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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished - Is This True?

By Edited Sep 5, 2016 3 13

A Closer Look at Why Some Teams Fail

Team Meeting
Credit: woodleywonderworks (wwworks on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Adult Bullying by Team Leaders

Recently, a friend of mine remarked, "No good deed goes unpunished" (a popular quip of Clare Boothe Luce (1903 - 1987) after witnessing a coworker describe the questionable behavior of another employee. The person describing the scenario went to great lengths to protect the identity of her coworker - yet was reprimanded and demoted for bringing something unethical to light.
For the last 15 years that I've been researching adult bullying, there's one common truth: whistle blowers always get bullied.
The problem of adult bullying  in the workplace has been around a long time, yet it seems hard to define and recognize. 
Today, I hope to shed some light on why some groups fail and some key signs that a corporate bully is perhaps dominating your team.
Educate, don't discriminate.
Credit: Lexus2D on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

An article in Business Insider (written by Vivian Giang July 30th, 2013) titled: 4 Ways That Good Group Dynamics Turn Bad summarized the key points of what clinical psychologist Nicole Lipkin expands upon in her book titled What Keeps Leaders Up At Night which I just had to check out.

The following are three signs I've observed in team leaders which parallels what Dr. Lipkin addresses in her book:

 1) Favoritism (and failure to look at group members objectively)
"Leaders who see a good team going bad must intervene immediately." ~ Nicole Lipkin
One of the biggest problems I've seen often is loyalty to specific people by team leaders. When faced with undeniable facts about sub par (or worse, unethical) practices within an organization, a leader who ignores valid complaints runs the risk of dividing the team.
What's more, in specialized groups - where every person is supposedly equal - this is problem is magnified. This lends itself to the next point that Nicole Lipkin stressed.
2) Us vs. Them thinking 
Favoritism towards certain people in a group creates an unhealthy dynamic. Titles assigned to those who clearly show no tangible, verifiable expertise have undermined the reward system within an organization. Power in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing.
With an "Us vs. Them" mentality established, someone inevitably will expose an uncomfortable truth. When a team leader decides to passively ignore it and/or excuses the problematic behavior, the worst outcome is to decide to punish the whistle blower. Which brings me to point number three.
3) Blames the whistle blower and punishes him or her (rather than re-evaluate the facts and their own biases)
In teams where facts (even uncomfortable ones) are presented and discussed, the undesirable behavior is often stopped in it's tracks. By not revealing the identity of the employee, s/he is anonymously warned, protected, and given another chance. If the team leader decides to pass off the unethical behavior as insignificant (or worse, defends said employee) a mistrust looms within the group. 
By punishing the truth teller, the team leader has created fear in other members of the group. Even with undeniable proof, other members will understandably be too afraid to bring valid concerns to the table.
Fear, imo, always negatively affects creativity, productivity, and morale. Which in turn, stifles progress.


See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Credit: Rose Robinson on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

So Why Do Team Leaders Turn a Blind Eye to Some Employees yet Appear to Pick on Others?

Simply put, favoritism and bias. Quite often, the unethical employee has managed to manipulate the team leader (not with quality work, but rather by filling an emotional need for approval and belonging). The team leader wants to be liked and feel s/he belongs to the group too. Lipkin coins this "extreme group conformity."

What conclusions can be made? When rash decisions have been made, sometimes it's best for team leaders to ask for outside help. For those in groups where fear has set in, you may wish to reconsider belonging to that team or organization.
Dr. Lipkin provides solid, doable advice in her bookI consider it a must-read for those who manage others (and it applies to any field of expertise - including parenting). 

What Keeps Leaders up at Night by Nicole Lipkin

What Keeps Leaders Up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues
Amazon Price: $21.95 $0.28 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 5, 2016)
This book will help team leaders and those in groups to examine their roles and resolve some of the toughest questions such as: "Why have I lost so many of my best employees to the competition?" and "Why do I sometimes feel threatened by my best people?" Top-rated reviews and you can click to look inside prior to purchase (also available in Kindle format).

The Book Trailer



Jan 27, 2014 9:21pm
Welcome to InfoBarrel. Excellent article!
Jan 27, 2014 9:22pm
Thanks Deb! I really appreciate you telling me about InfoBarrel. Take good care, Rose
Jan 28, 2014 11:20pm
Great article and you bring up some good points too.
Jan 31, 2014 8:02pm
Bullying by scared little kids masquerading as adults and pretending to be all grown up. When will it stop? Lawsuits are the biggest motivator for organizations to reform. Sad but true.
Jan 31, 2014 8:18pm
Indeed Astro G, one of the most common threads is that a stellar employee will begin "quoting their rights" in their interactions with management. The Workplace Bullying Institute believes that the bully "is not fully developed as a moral human being." For some reason, the person s/he targets poses some threat (real or imagined) and yet the target is often the most skilled employee on the team.
Feb 13, 2014 8:04am
Wonderful article. My father is a corporate business vice president and these issues plague him all the time. He believes fully in the understanding that if employees cannot deliver the results of the position handed to them it should go to someone who can. Well written and very clear. Thank you.
Feb 13, 2014 10:20am
Dear Lurch,
Thank you for chiming in. Yes, some behaviors are subtle and truly hard to pinpoint - although collectively the group (if led by a bully) understands who is favored and who isn't. These groups tend to polarize fairly quickly and it reinforces an us vs. them mentality (which always crushes creativity). Where this scenario is seen most often (and is the toughest to deal with) is when family members are given too much slack (or positions of power that they cannot handle). Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I'm sure your father could tell us all plenty of similar stories. Take good care, Rose
Feb 13, 2014 9:45pm
Very true, family ran businesses work out only when the parents train their kids to be the best workers. However in larger businesses there is favoritism and the goals of the father out weigh the responsibilities of the manager. Aiding a family or friend to get their foot in the door is one thing but bullying them in does nothing but make you loose credit for your staff, paint your kid as a target because most know he was given the position, and does nothing to help your child because it puts them in position they are not qualified. It is a loose loose from start to finish.
Feb 14, 2014 3:28am
Well put . . thank you for contributing to my article once again. Sincerely, Rose
Feb 15, 2014 7:15pm
I've been working for decades now, and have yet to find a work environment that is not dysfunctional. Often it seems that each employee's (or employer's) family dynamics seep into the work place. Yuk.
Feb 16, 2014 2:21pm
Yes, it's rare to find a workplace without some ugly dynamics. Key point is to recognize when it becomes so abrasive and unhealthy that employee(s) cannot function without fear at work (and it, in turn, it affects them at home - even on their days off). Workplace bullying is starting to get more recognition these days but is a stubborn thing to remedy. Often, outside help is required. The Workplace Bullying Institute is an excellent resource for those who want to know more. Thank you so much for reading my page and for your candor, I appreciate you chiming in.
Nov 26, 2015 7:53pm
It's awful that the U.S. hasn't come up with more stringent rules against workplace bullies. I have seen so much nasty, aggressive behavior go unpunished and even rewarded in my work life.

I have thought about offering a consulting service based on peer-to-peer communication to teach workplace etiquette. In my area, people are clueless about what a respectful tone of voice sounds like.

They bark, snap, yell, roll their eyes, purse their lips and leave you feeling disgusted that a company is okay giving them a paycheck for that type of behavior.

Nov 28, 2015 7:53am
I agree and I've been shocked by the behavior of some people online.

If you do offer a consulting service to teach workplace etiquette, let me know. I'd seriously be interested in promoting it or contributing to it or ? (I've researched workplace bullying for several years).

It's so nice of you to drop by LPerry and I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.


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