November 12th, 2013

“Neanderthals” in the NFL and among all managers face extinction

Our human ancestors, the Neanderthals, last walked the earth 28,000 years ago. (Sorry, creationists.) To be a “neanderthal” means to lag behind modern practices, to cling onto outdated ways. (Sorry, neanderthals who were more sophisticated than the namesake.)

It’s getting harder to find apologists among the sports cognoscenti at ESPN to defend the Miami Dolphins designated bully Richie Incognito. The Miami Dolphins post-game panel after Monday Night Football on Nov. 11 stated unanimously that the locker room culture in every team would have to change just as surely as approaches to concussions have changed. They spoke of “neanderthals” in the locker room growing extinct. That the league has to evolve because other workplaces don’t behave abusively. (Oops. Yes they do. That’s the message about workplace bullying.)

We at WBI concur heartily that the NFL must evolve. How strong will be the blowback against such humanizing proposals? NFL Coach Pete Carroll spoke of preserving rituals (such as rookies carrying helmets off the field) but not hazing. Can the NFL remain as attractive to American fans without the ancillary abuse that has little to do with the game itself? Is the game so violent that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for fired-up players to not engage in some form of abuse after the play, in the locker room, in bars after games, or at home? Are NFL players as conditioned to be violent as military veterans who have difficulty leaving a war zone to return to civilian life?

Let’s watch and hope for the evolution out of neanderthalism. Then, the NFL will be a safe place for players like Jonathan Martin who eschew off-field violence.

An evolution will require acquiring skills, both for managers in sports and in the non-sports workplace.

As for the rest of us who don’t work in a professional sports workplace, it is clear that neanderthals do exist in management. The much-revered Jack Welch and his forced attrition model is plainly dehumanizing, not motivating. How much bullying is ordered from higher level managers just as Miami Dolphins coaches instructed Incognito to put pressure on Jonathan Martin?

We have been immersed in workplace bullying for over 16 years. It is not controversial to posit that a great deal of top-down bullying by bosses (72% of all bullying in the U.S.) can be explained by a lack of managerial skill. After all, when one lacks the talent, the easiest way to manage others is to bully them. Bullying saves time and requires no personal skill or explaining.

Rarely reported is the fact that Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner, whose managed both Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, is working in his first NFL job. He is a former Marine Corps infantry officer.

Manager training is the first cut when budget shortfalls hit. Too bad. If managers are trained to manage, they will resort to learning on-the-job by trial-and-error and that only hurts the people being supervised poorly. Worse still is when managers rely on stereotypes about what it means to be a “boss.”

Bossing — managing — to many people means shouting out commands, however arbitrary or baseless they may be, and making others obey. Think of bad bosses in movies or TV shows. Those scripts were written to make us laugh at or loathe the stupid sap.

Too many of us spent our non-supervisory years working “below the radar,” existing in ways to “keep our heads low,” “paying our dues,” and “champing at the bit,” awaiting our promotion to boss. With that pent-up drive, it is little wonder that new supervisors initially act demanding and oppressive. We couldn’t wait to stomp all over others as we were crushed. The cycle is complete when bad bossing is the norm. New bosses can’t wait to be bad bosses because it’s a form of payback.

Managing others is a trainable skill. There is no shame in not knowing how to do it well if you have not been trained. Most of it does not come naturally to everyone. Modern, non-neanderthal, managing involves:

• uninterrupted listening (no multi-tasking while listening)

• an ability to train others
– mastery of the technical skill involved
– an ability to break the job into chunks of tasks so as to not overwhelm
– an ability to explain and demonstrate humbly recalling what it was like when you were new
– patience to allow the trainee to rehearse and fail
– an ability to coach the trainee to correct errors
– an ability to reinforce good work and to praise in order to motivate and sustain accuracy

• an ability to help resolve conflicts within the work team

• an ability to manage up the org chart to sustain support for you and your work team

• caring about, and monitoring, staff to notice changes to nip problems in the bud

• to be a servant-transformational leader

When the above skills are in short supply, that particular work environment is prone to bullying and abusive conduct by the supervisor.

We can make giant strides if all managers — in all workplaces — are trained properly. It will not eliminate bullying motivated by malice or orders from on high, but it will help greatly.

Follow the full NFL story in the Category list in the sidebar: NFL: Jonathan Martin


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 at 9:23 am and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, NFL: Jonathan Martin, The New America, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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