By Jeff Kortes, President, Human Asset Management LLC
In recent years, experts have begun using the term “bullying” to describe what I would term “fear.” It is an abusive pattern of behavior that creates uncertainty and a nagging sense of fear in an employee’s mind. Call it fear or bullying, the effect is the same. It kills optimal performance and drives turnover. It’s that simple.
Fear is something that rarely pervades the entire organization. More often than not, it is found in pockets of the organization where a toxic boss has been allowed to act with impunity or is politically astute and hides their tactics of leading by fear. Unless the organization deals with this manager, the organization risks sending a damaging message to allemployees that it is willing to condone inappropriate managerial behavior. The people in other departments then will wonder if this could happen to them while the organization looks the other way.
By not dealing with an abusive boss, the organization looks clueless…or worse yet…seems to condone this behavior. This can be a key decision point for a person when looking at whether or not to leave because it plants the seed in an employee’s mind that the organization simply does not care about people in general. Mentally, a person will use this as a way to rationalize moving even if they work for a good boss. It makes it easier to turn in that resignation when offered another job.
The unfortunate thing about fear is that often it comes from a key person in the organization such as the head of a division, plant manager, or a vice president who is successful in their own right. These people hide behind mantras such as: “I expect the best from my people and that’s why they don’t like me” or “They quit because they couldn’t stand the pressure” or the best of all, “I provided them with a great training ground so now they are able to take that next step in their career.” When people see a senior level person getting away with ruling by fear, they will have an inherent distrust of the organization. They will not openly express their thoughts, but they will when talking with their co-workers, when out to lunch, or having a drink after work. There will be a low buzz in the organization. If you are looking for open comments to verify high-level fear before addressing a problematic senior level person, you will never address the problem because people aren’t dumb enough to commit political suicide openly.
How do you know you have a problem?
Tip: Ask yourself if any of the above points occur in your organization. If they do, start asking questions about those items because chances are, you have a problem.
In most cases, the only way you will know there is a problem is that you will get bits and pieces of all of the above. A great big jigsaw puzzle begins to form that is always missing a few pieces to create a finished picture. At that point, you have a tough decision (that’s why they pay you the big bucks!). Look the other way or take some action to address the issue decisively.
If you are in tune with your people, you will have seen the signs all along, so the puzzle will have been taking shape over time. Ideally, you will have been bringing these issues forward to the people who need to know about them. Hopefully, they will have stepped in, communicated decisively with the problematic manager, and the manager will have changed his or her behavior. If they are unwilling or unable, I suggest you start questioning whether or not it is the type of organization YOU want to work in!
As a department manager, you may have to deal with a boss who uses bullying or fear as a way to manage. Your job, whether you like it or not, is to insulate your people from your boss. If you don’t, you will bear the brunt of dealing with the aftermath of the turnover your boss generates.
Jeff Kortes is known as the “No Nonsense Guy.” He is the president of Human Asset Management LLC, a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive search and leadership training. He has trained hundreds of first-line supervisors, managers, and executives during his career. His approach to training is no-nonsense, and practical. Kortes is also a member of the National Speakers Association and a regular speaker on the topics of retention, recruiting and leadership. For more information, visit http://www.thenononsenseguy.com.