Technology is amazing. It’s amazing because I’m writing this on my iPhone as I think about it. It used to be that I’d think about interesting, scary, or important stuff but I’d lose the thought or concept before I had the chance to write it down.

But that is no more.

So the thought that troubles me now is about bullies. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. Some take your lunch money. Some take your self-esteem. And some – namely corporate bullies – rob you of your desire to do what you love.

When we think of bullies, most of us go back to our primary school years. As we grow up, have careers, and have families, the thought of someone bullying us fades along with our memories of bad skin and really bad wardrobe choices. Unfortunately for many, corporate bullies come along and make us hate our jobs and where we work, crushing productivity and morale in the process.

Several years ago I had the pleasure (definite sarcasm there) of supervising a particularly nasty corporate bully. She was an outstanding recruiter. In fact, she out-produced everyone else combined.  She made the owners a ton of money. But her way of doing business was absolutely terrible. She openly insulted her co-workers. She disrespected her managers and owners. And she conducted herself in a “nobody matters but me” way. Quite frankly, she was one of the most hated employees I’ve ever known. As much as I wanted to let her go because of her ridiculous insults and outbursts, the owners constantly gave her a pass on her behavior because she generated so much revenue.

After many employees quit or threatened to quit and morale was in the crapper, she went too far with one of the owners and they finally gave me the green light to fire her. I’ve never actually seen someone punch herself in the face before (or since), but it happened. Not sure what the objective was there but she kept yelling, “I’m so stupid!” The HR representative who was with me ran from the conference room and locked herself in her office. I had to call the police to escort her from the building.

I swear, I can’t make this stuff up.

So what’s the message here? It’s difficult to make hard choices on top-performing bullies because – on the surface – they appear to add so much value. Often organizational leadership not only tolerates bad behavior, but rewards it through promotions, raises, recognition, or bonuses. The true values of an organization and its leadership aren’t wrapped up in a pretty mission statement or posted on the intranet as “our corporate values.” They are actively demonstrated daily in who gets hired, recognized, promoted, who quits, and who gets fired. Actions speak louder than words, right? Accepted behaviors truly demonstrate organizational values. What the owners of my old company failed to understand is that just by allowing her to continue working sent a clear message about what they valued most – money. Their actions said clearly, “We don’t care who you hurt, who you offend, or how you get it done. As long as you are making us money, you’re good.”

In the end, she was fired, morale improved, and the team turned things around and crushed revenue targets. As leaders, what behaviors do we allow that run contrary to our personal and organizational values? Addressing bullies that are poor performers is easy. It’s high-performers that represent the true leadership challenges. How we get things done is just as important as the results we achieve and we should be careful not to inadvertently promote the wrong values by allowing bullies in the workplace.

Know any corporate bullies? How did you deal with them?

Let me know what you think.



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