Although their approach is widely criticized, it is fair to say that bullies represent a functional part of many organizations. They come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and both genders. Bullying is targeted and abusive behavior. It is personally destructive and should have nothing to do with advancing legitimate organizational goals. Despite its negative connotations, though, anyone who works in an American corporation can easily see that arrogant and abusive leaders are frequently rewarded with promotions, increased pay and bonuses, as well as more power and influence. In a nutshell—bullying pays off.
This paper will examine the ways American corporations unwittingly conspire to make workplace bullying a rational choice. We will explore the dynamics of the problem from three perspectives: (1) individual—the unique characteristics of individual bullies, (2) situational—the influence of the corporate situational context, and (3) systemic—a view which poses larger questions about the nature of the social systems within which we work. Is there some aspect of the “DNA” of organizations—the guiding principles by which they exist—which tends to promote uncivil behavior?
The past has proven that an obsession with profits at any cost encourages leaders to “game the system” and behave badly. When civilized standards of common decency and respect are not required to be observed in our workplaces, leadership by fear and intimidation is validated as a legitimate leadership style. By turning a blind eye to the destruction created by arrogant and abusive leaders—and even rewarding and promoting them—corporations unwittingly enable (and perhaps even encourage) bullying and abuse at work.
Trying to civilize corporations, though, is much like trying to turn tigers into vegetarians. They will always be wild beasts by nature unless we “tame” them by imposing laws (as many other countries have done), or replace them with new forms entirely. Until then, the unfortunate reality is that bullying will continue to be rampant in American organizations. We can—and must—do better.
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