From Charlotte’s Mary Tribble, senior advisor for engagement strategy, Wake Forest University. The full version can be found on her blog at marytribble.com:
Some salacious news hit my hometown a few days ago. Our relatively new and presumably high-performing public school superintendent abruptly resigned. For a skinny minute, he cited the ubiquitous “more time with the family” explanation, which put everyone on high alert. No way that was the whole story.
And, it wasn’t. As it turns out, the board had just received a damning report conducted by the school system’s general counsel. The details are cringe-worthy. He reportedly publically berated people, calling his former assistant “stupid’ and an “idiot.” He was known by many to be an intimidating bully.
This whole story sounds similar to a recent one about a nearby college president who was dismissed after team members reported an environment of mistreatment and outrageous outbursts around issues ranging from file folders to out-of-stock pens.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
These two examples feature leaders in education, but we all have plenty of stories like this from the private and non-profit sector. I watched a senior executive with a political organization practically delight in bringing a young intern to tears, then react with surprise when a co-worker and I suggested her actions were unacceptable. I know of highly respected bank vice presidents who operate like abusive spouses and business owners who seem to have no conscience at all.
In her book, The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout of Harvard Medical School reveals that four percent of the world’s population are sociopaths – people who have no sense of right or wrong. They are great actors who can mimic emotion and empathy, and are masters at charm and manipulation. This is why they can be so successful in their careers – it helps to look the part while not really caring about other people’s feelings. It’s theorized that the top of the corporate food chain has a higher than average incidence of sociopathy than the general population.
And it’s that very adroitness in being able to rule with fear on the one hand, and serve with charisma on the other, that prevents workers from calling out a workplace bully. Professional tyranny is so pervasive, we begin to think it’s normal.
One doesn’t spontaneously develop abusive traits. They are honed over time. Which means people turned a blind eye for years, favoring results over human flourishing. Both these individuals had risen to the highest level of success in their careers – our public school administrator was awarded Superintendent of the Year just a few years ago.
I’m not saying the superintendent, the college president or the bank executive are sociopaths. They may just be ambitious people with out-of-control tempers. But regardless, going to work shouldn’t be an emotionally abusive event and people can get to the top without creating a culture of fear. Bullying and intimidation should be called out not only in the school yard, but the corporate boardroom as well.