponder the issues of the day.

I opened the conversation by mentioning the Miami Dolphins NFL bullying scandal. Details are still emerging from this story. The indisputable facts are that two starters have left the team. One left by choice because of reported bullying by a teammate. The reported bully was suspended from the team.

I asked, “Who is at fault?” To a person, my lunch mates said (almost in unison), “Leadership.”

Our strong consensus was that leadership of the organization — those closest to the “field culture” (the general manager, head coach and assistant coaches) — had allowed a bullying culture to thrive. Could the bullying go on under the coaches noses without them noticing? It’s possible, but unlikely.

Leaders sets the tone for their organization. If they want strong team bonds, they must create an environment of trust and respect. That “field culture” builds relationships.

Bullying erodes relationships. It is meanness personified.

There is no long-term benefit to those on the receiving end of bullying. Nor do the bullies gain; over time, the bullied quit and leave, or quit and stay.

Bullying is about insiders mistreating outsiders — even if they are all “on one team.” Bullying is about power. Bullying may start with “harmless pranks,” but unless leaders set boundaries, it can run amok, as it seems to have done in the Dolphins’ locker room.

Workplace bullying is more prevalent than you might think. The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2010 study of bullying in the U.S. found that 35% of the workforce has experienced workplace bullying.

Why is bullying tolerated in organizations?

Leaders may not know any better. They may never have experienced safe, inspiring workplaces. so they reinforce the only approach they know.

Leaders may be bullies themselves. They get a rush from the meanness despite the consistent high costs of bullying on employee engagement.

Leaders may be afraid to “stop the train,” to call bullies on their behavior. They “hope for the best,” and focus entirely on performance.

The reality is that bullying has been proven to cost productivity, customer service, and employee wellbeing and engagement.

The research is clear. Safe, inspiring work environments create employee wellbeing and engagement. Employees with high wellbeing consistently outperform their counterparts with poor wellbeing. In “The Economics of Wellbeing,” Tom Rath and Jim Harter note that employees with high well-being deliver 31% greater productivity and generate 37% greater sales.

Don’t let your employees, customers, or stakeholders down. Don’t let bullying destroy your organizational culture.

What do you think? What did your great bosses do to ensure that all team members were treated with trust and respect? What is your experience in a bullying environment? How did it affect you? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

Subscribe to my free weekly blog & podcast updates. Subscribers enjoy two “fabulous and exclusive gifts” which include my “Be a GREAT Boss” ebook plus an excerpt from my new #GREAT Bosses tweet book.

I invite you to add your experiences to two “fast & free” research projects I have underway. The Great Boss Assessment compares your current boss’ behaviors with those of great bosses. The Performance-Values Assessment compares your organization’s culture practices to those of high performing, values-aligned organizations. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes. The music heard on these podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

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