Canada’s Governor General & Bullies in the Boardroom
The July 20, 2020 public disclosure that Canada’s Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada) might be a bully, wags a finger at one of the most prolific causes of illness, absenteeism, and unhappiness at work today.
The World Health Organization asserts that adults who are bullied at work are prone to suffer from health issues, including cardiovascular problems and depression.
I’m one of those who suffered this type of treatment at work; so, I know firsthand how it feels—the dread of going into work each day, the Sunday night anxiety, and the uncertainty of working with a manager with erratic and aggressive behavior. I also know the ravages of illness brought on by stress at work.
When there is a bully at work, and you’ve tolerated months or years of problematic behavior, it’s time for an exit strategy. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has created an employer’s market for many industries, and you may find that changing jobs this year may be a difficult challenge. For that reason, it’s essential to begin thinking about your transition in advance.
Here is what I regret:
- Not leaving sooner and not documenting (sadly) dates and situations when the problematic behavior started. After three events, I should have seen that there was a problem with my boss. Instead, over the years, I chose to believe that the manager would change.
- Not carefully reviewing my employment contract to ensure I understood any covenants that may impact future employment negotiations. Some industries (sales, for example) have strict non-compete clauses, but there are other types of covenants that can impact future employment. Know what they are.
- Not taking a copy of my precious contact list and maintaining regular contact with my industry colleagues. I could have done more networking; getting access to individuals after you’ve left the labor market can be incredibly challenging. Phone numbers and email addresses are critical.
What you can do now:
- Remain visible to your senior management team by attending all internal events. In my interview with Andrew, a former corporate executive for one of North America’s top retail organizations said he built solid relationships with those individuals in authority who kept him top of mind for opportunities (including internal projects). Those people trusted him, and he was able to create many careers inside the company.
- Become more visible outside your current organization. If you’re a heads-down type of CFO or CEO (for example), consider speaking at conferences, present to employees internally, offer to educate a board of directors or the audit committee (for example) on your topic area. This is especially effective on the heels of a regulatory change or other significant events.
- Be known as the go-to-person for a specific topic. For example, if you are a cyber security subject matter expert, this can become a platform for speaking in public, being interviewed by the media, and for writing industry articles.
- Continue to add value to your investors, customers, board of directors and your people. A good work product will speak for you when you’re not in the room (like a personal brand).
Do this in the near future:
- Find a good employment attorney.
- Get to know recruiters in your targeted industries.
- Work with a career coach.
- Take care of your health, always.
In the last several years, I’ve spoken to dozens of individuals in the United States and Canada at every level, including the C-Suite and board of director’s levels. I’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of clients who have disclosed an issue of bullying and narcissism on their teams and at the most senior levels.
Here are my observations:
- Aggressive behavior on the team in which information is withheld, or you’re ignored, or excluded from meetings are common scenarios.
- Most people like their work, their colleagues and their clients and otherwise would not leave their role if it weren’t for that one person’s behavior.
- Organizations who turn a blind eye to the problematic behavior are losing their top performers. Top performers will always choose to withhold this information from HR and the leadership team to save face and to protect their reputation.
How to target the best companies
Perform your due diligence before you choose an organization and especially before signing your job offer. Check references, turnover rates, employee surveys, and talk to past employees. The reason I suggest speaking to past employees is that current employees have a vested interest in protecting the company and will be reluctant to disclose anything negative about the organization. Asking former employees will likely produce the most accurate information because former staffers have less of a fear of retribution if the disclosure happens to hit the ears of former employers.
An exemplar of a healthy company
If you’re looking for a company with a positive employee and customer culture, see the WD-40 Company. Their employee engagement rate is above 93%. If you peek at their stock price relative to the inception of Garry Ridge as the CEO in 1997, you will see a steady improvement in stock price along with employee engagement rates.
Other ways to test the company’s culture:
- Read product reviews.
- Notice awards they have won and accreditations they have earned.
- Read media reports.
- Watch keynote speeches delivered by the CEO or other representatives (YouTube.com is an ideal platform).
- Call customer service to see how they treat you.
- Contact the sales department and engage in a conversation about their products.
- Check their credit rating.
- Inquire about their share price. Investor relations will always want to speak to a potential investor.
- Visit their head office, regional site or branch (if you have the luxury).
The more information you have learned about your targeted organizations, the better informed you will be when you decide to accept or reject a job offer.
Once you have received a job offer, it is then time to test the waters. Your experience during the recruiting process will provide a sense of the cadence of communications with a general impression. Your experience during the interview process will most likely mirror your future experience in the organization.
- Ensure the job description reflects what will be expected of you.
- Understand the title and name of the person you will report to. It is important for you to connect with him or her because you will work alongside this person potentially for a long time.
- Before signing the offer, ask to meet your team, your direct reports and your boss’s manager. Observe how others in the group are treated. Watch the behavior of the leader. Observe how employees interact with him or her.
When I got to visit with Garry Ridge, the CEO of the WD-40 Company in San Diego last year, I watched his people interact with him. It was clear to me that his team revered him, and the respect and admiration was reciprocal. A corporate environment of mutual respect and sincere interest in others as individuals is the culture I strive for when targeting an organization.
What’s your experience? I’m good at keeping secrets, so drop me a note at email@example.com.
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