January 20th, 2013
Lesson from Lance: Bullies don’t “cheat,” it’s the system
High profile self-described bully Lance Armstrong teaches disbelievers much about the bullying process. Follow our series: Lessons From Lance.
The ‘System’ Makes Them Do It
Bullies do not offer themselves voluntarily for scrutiny. Given the fact that the WBI-Healthy Workplace Bill has not yet become law in any U.S. state, most of bullying is legal. Without a law, employers don’t have to have airtight policies to prevent or correct it. So, only about 3% try to do a legitimate job of cracking down on offenders.
That means bullies can harm others with impunity. They face little to no risk of negative consequences. There is a mismatch between the lying, cheating, conniving bully and the fact that nothing bad happens to them. Bullies cheat by stealing ideas, credit for work not done, by gathering personal details about their targets’ lives to use against them later, blaming targets for errors that never occurred, and a host of other nefarious tactics.
The absence of negative outcomes for abusive misconduct is positive in its own right. It allows bullying to continue. If complaints are ignored or treated with indifference by HR or management (responsible people who should care), bullies take from that evidence that the employer somehow likes bullying to happen.
The most blatant reward is when aggressors are rewarded, and the world sees it. The history of implicit and explicit rewards makes it a system. Targets know the system does not favor them. Bullies enjoy the benefits of the system.
Now consider Lance Armstrong’s contention that he, the bully, did not cheat the cycling tournaments by doping himself. His contention is that by the time he rose to competitive prominence, his predecessors had already established the tradition of doping to improve performance. He said “the system” was in place.
He was simply acting in ways dictated by the system. Bullies will say the same in a corporate environment. They are rarely caught cheating and bullying. But when they are, they will not take personal responsibility for their lies. They contend that they were “acting in accordance with what my managers expect me to do.” After years of reward and reinforcement, they are certainly correct.
The employer’s reward for hyper-aggressive behavior speak louder than any tame proclamations that all employees deserve respect. The real cultural value is bullying. Bullies know and react accordingly.
Lance Armstrong made millions cheating. Workplace bullies usually do not profit unless they are in the financial sector, but they do benefit much more than the targets whose lives they make miserable.
What will it take to change “the system”? Employer reactions to bullying. In turn, those won’t change until pushed and prodded by laws.
Sadly, serious discussions are underway to alter the drug-use rules for cycling. It could be that the cycling tournaments might change the rules to make cheating not cheating.
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