Sunday, November 06, 2005

Leadership - protecting against toxic and bullying leaders

One of my favorite sessions at the ILA was Jean Lipman-Blumen and her daughter talking about bullying and toxic leadership. Jean introduced the program by connecting her work with that of her daugher's on parenting education. One of the things that this presentation raised for me was why people bully, regardless of the setting. What has been found is that those who bully or are toxic leaders either have an inflated sense of self-worth or are compensating for low self-confidence. The most skilled bullies have elaborate rationale to justify their belief or expression of superiority or domination. The big question is how to counter this kind of destrucive behavior. One way is to foster environments that discourage individuals who present themselves in heroic roles. Another strategy is to empower bystander action. Examples of bullying behaviors include; withholding information, excluding, setting unrealitstic expectations, meaningless tasks, and excessive monitoring of work progress. Bullying is often small, not dramatic, hard to spot, and hard to complain about. The most successful resistance is intervening before a pattern is established. There are huge beneifts for bullies to continue their behavior, primarily because they are seldom confronted. Therefore, joint efforts of those who are subjected to various bullying, even minor cases, should bind together with others to confront it. One of the primary ways children are being advised is for them to help bullies understand how to get what they want without becoming the bullying and toxic people others dislike.

The primary way out of tolerating bullying and toxic leadership is to get bystandres involved and active. Bystanders are complicitous if they don't act. We also need to focus on prevention rather than remediation. The bottom line is that an organization culture should be encouraged that sets expectations and provides for effective peer influence.

The "Dignity at work" initiative of Marks & Spencer in the UK was identified as a particularly effective initiative that combines confronting bullying with workplace discrimination issues. Their strategy is not to outline the response to bad behavior but to set the standard for a positive environment.

This particular program was one of the highest attended sessions at the conference. When asked how many people in the room had experienced bullying or toxic leadership, approximately 75% of the room raised their hands. Clearly, Jean's role in bringing this to the attention of those interested in leadership is a very important contribution.

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