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The Leadership Podcast, co-hosted by Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos, is my go-to resource for leadership discussions.

They’ve got extraordinary episodes with some of the world’s most respected leaders.

I was gratified when they asked me to discuss ways that leaders can deal with workplace bullying and help their subordinates be the best versions of themselves.

One of my mentors, Michele Flournoy, connected us (thank you, Michele!).

As you know, bullies, predators, and jerks can ruin your team and peace of mind.

By the time they become managers, most of them have mastered the art of kiss-up and kick-down.

These creeps exist in the workplace. They are very intentional about what they are doing and are quite unlikely to change.

More common is behavior that is not intended to be bullying but is perceived that way.

This situation damages the trust, mutual respect, and morale that’s essential for your team’s success.

Turnover is the #1 indicator of this problem.

With the economy in such horrible shape, people are understandably reluctant to leave their jobs.

As the economy recovers, though, expect to see a mass exodus from toxic work environments.

Gallup reports that seventy-five percent of Americans who leave their jobs voluntarily do so to get away from their managers.

There are common-sense ways to deal with unconscious bullying.

First, make your values explicit. There’s a direct correlation between expectations and results.

Clear leader and employee behaviors for each value set important boundaries and will help you hold people accountable.

Second, discuss your values routinely at meetings and during your one-on-one counseling sessions.  

Third, give people ways to disarm bullying behavior. Merely repeating back what a person said and asking for confirmation can be enough to correct the behavior.

Finally, coach your direct reports to be the best versions of themselves. Subconscious cloning – trying to turn people into mini-versions of you – damages your relationship and undermines performance.

The best gauge of success is when your most vulnerable employees feel that they can always contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

I was proud to discuss this issue with Jan and Jim on The Leadership Podcast.

Check it out here.

P.S. Nailing your next 100 days gives you the escape velocity to launch, reboot, or scale your solo or small business. Check out the replay of this free masterclass on the 8 steps you need to take to achieve the escape velocity you need.

Schedule your strategy call today. We’ll discuss your goals and obstacles, and I’ll give you 2-3 specific action steps to take now to power through roadblocks and get you closer to your goals. No sales, no B.S.

I was burning out being whom I thought everyone expected me to be.

I tried to copy other leaders whom I respected because I did not believe that being me was good enough.

The inauthenticity affected my relationships and my peace of mind.

At work, I was good at being what I thought others wanted me to be.

It dawned on me that I could do even better by being the best version of my authentic self.

I came to that conclusion after being bullied by a general officer. It was the most toxic environment of my professional career.

He was all smiling in public; scathing and belittling in private. 

He could not tolerate anyone being different from him.

He wanted abusive people around him, so he could maintain the good-guy image.

I was used to being the extroverted leader that I thought everyone expected me to be. 

But becoming a clone of an abuser like him crossed a red line.

The rebellion led me to insist on being myself.

First, I had to confront the reason why I felt the need to copy others.

I was skinny and awkward in high-school. That made me a target. 

The harder I tried to fit in, the more awkward I became, and the bullying got worse.

This situation did not escape the notice of some high school faculty. 

One was an absolute angel. Whenever I get asked who was my favorite teacher of all time, I always mention Jeannie. 

Two others were resident priests with different versions of the bait and switch.

Comfort and assault. One pawed and groped. The other was a voyeur.

They counted on silence.

The experiences were so disturbing, so beyond the pale, and so wrong that I did not have a way to process them or a language to discuss them.

I knew I never wanted to be in that situation again and that I wanted to prevent that from happening to others, too.

Accepting an appointment to West Point, I took on the toughest programs and assignments I could find in the military. 

I could defend myself and others. 

That was all to the good.

The downside was this sense that being myself was not good enough and that I needed to be like others I respected.

I made my share of mistakes along the way, too.

It took over three decades to begin talking about what happened in high school and to understand how I responded to it.

A loved one asked me why I began to speak openly. Wasn’t I embarrassed?

Silence is the great enabler

The bullies and the predators count on people being silent, looking the other way, and burying their stories inside of them.

Some bullies are overt, like the groper. 

Most, though, are subtle, like the general and voyeur. They smile in public and abuse in private. They want you to compromise yourself; guilt and shame are self-silencers.

I discussed authenticity and my challenges along the way with internationally renowned author Dr. Mark Goulston.

Maybe shining a light on bullying and sexual assault will deter the creeps. 

Maybe it will help good people heal so that they can look forward and not worry about the rear-view mirror. 

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, I hope this story will help stop the kind of copycat behavior that nearly wiped me out.

Share this article and podcast with your employees and co-workers and have a conversation. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Most people, I’ve learned, have experienced some form of trauma and abuse. 

You don’t have to be defined by bad or good experiences. 

Define yourself by the value and impact you want to bring to the world.  

Resources for you:

Here’s a very simple way to start being the best version of yourself. Begin with your authentic servant-leader archetype

Authenticity gives you more energy at work and home, amplifies on your superpowers (your natural inclinations), and tells you who your need around you for cognitive diversity. 

We’ll discuss these issues and more in my free on demand masterclass. Register here.