Bullies are in Business Too
There has been quite a lot of news recently about bullying in schools- bigger kids towards smaller kids, jocks against geeks and more. Often the results of this abuse end up being tragic. Schoolyard fights run into painful injuries, social bullying can lead to suicide and other violence. It is truly horrible. Do bullies grow out of this behavior? Is there any place for bullying at work?

Hopefully, Bullies Will Grow Out of It?

Unfortunately, for many bullies, they never grow out of it, they simply change tactics. In for-profit business and in nonprofits, this is a sad truth. There are bullies who take positions of power such as Board Chair or not so powerful positions, yet still provoke, annoy and threaten. There are bullies who are simply members of an organization who through their terrible keyboard courage taunt and insult. They threaten and dissemble ( lie) and generally make themselves utterly unpleasant. The heavy irony is that these miserable people do not seem themselves as this, they are inside so weak and scared the only way they can be part of the human race is in this nasty way. Does it work? In the short term, yes, it can.

I was Bullied by A Board Chair

Our nonprofit was in a tough place- we had just lost a board member and were below the minimum number of members our charter required. We had interviewed this man before and he had been rejected for the qualities of pomposity, ignorance and arrogance. But we were desperate and he had money- futher he had been waiting to be asked on the basis of a gift the prior year. The rest of the board membership was weak and absent so this was a wonderful power vacuum for this man to enter. And he was a bully, which he demonstrated from the get-go. Knowing this, what would the impact be on the current board? What would the impact be on the staff? What would the impact be on the organization?

Short Run: Success!

This guy got what he wanted: he bullied the board into approving every single item he presented. Any attempt at discussion was promptly shut down by either his abruptness, or his condescension. His willingness to ‘take over’ was swiftly seen by other board members for what is was, but they didn’t have the energy or focus to step in, preferring to hand over their votes. He made many promises of the type many thought they wanted to hear, without sufficient thought or consideration.

Board Problem solved, right?
He has the ideas, the energy and the desire and wants to do it his way. Perfect.

Except That It Is Not:

Sooner than later than later his great plans began to fall apart. He had alienated the staff and one by one, all left, led by myself. He alienated many of the critical volunteers who had done so much for the organization’s programs. He hired new staff, but without history and connections, they were unable to continue all the work that had been done. They were forced to prioritize to one or two basic programs, which ultimately hurt the membership, the activities and many of the very goals the Foundation had. Work was cut back, outreach was diminished, advocacy was gone, fundraising all but dried up. The board members who had sat back now looked helplessly as the true void in leadership was revealed.

Yes, he had gotten what HE wanted.

Now What?

Honestly, who knows what the future will hold. But there is truth in the  statement those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. By quailing in front of a bully, irreparable harm can be done a much larger group of people. A bully in the schoolyard may get away with money, hitting and more, but ultimately is the weaker for it. A bully in the boardroom can wreak much greater havoc among a much larger group.

We must learn to spot bullying behavior and not only notice it, consider the consequences of standing down before it. The short term gain will be more than offset in the repairs that will have to be made. As frightening as itmay be, bullying in the office has wide repercussions that can be most unpleasant.

Next time: We Have One: What Do We Do?

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