In our world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims!
— A Christmas Story
Even the mention of the word "bully" will likely bring a person's face to mind for most people. Every schoolyard had one and you can probably remember their name. There is even a pretty good chance, however, if you can't remember who it was, that you might actually have been the bully. I operated in the messy middle. I got my size very early and while I wasn't the bully, I didn't get messed with by them for the most part. I also didn't really do anything to prevent the bullies from running the yard. There was enough turbulence in my day-to-day home life to survive to be taking on the school's problems as well.
One of my former bosses used to tell a great story about confining himself to the front yard because of "fat Roger" who ran the local park. That is, until his dad realized it, taught him to box, and sent him down to take on Roger. One punch and a bloody nose later and Roger had been supplanted from his throne. The problem then became not making his new role a "bully pulpit" of his own.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
— Lord Acton
One of the unfortunate consequences we are finding in either faith-based or high-integrity leadership situations is the rise of the bully. Patrick Lencioni's continuum of organizational health...
...teaches us that either extreme is unhealthy. The healthiest place is just left of center. While operating in a "mean-spirited" environment might be more obviously unhealthy, "artificial harmony" is equally so. In those environments, the difficult conversations never seem to happen. There is little resolution to problems. Employees and divisions get silo'd, everyone operates in a vacuum, unhealthy offline conversations prevail, the company spirals without clear leadership and addressing of important issues, and... bullies emerge.
Just like in the schoolyard.
If there is no clear arbitrator handling conflict and keeping the molehills from becoming mountains, the mob polices itself.
Everybody assumes roles they've probably honed for generations. They take their place as a "bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims."
It has been interesting to see the responses we've gotten when we have offered the analogy. It is fairly visceral initially and then people typically move toward a knowing type of familiarity to the idea. In our experience, it hits fairly close to the mark. In the same way that unchecked power corrupts, unchecked relational health can result in corporate bullying in both a mean-spirited attacking type of environment as well as one with artificial harmony. Not a huge surprise in a mean-spirited environment, but usually not expected in one where a faith foundation leans toward artificial harmony.
The interesting thing is that there is really only one source and one antidote... your leadership. The teachers were the only ones who could have stopped what was going on in the schoolyard. The boss is the only one who can do the same in the workplace. A common cry of the bullied: Why didn't they (my parents, the teachers, or my boss) do something about it?
- Are there any bullies in the organizations you lead?
- How has your leadership contributed to them?
- What are you prepared to do about it?