Sophistry is a fast-track to losing business because you damage your reputation, brand, and trustworthiness.

Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments with the intent to deceive. The word comes from the ancient Greek word sophistes, which means an expert or wise person. The Sophists were teachers and speakers whom Plato described as sham philosophers. The characterization stuck.

Today’s sophists are infomercial hustlers, charlatans, and Pyramid schemers who want you to believe something that’s not true. Use this one-size-fits-all digital marketing strategyfollow this checklist to become a creative thinkerinvest in this [silver bullet] scheme, etc.

Good people and organizations can fall into this trap, too. There’s a seductive lure to sugar-coat bad news so that you can ease the pain and anxiety of change or difficulties. It’s a short walk from good intentions toward manipulative “noble lies” and cringe-worthy sophistry. 

People see through the smokescreen right away. No one knows the people like the prince, said Machiavelli, and no one knows the prince like the people.

How do you feel when someone uses words designed to give you a false impression or manipulate your behavior? 

I’ve been a professional member of the National Speakers Association for a couple of years. I’ve gotten good value from the organization and its members, and I’ve given value in return. 

I received an email recently from them notifying me that they are “upgrading” my membership. Oh, that’s good newslet me check it out. The professional speaking business has been hit hard by the pandemic, so I was surprised that NSA would upgrade benefits. That’s pretty awesome.

It turns out that the only upgrade is in the membership dues. They are simply charging more and offering upsells. SlimyI feel like I need to shower

I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about NSA charging higher membership fees and upsells. I have huge qualms about the sophistry. I’m certainly not going to upgrade, and I might cancel altogether based on how they respond to my inquiry.

Lose trust: lose business. Build trust: build business. These are the simplest ratios you need to know, and you don’t need an MBA to understand them. 

I wonder if someone with an MBA approved that deceptive email?

Action steps:
1. Get an outside view so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater. Surround yourself with trusted people who tell you what you need to hear.

2. Speak plainly. Simplicity and clarity boost your credibility and improve the likelihood that what you say is what people hear. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

3. Empower people to take remedial action. Ritz-Carlton is famous for giving its front-line employees the ability to fix problems and make restitution on the spot. Oftentimes, you cannot control the problems you face, but you can control how you face them.

Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by Great Britain’s royal family. I lived in London for three years and loved visiting Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I binge-watch The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II exemplifies The Operator, one of our four PROM Servant Leader Archetypes (TM). 

I’m dismayed by the ongoing tension with Harry and Meghan, which was on display in the Oprah interview. Bigotry and bullying are unacceptable, and I’m troubled by the stories the interview revealed. 

There’s only one celebrity in the royal family, so I’m also surprised that the young couple did not seem to get the memo. Some of their anxiety appears to come from a feeling of being underappreciated.

This last problem was entirely preventable.

The royal family seemed not to learn a vital lesson from the Princess Diana tragedy: when you treat people poorly, they are likely to return the favor. People who feel unvalued will vote with their feet out of your company or, in this case, out of the country. They won’t be ambassadors for your brand.

There were probably many good ways to give Harry and Meghan causes they could run with that boosted the royal family’s prestige and impact. Harry has been active with wounded veterans, and Meghan’s star power could have advanced that mission and other good ones without overshadowing the Queen.

This story provides some lessons on what to do with the talent on your team:

1. Put them in positions to use their PROM superpowers so that they succeed, and so does your business.

2. Use our weekly check-in questions to keep them focused on priorities, using their strengths, and getting the guidance and support they need. [Reply to me, and I’ll send you the checklist.]

3. Hold them accountable for doing the right things the right way. Every expectation should include what you want them to do, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the date you want the job done.  

4. Follow-up and be consistent about enforcing your standards. 

5. If you find that your team has toxic talent — highly capable people who undermine your company and their co-workers, then fire them. Toxic talent always costs more than the results they provide.

What action steps are you taking to let your subordinates know that you value their work and want to give them opportunities to contribute their best to your team’s success?

+++++

Last week I wrote that the UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials. 

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

My UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials.

Teachers can make a lifelong impact. Mrs. Brayman, Mr. Brayman, Mrs. Evanoff, Mrs. Schneider, Ms. Peterson brought out my best and helped me be who I am today.

Millions of kids, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, have missed the opportunity this past year. The teachers have done their best. Many public school teachers’ unions have kept them out of the schools and away from kids who need them most. The Milwaukee public schools are still not doing ANY in-person classes.

I’m fascinated by how “the science” works differently in private and public schools. My niece and nephew in San Diego have been in person for almost the entire year, and everyone’s been fine. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s no evidence of schools being superspreaders.

Data-denying teachers union officials, however, have fought tooth and nail to keep schools shuttered. The effects on kids who’ve missed a year of school will be long-lasting.

There are some good lessons here for small businesses. As the massive economic renewal gets underway, you’ll want to avoid un-heroes because they are subtraction-by-addition productivity and morale bandits.

1. Say no to selfish talent. A team or unit leader who cares only for their fiefdom will damage your team. I’m sure teachers union officials think they are protecting their dues-paying members, but they’ve forgotten about the common good. My mentor, Alan Weiss, pointed out that attorneys are officers of the court and advocates for their clients. The justice system breaks down when lawyers neglect one of these responsibilities. The same goes for your subordinate leaders.

2. Mind the customer. Had teachers union officials cared about kids and parents — the real customers of schools — they would have fought to get schools open safely instead of throwing up roadblocks. Grocery stores stayed open by putting common-sense measures in place to keep employees and customers safe. Single-issue advocates provide self-interested advice that’s good for their narrow interests but most likely damaging to your community.  

3. Beware of perverse incentives. What you measure creates workplace behaviors, so be careful to avoid metrics and awards that discourage teamwork. Too many teachers union officials felt accountable to dues-paying members and not to the community. Use one-on-one check-ins and meetings to have your senior leaders frame their work in terms of advancing company goals and objectives.

Say no to selfish talent, keep the customer in mind, and avoid perverse incentives so that you can make sure un-heroes don’t make their way onto your team.

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

Is it ok to lie to your employees if you think it’s for the greater good?

I’m probably an outlier on this issue, but I was distraught when I read in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that he lied about the pandemic. Twice. At least.

His intentions were noble. 

He wanted to prevent a run on N-95 masks so that medical professionals and caregivers had enough of them first. 

So, he said that wearing masks did not slow the pandemic.

He told us that epidemiological studies on herd immunity were wrong. 

Instead of sixty percent, Fauci said that up to eighty-five percent of Americans needed to be immune to stop the virus.

He admitted to raising the percentage to encourage more Americans to get the vaccine.

Dr. Fauci has performed admirable service for America during the pandemic and there are probably people who are alive today because of his advice.

But he decided to tell some Noble Lies, too.

Plato talked about the Noble Lie in The Republic. He used stories (myths) to explain the unexplainable.

What Fauci did was different. He misrepresented scientific information to manipulate Americans. 

He’s not alone.

The self-appointed permission to tell Noble Lies is why people do not trust leaders and experts.

The belief that you can lie to people for their own good is elitist and condescending. A team falls apart when people lose trust.

Here’s what leaders should do:

1. Tell the truth – no matter how good or bad it might be.

2. Let people know what action you want them to take.

3. Discuss why you are asking them to take action. “We need to do X so that Y and Z.”

Take these three steps, and you will gain respect and get the action you need from your team.

Professional credibility takes a long time to build and only an instant to destroy.

Fight, flight, or freeze.

Those responses to fear are hardwired into your amygdala.

Freeze is the most common for leaders, and it can be a silent killer for your business.

A simple framework to understand the fear and overcome it will help you seize opportunities in the 2021-renewal while others are standing still.

You’ve seen it happen. You don’t start the business; you don’t invest in success because of past experiences or self-limiting beliefs about the future. 

Uncertainty heightens the fear of making the wrong decision. 

You cover the paralysis by delaying or asking for more information and new options. 

I’ve done it. I’ve seen it affect an American President, general officers, CEOs, and nonprofit boards and executive directors.

I learned the hard way that you have to get to the root cause of fear to address it.

Imagine a quad chart. 

On the east-west axis, you have past and future.

The north-south axis is success and failure.

1. Fear of past failure occurs when you tried something before, and it did not work out. A business initiative failed, an innovation tanked, you got fired or chewed out. “I can’t do this because I failed last time.”

2. Fear of past success happens when you succeeded at something – perhaps against the odds, and you worry that you cannot pull it off again. “There’s no way I can get those results again, and falling short will diminish me.”

3. Fear of future failure is widespread. You worry that your business or initiative will fail, and you will suffer the consequences. “I want to take this step, but what happens if it doesn’t work?

4. Fear of future success is more subtle. You believe that you will not be up to the challenge of managing growth, “I’m ok leading 10 people, but I cannot handle 50.”

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Imagine a box in the center of the quad chart. You fear that you might make the wrong decision. “I don’t know if a recovery is coming in 2021, so I will wait and see before making a decision.”

These “freeze” responses keep you standing still. 

When you are standing still, and others are moving forward, you are losing ground.

It’s like stuffing your money into a mattress. 

You don’t lose the money, but inflation lowers its value, and you are missing opportunities for growth. 

Once you understand the nature of the fear, you can take steps to address it.

1. Fear of past failure. Identify the problems that led to the failure and put measures in place to prevent them from recurring.

2. Fear of past success. Reframe your measures of success. Focus more on developing others or creating different business lines, for instance, than meeting past targets.

3. Fear of future failure. Put together two or three viable options for reaching your goals and compare them. Create an action plan for the best option. Once you see how to achieve your goal, getting there becomes much easier!

4. Fear of future success. Determine what capacities you need to excel at the next level and develop them. Find the right support to help you succeed and avoid expensive mistakes along the way.

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Review your options (to include doing nothing) and assess the risks and opportunities. Pick the best option and go with it. Your decision will probably work out. At worst, it is unlikely to be fatal, and you can make adjustments along the way.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Leave a comment below or email me directly: [email protected]

P.S.  If you’d like to discuss your 2021 goals, use this link to schedule the time that works best for you.

We will discuss your goals and obstacles during the call, and then I’ll offer you two or three action steps that get you moving forward. No sales, no B.S.

Why Help the Restaurateur?

Why Help the Restaurateur?

Serving those who serve

Why am I passionate about helping the restauranteur?  After serving in the military for 23 years, why would I now choose to work with restaurateurs and quick-service franchisees?  The answer is quite simple: I want to continue to serve by serving those who serve!  Can you think back to some quick-service restaurant that broke the monotony of your day-to-day?  What fast-casual dining restaurant answers the age-old question of “what’s for dinner?”  Food remains integral to building relationships, our country’s economy, our culture, and our way of life. The restaurant industry is one of the most dynamic, cut-throat, and often unappreciated sectors in today’s marketplace. 

GUTS – Radical Courage

It is no easy road to be an entrepreneur entering such a demanding industry.  It takes real GUTSradical courage—to join such a space.  Food expenses are rising.  Operating costs, to include the rising cost of wages, are a challenge. The increasing price of leased real estate is a looming foe.  In addition to these costs, the complex nature of marketing, sales, and communication make running a restaurant no easy task. Never mind trying to infuse a level of sustainable growth.  

Key Trends

In the NRA’s 2019 State of the Industry Report, they highlighted five key trends that continue to be at the forefront of the challenge:

  1. A competitive business environment.
  2. Staffing as a top challenge.
  3. Pent-up [customer] demand remains elevated. 
  4. Technology incorporation continues.
  5. Food preferences continue their rapid evolution.

Past performance does not dictate future success

Unfortunately, these trends do not soften the statistics of the past two decades either.  As you often hear it said, past performance does not dictate future success, but hindsight makes it clear that it is a significant challenge to be a successful restaurateur in today’s environment.   The numbers are staggering, with no relief in sight. Research has estimated some 60% of restaurants don’t survive their first year; Anywhere from 70-85% of restaurants either change the owner’s hands or go out of business in the first five years according to a 2005 study.  And personnel turn-over within the restaurant space is commonly observed to be as high as 70% annually. There is much to be gained as a restaurateur. However, it takes something special to not only survive but grow. 

How can I serve you best?

I have spent the past six months transitioning from my career in the Army and thinking about this VERY blog.  My aspiration: how can I serve YOU best?  I have visited a countless number of quick-serve and fast-casual dining restaurants.   I have watched and spoken to the men and women who are doing it, day-in and day-out, and my hats off to you! 

Three action steps

Here are three small things that may serve you well in your endeavor to be the best in your business:  

  1. Take deliberate time to reflect on this year’s five trends, and rate your restaurant? How are you doing in those challenge areas?
  2. Rank order them. Which presents you with the most formidable challenge? Is it staffing? Are you meeting customer demands? Are you integrating the newest tech? Is it staying food-relevant? Rank-order them, one to five.
  3. Do ONE thing about the top three. You can’t fix everything, but you certainly can do one to three tangible tasks to make your business better today.

You can do IT!

Don’t know where to start? Please feel free to reach out. You can do IT. Whatever IT is.

How sustainable is your business or nonprofit? This chart will help

Is your business or nonprofit a zombie or a volcano?

Use this Simple Chart to find out and learn what to do about it.

Zombie or Volcano?

By the end of this article, you’ll be better positioned to answer three crucial strategic questions for your business or nonprofit:

  1. Is my organization sustainable?
  2. How can I realistically assess the situation and avoid confirmation bias?
  3. How can I frame my strategic options so that I make the best decisions?

Just about every small business owner and nonprofit leader I know is incredibly busy. You are so passionate that your work stops feeling like work and becomes a part of you. You love what you do and do what you love. But is there a downside?

As a matter of fact, there is. Leaders can get so caught up in their product, service, or cause that they become blind to the first strategic question: how sustainable is my business or nonprofit? Ignoring or avoiding this question can lead an organization to become a zombie (sleepwalking to failure) or a volcano (suffering catastrophic growth on the way to failure).

A zombie is an organization that is no longer increasing its revenue or expanding its impact. It is merely paying the bills and keeping the lights on until the money runs out. The problem, of course, is the drain of talent and resources entailed by clinging to the status quo. Zombies do not fail fast—they linger.

A volcano, on the other hand, is an organization that grows faster than it can manage. Often, leaders fail to recognize the problem until too late. They get distracted by the euphoria of success and drawn into the chaos that they fail to develop their leaders and systems to handle it. At some point, growth becomes unmanageable. A major crisis or scandal often breaks the organization.  

There are simple and common reasons for these problems.

Confirmation bias is one of them. This refers to the tendency to place excessive weight on data that conforms to our existing beliefs and to discount information that does not. Confirmation bias can help explain why nonprofits cling to causes that too few donors will support, and why businesses fixate on products and services too few customers want to buy.

It gets worse. Those with confirmation bias tend to dig-in their heels when confronted with disconfirming facts and information. Highly-selective data drives their decision-making. Like the sooth-sayers of old, people invested in the status quo may be at higher risk of searching the entrails for hidden messages that everything is fine.

The result: 50 percent of businesses are no longer around after five years and only 28 percent of nonprofits report any financial activity after ten years.

A disciplined look at the big picture may help leaders make better decisions.

This simple quad chart could be useful. The north-south axis depicts profitability: the + direction means revenues exceed expenses. The east-west axis is for impact. The + direction denotes the tangible impact on your cause or mission.  

Is Your Business or Nonprofit a Zombie or a Volcano?

Four strategic directions emerge from this quad chart. The upper right quadrant is the ☺ place. Solid revenues and clear impact give your organization a strong foundation for growth. The danger in this situation is growth beyond your ability to manage it – catastrophic growth.

To avoid that problem, you will need the right team in place and a sound strategy.

Within the upper left space is a situation in which revenues are ahead of expenses, but the actual impact of the product or service is unclear. This is a dangerous position because you may be tempted to hire more staff and commit more resources. If, after some time, you cannot clearly articulate your impact, then revenues are very likely to dwindle. This means layoffs and possible bankruptcy. One of my clients found himself in exactly this situation; saving and repositioning the business was painful but ultimately successful.

A sound strategy in this situation is to maintain your current scope and scale but fix how you measure and explain your impact of the mission or cause.

If that becomes impossible, then merge with another organization. The ideal time to do so is when you can bring substantial resources to bear. This gives you leverage and influence. Too many organizations make this decision too late and have little bargaining power.

The lower right is where many organizations turn into zombies. Your team is making an impact, you believe, but your revenues are insufficient. This may be the result of one or more problems. The way you are measuring and explaining impact, for instance, might not be convincing. Your strategy could be causing you to miss important shifts in the marketplace, or your business plan could be wasting time and resources on activities that are no longer valued.

Again, you have two options. First, try to fix what is impeding your progress. Get a comprehensive and thorough strategy review and organizational assessment to determine if the required changes are feasible. If yes, give yourself a decision-point for knowing when to move to the second strategy option: merge.

If you decide that your organization is unlikely to recover, your best option is to merge.

The lower left quadrant is the place – insufficient resources and impact. Your best option here is to harvest: shut down, learn from the experience, and begin again with something different. Failing fast successfully requires you to measure your revenues and impact from the very beginning and to set a decision-date to establish whether your business is viable.

This chart should be a part of every business or nonprofit strategy. It is a constant reminder to determine the compelling impact you are trying to make, measure it, and explain it clearly to your customers or donors. The aim is to create a virtuous cycle: compelling impact results in positive revenues and greater revenues lead to higher impact. When one or both of these elements is flatlining or declining, you need to diagnose the problem quickly and decide whether to improve your organization or close it down.

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business Leaders?

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business and Nonprofit Leaders?

Dear Business and Nonprofit Leaders,

Your instincts are right: many so-called battlefield lessons are useless for you and your team. Stories of hardship, heroism, and sacrifice might be inspiring, but their practical utility is often minimal. This is because those lessons haven’t been tailored to your organization’s needs.

Those of us offering insights from a military perspective must work harder to understand issues through your lens and present feasible, practical, and implementable ideas. Our failure to customize military leadership lessons to your needs has, understandably, resulted in waning enthusiasm. If the trend continues, the pendulum may complete its swing toward the view that military experience is interesting but irrelevant.

But battlefield lessons are useful to non-military contexts; the right framing just hasn’t been applied to them. Let’s take a few common examples and provide some simple ways to make them more relevant to you.

Staff Rides and Battlefield Tours.

Militaries have long used staff rides as part of leader education; I used them several times in my commands. A group of leaders or students studies a particular battle in advance and then takes a trip to the actual grounds to discuss what happened there, why it happened, and what lessons they can learn. Done correctly, staff rides can have a tremendous impact.

Battlefield tours for business leaders are less useful because they normally devolve into sightseeing. In most cases, the military tour guide explains in great detail what happened at each point in the battle and then challenges the audience to determine how to build agile leaders, good decision-makers, expert planners, and so forth. The absence of context and a clear connection to the audience’s contemporary challenges undermine the business utility of this leader development experience.

What to look for.

Find programs that focus on learning about you before offering advice. The best ones begin with an assessment that helps you and your leaders see your salient challenges and opportunities. Next, they should coordinate learning objectives and preparation work, such as readings and individual research. On the battlefield or historical site, the emphasis needs to be on linking key lessons to your business challenges.

Boot camps.

For the military, boot camps and other forms of initial entry training are essential parts of transforming civilians into soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. These intensive courses last several weeks and are often followed up by additional training before the service members arrive at their first organization. The development of military skills and values are essential for them to be able to function effectively in their first assignment. My initial training as an officer lasted nearly a year. Few businesses and nonprofits, of course, could devote even a fraction of that time for new employee education and training.

Leadership boot camps run by former service members may promise the same transformational results but in record time. Some leadership boot camps promise that a 3-day experience will result in a “quantum leap” in a leader’s performance. You know this is unlikely. Improvement is a long-term process that relies heavily on self-development: leaders sort through a wide array of concepts and ideas to determine what is most meaningful to them and then work on those attributes.

What to look for.

Assess what each workshop and boot camp is offering, and use common sense to determine its likely utility. These kinds of programs can be helpful, but anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Workshops can play an important role in your team’s development. The best programs customize their workshops to your organization’s particular needs and objectives. Doing these as a team can have a much higher payoff than individual leader’s programs.

The boot camp analogy can be very useful in discussions about culture, too. Boot camps are part of the military’s onboarding process; how your organization onboards new employees is equally essential to sustaining your culture. Programs that help you define your culture, hire talented people who fit, onboard to set them up for success and continue their development on the job are likely to help you achieve high levels of employee engagement. [Did you know, according to Gallup, that nearly 2 of every 3 employees in America reports being unengaged at work?]

Strategic Planning.

“Plans are nothing, planning is everything” World War II Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower famously remarked. Good commanders drive their staff to identify possible contingencies, threats, and opportunities, and have branch plans or sequels to address each one of them. The planning process, in
military parlance, is never completed. Commanders often get detailed playbooks that aid decision-making for every permutation a creative staff (the strategic planners) can possibly think of in the time they are given to think. The results are often impressive.

The desire to bring the military-planning process to a business context is understandable. There’s one problem: very few businesses in the world can afford to have highly-skilled people spending all their time making detailed plans about things that will probably never happen. In fact, most businesses and nonprofits outsource their strategic planning. Here’s what you normally get: highly detailed plans that few employees have time to read. There is little to no sense of ownership. Even worse, your situation may be so dynamic that detailed plans soon become irrelevant. It is no wonder then that, according to one estimate, 90 percent of business plans are not executed. They gather dust. This might not be a big problem for the military, but it is for you.

What to look for.

Businesses and nonprofits that want to grow sustainably need both a strategy and a plan. A strategy helps you understand your situation, select a way forward to meet your goals, and manage a dynamic environment—to know when to stay on course and when to change. A plan helps you coordinate the activities of your team to implement your chosen way forward. With the right guidance, the best plans are ones written by your own team. If they have authorship over the plan, they are more likely to own and execute it.

Bottom line: the strategic plan can be counterproductive – a sort of reverse Goldilocks: not quite a strategy, not quite a plan, just plain ignored. Develop a sensible strategy and then put together an implementation plan that your team owns.

Is military experience useless for businesses and nonprofits?

Not at all. In fact, they can become an essential tool for organizations that feel stuck, want to implement change, or are trying to manage unexpected growth. Breakthrough insights, many leaders find, come from looking at your challenges from different points of view. Battlefield lessons can expand your perspective – your mental framework – and enable you to connect ideas from a different context that help your team grow sustainably.

Self-awareness

PODCAST:

Self-Awareness – Where Leadership Begins


Self Awareness

“Know thyself.’ The ancient Greeks were telling themselves and can tell us today, that by knowing ourselves, we get to know our natural inclinations and our natural strengths so that we can put ourselves in a position to succeed. And at the same time have the humility to recognize that others have different inclinations and strengths. By putting together the right combinations of people, that are tied together by a common purpose, that is what leads to the best results.”

Why Is Self-Awareness Important?

“When you know yourself, there are a number of things that awareness empowers you to do. First of all, it empowers you to put the right people around you. I, for instance, need detail people around me, and those are the first people that I seek out. With the right people, you can amplify your strengths or natural inclinations, and you can also cover your blind spots.”

What Are the Key Lessons?

1. Through self-awareness, you get to know your natural inclinations and natural strengths so that you can put yourself in a position to succeed.

2. Put your top talent in positions that best suit their inclinations and they are going to make the biggest impact on the business.

3. Surround yourself with the right people and you can amplify your strengths, your natural inclinations, and you can also cover your blind spots.

4. When hiring someone, more important than their skills are how they fit within the company culture. You can teach people skills, but what you can’t train is culture.

Listen to Chris’s Entire Podcast

bullying in the workplace

Respect: It’s time to talk at work about bullying and assault

Respect

I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback to my story about being bullied by peers and sexually assaulted by priests as a teenager.

Several women shared their own harrowing and heartbreaking memories. A number of men came forward, too. Some shared their realities of being violated by people in positions of power or authority, others by peers and teammates.

My list is full of extraordinary leaders – veterans, diplomats, scholars, caregivers, advocates, reporters, humanitarians, nonprofit and business leaders, moms and dads, sons and daughters –  too many of whom had experiences like I did. If you would like to hear me talk in more depth about my personal experience, listen to episode 712 of Don Hutcheson’s Discover Your Talent podcast.

Those who responded with their own stories discussed the inner struggles they faced. They told of the triggers that brought forward the searing memories (the Penn State Sandusky scandal was one of mine) and the helpful and unhelpful ways they tried to deal with them. Each one of them found solace in writing things out.  

I was struck, particularly, by just how pervasive and underreported the abuse has been.

Leaders need to have the emotional courage to address bullying and sexual assault. This means doing something more meaningful and impactful than issuing policy letters and having people undergo sensitivity training. Addressing sexual harassment, according to one study, is the #1 workplace trend for 2017.

It means walking the talk. While this does not require sharing personal anguish, leaders need to convey clearly and personally their commitment to respect.

Here are some practical ways to do that:

  • Start a professional reading program that includes articles or books that address these issues. First of all, employees and supervisors overwhelmingly note that such programs, if done authentically and consistently, are 1) valuable to their professional development; 2) make them more effective at work; and 3) show that the organization cares about them. Second, reading the experiences of others can give people safe ways of thinking about and discussing sensitive topics, and also help increase empathy.
  • Hire people who will advance your culture of respect. It’s safe to assume that everyone is going to be nice during an interview. Few people are likely to list as references people they bullied. But did you notice how the candidate treated the janitor? Did the candidate pick up towels on the bathroom floor or leave them? How people treat others, especially those who the person believes can do nothing for them professionally, speaks volumes. How an individual demonstrates care (or lack thereof) for common areas is also telling.
  • Zero-tolerance for bullies and bigots. We have zero tolerance policies for problems like corruption, lying, stealing, malpractice, and malfeasance. Expand that to include disrespect. Employers who look the other way often find that the price of tolerating a bully or bigot was too high.

Our short video on leadership principles Trustworthiness, Respect, and Stewardship provides a good gateway into the discussion.

Good character is developed over time through habituation—the traits that make us who we are come from habits we’ve acquired. The same is true for bad character. Leaders need to take a stand early on by calling out bad behavior and preventing that from becoming the norm.

Moreover, by shining a light on issues like bullying and assault, leaders can create a culture within which individuals feel empowered to report abuse and potential predators know the severe consequences they will face if they hurt others.