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Crisis Leadership: Bullying in the Workplace

The ongoing saga of the Miami Dolphins and their workplace bullying situation has exploded into the board room and water cooler conversations. A new level of consciousness is now being raised because of what happened between two very large guys in a locker room. The Richie Incognito (alleged bully) and Jonathan Martin (alleged victim) is a microcosm of hat can happen in your world. Here are some thoughts from me from 25,000 feet, which may apply to your professional life…

  • The NFL locker room is a way different culture that whatever organization you are in. One of my high school friends quipped that “America isn’t ready to hear what happens in a high school locker room, much less an NFL locker room.” He is right. We can all debate as to whether any of it is ethical or morale or sensitive; but we can’t draw direct correlations because it’s so different.
  • What you can do is be better tuned in to what happens in your business. “Bullying” is defined in many ways when it comes to occupational hazards. In the end, if it’s your business that is on the line, you’d better have your own definition. And, just like art, the real definition is in the eye of the “beholder.”
  • The worst forms you are most likely to see are dealing with passive-aggressive behavior; discrimination (age, gender); sexual harassment (including jokes that someone doesn’t find amusing); inappropriate language; and retaliation.

Donald Ross, the owner of the Dolphins, just appeared on national television on Monday Night Football. He did and said the obvious. He was appalled. He wanted to reach out to the victim. He’s holding an all out investigation with several former players and coaches leading the charge. On the surface, it’s all admirable. Bottom line – it’s too late. The Dolphins season is now in shambles and that affects all the players. Some of them may even get pained with the same brush as Incognito before it’s all over. Coaches and executives are likely to be fired. And in three months, nobody will be talking about it anymore.

In your business, you may not get away as “lucky.” In the business world, people get sued. Business owners lose repute and money. Insurance companies do investigations. Business close down and employees have to find new jobs. Think I’m overstating things? Talk to someone that has been through an employee lawsuit and then talk to me. You probably aren’t as able to financially rebound and recover as Donald Ross is.

You need to be a good communicator and observer. How your culture is created is up to you and the leaders in your “locker room.” The last thing you want to be is surprised. There are tactics and strategies that you can take to reduce your risk (can’t be eliminated unless you don’t need employees). Maybe that’s a realistic and better 2o14 resolution than going to the gym more often…

© 2013 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved

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