It begins with little things. Small aggressions, careful pushing of boundaries, creepy intent masked as kindness. You ignore it — it’s no big deal; I don’t want to make a scene; he probably didn’t mean it that way; he’s a jerk, but he’s our jerk.
Boundaries become more porous. Each compromise builds confidence. The words get louder; the actions are more flagrant, the touches more intimate. You look the other way when you can’t avoid what you are seeing — everyone else seems to like him, there’s an innocent explanation, no one will believe me, maybe this is just the way it is. It’s for the greater good.
Per news reports of his behavior, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fall from grace seems to follow this trajectory. I’ve read the attorney general’s report. The statements about sexual harassment and toxic behavior are chilling. The people he hurt have to live with his actions forever.
The governor’s disgusting behavior was enabled by the Robert E. Lees around him who looked the other way.
There are consequences. The reports about cover-ups for bad decisions that increased the number of COVID deaths, political favoritism for vaccines, and retaliation against people reporting the governor’s actions follow a similar pattern of abuse of office and enabling. How many people would be better off had someone confronted the behavior before things got out of control?
Character always collects. You might tolerate the Andrew Cuomos in your workplace because they seem to get results, but, like compounding interest, the penalties get worse over time. The reports of character collecting are legion: Travis Kalanick (Uber), Chip Wilson and Laurent Potdevin (Lululemon), Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), Trevor Milton (Nikola), among others.
By looking the other way, you empower the collaborators and undermine people who want to do the right thing.
Nipping shabby behavior in the bud, in action:
· Andrew, if someone who didn’t know you heard those words, what might they feel?
· Andrew, you seem to be so passionate about the subject that you interrupted Jane five times. What could she be feeling about the meeting?
· Andrew, I feel less inclined to root for you after seeing you berate Kelly. What’s the most likely impact of your actions on her productivity?
· Andrew, what message is that picture sending?
· Andrew, a fist bump is fine. People feel uncomfortable with hugs and intimate touching at work. You know better. Did you see Julie’s face after you kissed her? You should apologize.
· Andrew, I’m not sure that I heard you correctly. Could you please repeat that (toxic) statement?
· No, Andrew, I’m not going to dig up dirt on this person who made the harassment complaint. It’s her right.
- Andrew, I resign.