Watching the debates and hearing news reports from the presidential campaign have been good reminders of how seemingly tolerant we have become of bad behavior. We even encourage it by voting for candidates who are the epitome of bad behavior in any setting.
What bad behavior comes to mind? We’ve seen bullying, yelling, name-calling, discriminatory comments, spreading misinformation and other juvenile conduct. I find that the remarks directed toward groups such as women, Muslims, Latinos and other groups especially offensive. It seems to somehow work in the political world where the competition is fierce and such behavior is condoned or forgotten when it’s time to vote.
Unfortunately, we do the same in the workplace. I have seen or heard of similar bad behavior in countless organizations. It is even tolerated over an extended period of time. Managers and organizations tolerate bad behavior usually for one of three reasons:
- The manager doesn’t know how to deal with bad behavior. They don’t know how to effectively confront it, and may even be fearful of the individual. Especially when the manager doesn’t feel supported by their management team and human resources.
- The individual is seen as ‘too valuable.’ I’ve seen the brilliant engineer who thought he was on par with Einstein in intelligence. Unfortunately, he consistently made disparaging remarks about women on his engineering team. Or, there’s the top-producing salesman who yelled at the order processing team back in the office. The rationale, in both cases, was that the organization can’t afford to lose them.
- The individual is too high up in the leadership team. They may even be the CEO or president of the organization. This often happens in the small to mid-sized organization that has grown quickly after being spawned from a start-up. Bad behavior that works in a start-up becomes a liability in a larger organization.
Tolerating bad behavior in any organization is setting yourself up for big issues. Worst case, the behavior itself may lead to lawsuits if it goes too far. At a minimum, ignoring bad behavior establishes the precedent that the organization condones poor performance. Either way, it will certainly influence the culture in your organization.
Then there’s the impact on teamwork. Most organizations have at least some diversity in their workforce. That diversity will flourish in a culture that cultivates trust and respect. Employees will do their best work in the long run in such a culture.
On the flip side, managers at all levels need to understand that bad behavior will create an environment where employees don’t trust each other or their leaders. Can you afford that type of environment? Can you afford the turnover you’ll get? Can you afford to have your employees half-heartedly engage as they look to get out?
This all leads back to the dilemma of choosing our next President. We live in a complex world. The issues and problems facing our country are big and hairy. The president will need to have an excellent team comprised of individuals with differing viewpoints who can offer innovative and sound alternatives; not a staff of ‘yes men.’ Will the next president assemble and support such a staff? Will the next president be able to form productive alliances with their diverse peers from other countries or the other party? I certainly hope so. His or her ability to do so will impact all of us for years to come.
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