5 Things I Learned From a 6th Grade Bully

By Linda Fisher Thornton

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Most of the people I know were bullied at some point in their lives. As I look back on dealing with a 6th grade bully, I realize that I learned some things from that difficult time. Today I share that story along with resources for bullying prevention. 

My bully repeatedly taunted me. My bully was bigger and taller than I was. My bully was mean. My bully was always there and always looking for a fight. 

I took the “ignore and walk away” approach for a very long time and that only seemed to escalate the bullying. Then an “incident” happened on the playground. On this memorable day she was particularly agitated and lunged at me. The worst case scenario I had feared was actually happening. I stood as tall as I could, closed my eyes and put both hands out in front of me signaling and forcefully yelling “STOP!” She was so startled she lost her balance and sat down hard on the blacktop, and her glasses flew off and broke. 

We were both called to the principal’s office. This was the first time I had ever potentially been “in trouble” and I was sure she had told the principal that I had hit her and broken her glasses, but that wasn’t the truth. I took a deep breath. I thought about the many times I had had positive interactions with the principal. I somehow found the courage to speak. I told him the truth about what happened that day and all the days before when she had bullied me and I was believed. Here are some of the things I now realize looking back on that experience: 

  1. Reputation is everything – when you are trustworthy and honest every day, people will believe you when you most need them to. 
  2. Trust is cumulative – it takes many months and years to build a high trust relationship, but that high trust relationship will help you get through even the most challenging circumstances with grace. 
  3. Aggression and violence don’t solve problems – lashing out at others may seem like a solution, but it isn’t a healthy one. Aggression and violence make problems worse.
  4. Bullies are often hurting inside – it’s easy to forget that bullies may be victims themselves.
  5. Leaders need to create a safe space – with active prevention where bullying is noticed and quickly stopped. 

I still remember that bully’s name, though I won’t share it here. Bullying and other forms of intimidation have lasting effects. We need to do much more to prevent them in our schools and workplaces. We need to be talking about appropriate boundaries of behavior in clear terms

Bullying is damaging by itself but we also need to realize that “bullies are more likely than others to engage in violent criminal behavior” (bullyingstatistics.org). We need a prevention strategy, not just a crisis response strategy. We need to stop negative interpersonal behaviors before they escalate. 

Resources

BBC Capital, Taking on a Workplace Bully by Chana R Schoenberger

UNESCO School Violence and Bullying: Global Report 

https://www.stopbullying.gov/

UNESCO: Let’s Decide How to Measure School Violence

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Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is an updated version of a reader favorite. 

There Will Always Be Grey Areas

There will always be ethical grey areas.  We see plenty of information about lying, cheating, stealing and other obvious ethical violations. It is more difficult to know what to do when we encounter behaviors that fall into ethical grey areas, particularly in term of relationships with other people. Grey areas are difficult for anyone to handle but leaders bear the additional weight of needing to set the tone for the organization. Each decision impacts the ethics of the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas “Teaches” Others (Whether Our Decisions Are Good or Bad)

If we are in leadership, we set the tone for what we want employees to do by what we do. That includes what we do about easy ethical problems (with clear right and wrong choices) and tough ethical problems (with no obvious right choices).

When we make good decisions, people watch what we do and also learn how to do that. If we make bad decisions, we teach others how to make bad decisions and those bad decisions can spread quickly throughout the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas Paints a Border That Outlines Our Ethics

Sometimes “doing nothing” is an unethical choice. If we allow people to sabotage each other to win rewards, and withhold information from one another to appear more powerful, we are creating a culture that endorses negative interpersonal behaviors. We are “teaching” people that the organization values competition above collaboration and that “anything goes” to get the win.

If we “permit” sabotage and withholding information by not noticing and/or not addressing them, are we also endorsing more negative behaviors that people may see as similar, like bullying and employee harassment? We may be unintentionally sending the message that we allow even more negative behaviors in a broader context – Are we also endorsing withholding information from customers and other important stakeholders? What about regulators? If we allow people to withhold information at one level, are we unintentionally saying that withholding information is okay anytime, at any level?

How we handle the grey areas in how people treat each other paints a border that becomes the outline of our company’s ethics.

Ignoring Negative Behaviors Allows Them to Flourish

When it comes to organizational culture, not knowing is not a defense. When we ignore negative interpersonal behaviors, we send a powerful message across the company to ‘do more of that’!  If we use negative interpersonal behaviors or simply look the other way when we see negative behaviors, employees will too.

Negative behaviors that we choose to ignore don’t typically go away – they multiply when we fail to act because the behaviors are then assumed to be “accepted by leadership.” As leaders we need to walk around, to notice what’s going on, to create high-trust workplaces, to provide opportunities for meaningful communication, to ask people what’s getting in the way of their success, to talk about ethical behavior and to remove barriers to effective ethical performance.

People will follow our lead. When we ignore negative behaviors, we are saying that we accept those negative behaviors.

Work Through Grey Areas Openly – Retain the Ability to Paint the Ethical Border

As leaders, we need to regularly discuss the grey areas in what it means to behave ethically. This lets us help employees define ethical behavior clearly and provide input into the choices they make to be sure that they meet the expectations of the company.  As we learn more as a society about the impact of our choices and our behavior on others, there will continue to be more grey areas where employees will need guidance.

People can usually see ethical grey areas but they may be hesitant to ask for help. By keeping the conversation open and actively addressing grey areas, we retain the ability to define the ethical border. If we don’t talk about it, people will define that border on their own and may draw it outside of the company’s stated ethics codes and values.

Don’t take that chance. Ask employees which ethical issues they want to talk about.

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the second post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed it, last week’s post was Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1). I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your talent development plans for 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

The way we have developed leaders has traditionally been to teach one topic at a time. Each topic reflects a different skill they will need to apply in their leadership. The problem with that is that it’s like teaching them how to put together a puzzle by showing them only a few pieces at a time. What leaders need is much higher level than what we have been giving them, and the gap seems to be widening. You simply can’t solve a complex, multidimensional puzzle a few pieces at a time. The broader context matters.

Leaders need a context for thinking about good leadership that is broad enough to provide insight into multiple perspectives and stakeholders.

Mark Lukens points out in his Fast Company article 3 Ways For Senior Managers To Keep A Broad Perspective, that “your assumptions and prejudices could stand in the way of better strategy. And in a world where it takes constant improvement to stay ahead, a broad perspective is just as crucial as special expertise.”  Leaders will not easily learn how to solve complex high level problems when we are only showing them a few pieces of the context at a time.  Helping leaders understand the evolving global context in which they lead is important for practical reasons including:

The Context and Rules Are Shifting

Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the world of work. These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organizational people practice, from learning to management to the definition of work itself.”

Deloitte, Rewriting the Rules For the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends

Complexity is Increasing

“Global competition, networks, and stakeholder empowerment are transforming former manageable, bounded challenges into endless Gordian knots… Small wonder “complex problem solving” is listed by the World Economic Forum as the top workforce skill for 2020—as it was for 2015.

Brook Manville, Six Leadership Practices For Wicked Problem Solving, Forbes.com

Leadership Responsibility is Global

“Many of our informants expressed their belief that true global leaders feel accountable for shaping our shared global future. This emerging emphasis on global responsibility as a key quality of global leadership will be explored further in our continued research.”

Boix-Mansilla, Chua, Kehayes and Patankar, Leading With the World in Mind, Asia Society and Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Stakeholders Are Part of Complex Global Networks

“Today’s leaders are faced with highly unpredictable and volatile environments that defy long-range planning. Their organizations are enmeshed in a new interconnected world of complex global networks that engage in novel ways of co-evolution and co-creation, with stakeholders dispersed across the globe.”

Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton, Social Technology and the Changing Context of Leadership, Wharton Center For Leadership and Change Management

We need to help leaders learn and apply ethical thinking in the broad context of a global society and the evolving global definition of “good leadership.” Only then will they be ready to meet the increasing expectations and varying needs of multiple stakeholders.

Read the next post in the series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

 

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