“Someone in your office walks out every day with a laptop under his coat. He fences them down the street and keeps the money. After he’s discovered, how long should he keep his job? What if he’s a really hard worker? Perhaps you give him a warning, but when he’s discovered stealing again a week from now, then what? Bullying costs far more than laptop theft does,” says Marketing Guru Seth Godin in his blog post “Bullying is theft.”
Bullying is “intentionally using power to cause physical or emotional distress with the purpose of dominating the other person,” says Godin. “The bully works to marginalize people. In an organizational setting, the bully chooses not to engage in conversation or discussion or to use legitimate authority or suasion and depends instead on pressure in the moment to demean and disrespect someone else — by undermining not just their ideas but their very presence and legitimacy.”
Most bullies aren’t sociopaths, immune to correction. They are opportunists, using the tools that have often worked for them in the past.
And bullying pushes out the best employees or at least stifles their creativity and productivity. Simply put: great employees slowly stop caring. When the best employees stop doing their best, the organization takes a hit in lost ideas, connection, and insights.
“Do they [senior managers] understand that tolerating and excusing bullying behavior is precisely what permits it to flourish?” asks Godin. “If so, the next steps are painful and difficult but quite direct. Bullies can’t work here.”
- Work in a supportive, collaborative work environment, free of bullies.
- Support bullies by tolerating them as subordinates. Start dishing out warnings and performance improvement plans.
- Should consider moving on if you’re part of an organization where bullies thrive. Culture is top-down. It will not change unless top-level management changes.
“Just as laptop theft drops when our tolerance of it disappears, so does bullying,” explains Godin. “Most bullies aren’t sociopaths, immune to correction. They are opportunists, using the tools that have often worked for them in the past.”
Seth Godin defines sheepwalking as “the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line.” These are the people who don’t question their purpose at work, who color inside the lines, and are compliant with managers who lead by fear.
“The fault doesn’t lie with the employee, at least not at first,” says Godin in his book Tribes.
But what happens when you instead build or work for an organization that treats people with respect and trust? Simply put, “when you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff,” explains Godin.
A simple test for sheepwalking
Godin says that a thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer. Here’s the difference:
- A thermometer points out when something is broken. “They criticize or point out or just whine,” says Godin.
- A thermostat, on the other hand, changes the environment based on the outside world. “Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time,” asserts Godin. And a thermostat doesn’t have to be at the top to make change.
How to escape sheepwalking
Godin outlines a three-step process for stopping sheepwalking:
- Recognize the behavior as sheepwalking. Are you passionate about solving new problems and work and given the freedom, respect, and trust to do so? If not, you’re sheepwalking.
- Realize you can stop. If you’re a sheepwalker, you can claim the career you deserve by not walking down the same path everyone else does.
- Embrace passion and drive. If you teach or hire, reward passion and drive. “Great leaders embrace deviants by searching for them and catching them doing something right,” says Godin. If you’re sheepwalking, look to work at a company that exhibits company growth and believe in yourself. In a more positive environment that helps you make a difference, you’ll be more productive and happier.
“Think for a second about the people you know who are engaged, satisfied, eager to get to work. Most of them, I bet, make change. They challenge the status quo and push something forward—something they believe in. They lead,” says Godin. “You don’t have enough time to be both unhappy and mediocre. It’s not just pointless—it’s painful. Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to setup a life you don’t need to escape from.”
Inspired by Professor and anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill Author David Yamada’s blog post “Tribes for brewing ideas and engaging in positive change,” I read Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008) over the holiday weekend. And I continued to feel inspired by author Seth Godin’s words.
Organizations that kill the status quo win. Destroying the status quo makes people notice, and we have the chance to rewrite the rules before someone else does, without fear. “The riskiest thing you can do is play it safe,” says Godin.
You engage when you want something to improve. You have passion. You realize that you’re leading in this cause because of what you can do for the tribe, not because of what the tribe can do for you. “It’s the microleaders in the trenches and their enthusiastic followers who make the difference,” asserts Godin. “Few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. In other words, if everyone could do it, they would.”
Ignore the non-engagers. All we need for a tribe is followers. Everyone else can ignore us or disagree or move on. Growth happens when “you work hard to appeal to folks who aren’t most people,” Godin says.
We’re part of something bigger. Increasing awareness about workplace bullying with the goal of passing the Healthy Workplace Bill means that we’re part of something bigger and more meaningful than our individual lives.