Category Dealing Harrassment & Abuse

Do You Have A Brilliant Jerk In Your Workplace?

Do you have a “brilliant jerk” (or two) in your workplace? 

I teach a leadership class at my local University, and in a recent class, one student shared the story about a high-performing employee who was a jerk. That jerk created a toxic environment but was consistently the number one salesperson. She asked what she should do about the person when senior management focused on that person’s results but not the impact of her actions.

I advised the student to focus on the costs that jerk had on the organization; how many employees or customers did they lose because of this person’s actions? For example, if a new employee quits due to this person being a jerk, how much revenue was lost, and how much did it cost to replace that person?

If the jerk costs more than they earned, the decision becomes economical, not emotional.

Read what happened when I hired a jerk.

A High-performing Jerk is typically in a position of power and has awful toxic behaviours that negatively impact colleagues. Their harmful bullying behaviour “evades consequences” because they’re generally high performing in another metric.

Enough is enough; it’s time for workplace leaders to step up and stamp out these awful behaviours.

Pay Attention to the Brilliant Jerk

High-performing Jerks are bullies but do not have their behaviour dealt with because they may be high performing in another area.

Leaders need to take a more active role in stamping out toxic behaviours in the workplace by:

    1. not shrug off, laugh off or walk past anything that constitutes harassment in your workplace;
    2. speak up against harassment that occurs on your watch, and
    3. Investigate and, if substantiated, discipline and exit perpetrators of harassment regardless of their clients, relationships, public profile, revenue, technical skills, perceived brilliance or commercial value.

Ignore the Brilliant Jerk at Your Peril

When organizational leaders ignore or tolerate High-performing Jerks, they signal to employees and other stakeholders that they value profits over people. I shouldn’t have to point out the consequences; however, recent studies show that toxic workplace culture is ten times more likely to drive employee attrition than dissatisfaction with compensation.

“Enough is enough. It’s time companies considered the consequences of their actions. Toxic rock stars are the cancer of company culture. Leaving them in a position of power reveals what the company truly values: profits over people.” HBR

Failure to effectively deal with the High-performing Jerks has significant implications for medium to long-term company profitability (if you want to think about dollars rather than doing the right thing!) The cost of talent management (attrition replacement, talent sourcing costs, employee compensation) will skyrocket.

Do you have an unhealthy culture?

Leaders Must Take A Proactive Stance

Dealing with the High-performing Jerk after they have polluted your culture with their toxicity is a must. But how about we prevent it from getting to that stage in the first place?

Here is some food for thought. Ask yourself:

      • Am I protecting an employee with toxic behaviours in my workplace?
      • Am I prioritizing some results over long-term positive, sustainable outcomes?
      • Do I reward harmful behaviour through my inaction or other ways?
      • Have I, in any way, contributed to a toxic workplace culture through my behaviours? (Particularly towards women)
      • Am I the reason that people don’t want to come to work anymore?
      • Am I the reason that our employee turnover rate is higher than ideal?

Here is what to do immediately.

      • Publicly commit to creating and sustaining a workplace culture where everyone, irrespective of their identity, is respected, valued and can reach their potential.
      • Publicly commit to a Zero Tolerance policy (Brilliant Jerks are Not Welcome Here!)
      • Ensure there are robust procedures and practices for confidential reporting of brilliant jerk behaviours (workplace bullying, harassment and disrespect)
      • Ask people from all levels and all backgrounds, ‘Does your boss conform to what you believe are the values of this organization?’
      • Hold the leaders in your workplace accountable for [better] managing the brilliant jerks in your organization. And themselves!

And finally, do not underestimate the damage the High-performing Jerks have on your organization. Do not imagine that your organization is not affected.

Do not neglect your role as a workplace leader to protect your employees, including those who are already marginalized, predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Women, Women of Colour, from the awful impact a brilliant jerk can have.

How To Stop a Work Culture of Harassment (Part 1 of 3)

This article was originally published on October 12, 2017, and has been updated.

Odds are, you will never know there is a predator in your midst…I didn’t.

One of my direct reports was a bully, and I completely missed what was going on.

As a leader, it was my responsibility to create a work culture where employees felt they could come forward so harassment could be dealt with immediately.

I felt awful, because the team he led was made up of some of my longest serving employees, many of whom I considered friends. Yet they didn’t feel comfortable coming to me.


Leaders can allow and permit a culture where bullying, physical abuse and sexual harassment can take place.

I hear your blood-pressure alarm going off.

You’re indignant because you have a policy: ZERO tolerance for harassment.

You’re probably writing an email now to tell me the one harassment complaint you received was investigated and dealt with, and the predator was disciplined or fired.

But here’s the thing:

The news is full of organizations like yours, that pride themselves on strong leadership values.

These same organizations have binders full of policies that are replete with accusations of harassment and predatory activities—Canadian and American armed forces, the RCMP, and municipal police forces, to name a few.

So please save the energy you are about to spend on indignation, and invest that into action.

The Facts About Workplace Harassment

If someone is reporting harassment or bullying, I can assure you it has been going on for a very long time.

The statistics agree:

  • 52% of women report they have been harassed at work (CNBC)
  • 25% of all workers report some level of harassment or bullying (Queens University)
  • 33% of civil servants report they have been bullied or harassed (The National Post)

Canadian Business Magazine found that most people are victimized five times on average before they report or quit.

Most employees suffer in silence or move on to a new job.

Even in the most egregious form of harassment—sexual—a Huffington Post survey found that 70 percent of women who have been sexually harassed do not report.

Maybe I am too old and cynical, but I don’t think the human race will ever eliminate predators from the gene pool.

While I have my own thoughts on why these people exist, I’ll leave that up to psychologists.

What I do know and understand better than most is leadership.

What’s my point?

Predators exist, and they harass, abuse, assault, bully, and worse.

Are you really SO sure that it isn’t happening in your organization?

There are two interconnected reasons why you may never know what is going on:

  1. the victims do not trust the “system” to look after them; and
  2. the chain of command is seldom held accountable for the actions of the perpetrator.

Predators are persistent and ubiquitous and are currently—or will eventually be—in your organization.

It is bound to happen, but what you do about it is not preordained.

That’s what we’ll cover in Part 2 and 3 of dealing with a culture of harassment at work:

You need to build faith in the system so people will tell you (Part 2) and you need to hold your leaders accountable for what is happening on their watch (Part 3).

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

5 Tools That Helped Me Survive a Workplace Bully (Guest post)

80% Of Projects Fail Because Of ‘People’ Issues … Here Are 6 Things You Can Do To Reduce That Risk

People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 Messes You Make When You Try to Make Everyone Happy

Smug Politeness & Team Conflict – 5 Actions That Drive Results

Canadians’ have an image of politeness and don’t usually like words like ‘conflict.

In fact, we can be pretty smug about our politeness. Along with maple syrup, hockey and wood, smugness is our #1 export.

For so many people, the idea of conflict seems to imply something negative, even harsh. “Why not ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’ or ‘disagreement’?” Or even worse, ‘Consensus.’

Read about Consensus

But I like the honesty and forthrightness of the word ‘conflict.’ I suppose that’s why I think it’s the right word.

In the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni wrote that there is no way to avoid being uncomfortable when it comes to building a truly cohesive team.

And yet, it is so tempting to try. “Let’s just agree to disagree.” “Let’s take that off-line.” “I think we agree more than we disagree.” It is astounding to me the lengths many leaders will go to avoid that awkward moment when two people realize that they “passionately disagree” (a.k.a. engage in conflict) about something vital.

No matter how well those people know one another and how many times they have had those moments, it will ALWAYS be uncomfortable.

I use the word conflict intentionally to prepare people for the full challenge that it presents. Calling it discussion or debate or simple disagreement tempts them to strive to avoid the raw and challenging reality that conflict entails.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting, and you find yourself trying to avoid one of those uncomfortable moments, stop and let everyone know that you’re going to overcome your fears and engage in actual conflict and that you’re doing so for the good of the team.

It will diffuse the inevitable tension that tempts everyone to back off and permit them to acknowledge their fears.

Read about holding your team accountable

The Case for Conflict

 If you follow Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, they have a completely different view on the importance of workplace conflict — they actively advocate for it. For many, the confusion may lie in interpreting the actual word ‘conflict’ rather than the intent or action.

Essentially, great teams have ‘healthy ideological conflict’ that requires productive debate around ideas and concepts, not people. Great teams do not hold back. They pursue difficult conversations by getting all the facts on the table for the sake of making informed, better decisions.


High Stakes

What exactly is at stake when a team does not engage in healthy conflict? Here are four reasons:

  1. Wasted Time: Revisiting unresolved conversations meeting after meeting not only drives people crazy, it wastes time. Healthy teams roll up their sleeves, get uncomfortable, attack issues head-on, and ultimately make informed decisions.

Are you all day busy or busy all-day

  1. Poor Decision Making: If all the facts are not on the table and team members have not weighed in on a topic, critical information could be missing resulting in poor decisions.


  1. Wasted Money: Wasted resources that result from uninformed decisions are commonplace. Spending time up-front debating an issue will ultimately translate to the bottom line.


  1. Lack of Buy-In: Team members are less likely to buy into a decision if their opinion was not considered and factored into the process; thereby, affecting employee commitment.


Conflict Norms

To effectively make conflict a core part of a team’s culture, establish “conflict norms.” These are the expectations the team establishes and commits to engage in healthy conflict during team discussions.

Here are several conflict norms that work:

  • Silence Equals Disagreement — One of the goals should be full participation. When team members withhold their opinion, it ultimately hurts the outcome of the discussion. We often mistake silence as support. That’s not appropriate. Often, people are silent because they disagree but are too uncomfortable to share openly. A team that embraces the conflict norm of Silence Equals Disagreement does not allow team members to sit in silence at team meetings.


  • Do You Support? — At the end of a discussion, ask the team, “Do you support this direction?” Asks each team member where they specifically stand on the topic. Each team member gives their opinion regardless of their standing. Then listen and consider each opinion before moving forward with a decision.


  • End the ‘Meeting-After-The-Meeting’ — Teams need to stop the post-meeting that is commonly referred to as the ‘meeting-after-the-meeting.’ I would encourage the team leader to repeat the following at the end of a team meeting: “If anyone is thinking of coming to me or anyone else on the team to rehash today’s topics, it’s not an option, so state it now.” After the shock wears off, your team will understand their only outlet is when the entire team is together.


  • Debate Trumps Agenda — Teams should not consider a meeting agenda set in stone. While agendas are an important guidance tool, take the time to have a good debate about critical issues rather than moving on for the sake of covering all the agenda items. Allowing this helps generate healthy conflict on a team because team members will be assured that crucial topics will be thoroughly discussed.


  • Offline Alert — During a team meeting, a substantial red flag occurs when someone says, “Let’s take that off-line.” This typically occurs because the leader doesn’t want the conversation to unfold before the entire team. In the majority of situations, it is perfectly appropriate to air the issue among the whole team. Confronting a difficult topic in the group removes ambiguity about the situation, and everyone understands its resolution.

Visit the Building Better Leaders Magazine

Smugness may be fine when it comes to National Pride and politeness, but it has no place in leadership.

But leaders need to embrace the power of conflict and set the stage for engaging in healthy debate.

Teams that use conflict effectively will drive toward better decisions, develop strong team commitment, and ultimately results.

13 Actions to Stay Human and Not Be a Creepy Boss in a #MeToo World

*Warning: This blog contains a non-graphic discussion of sexual violence*

FYI the post is 1,200 words and contains an invitation to a webinar on the subject


You may recall a series of posts and white-paper I published titled ‘How to Stop a Culture of Harassment Dead in Its Tracks.’

The article continues below

Supervisors who turn a blind eye to harassment should pay a high price
This white paper will walk you through the issues and fixes to make sure you provide the safest possible workplace for all of your people.

We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

Though the response was positive, I did get one response from one man whining and whinging that I missed the point because men are also harassed in the workplace.

Yes, that is true. But the advice in the white-paper is applicable in any workplace and any diverse workforce.

So, to that gentleman and other men who may be offended by the fact that women are more likely to find themselves in unsafe workplaces … stop reading now.


If you’re a man who wants to part of the solution, I have this to say:


You are a man.

You likely have power over women by the sheer virtue of your gender & size.

If you are a man who is a boss, you most certainly have power over your employees regardless of gender.”


To that, and as a male boss, I would suggest that you are neither that handsome or that charming that a female employee smiling at you or being polite is equivalent to her giving permission to touch her inappropriately; or ask her for a date; and, it is most certainly is not permission to show her your penis.

For god’s sake, as I guy who served 22 years in the army and was surrounded by mostly male bodies, nobody wants to see that!

Men have their eyes opened to the open secrets of the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment and assault after high-profile cases including those of Patrick Brown, Jian Ghomeshi, Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K.

Those cases inspired #MeToo, but now men who thought they treated women as equals in the workplace are starting to wonder if they have overstepped — overtly or subtlety – in a way that would get them in a #MeToo post.

In fact, many are worried and frustrated about what to say and do so they don’t get in trouble. Some, to the point of abdicating their leadership roles by not being alone with or disciplining female staff, and cancelling work social events over their concerns.


“The Pence Rule?”


Some say they follow the “the Pence rule” or the “Billy Graham rule,” which says … do not eat alone with a woman who is not your wife and never attend an event without your wife if alcohol is served.

On this point, I would suggest that you…

“Grow up!

We are adults. Most of us are decent human beings.

If you must follow archaic rules to guide your morality, then you have another problem.”


The pendulum has swung


Yes, the pendulum has swung from a head-in-the-sand approach and victim blaming to lynch the bastard at the first sign of trouble.

Personally, I’m Okay with it.

If a man who has demonstrated a pattern of inappropriate behaviour happens to get squished by the swinging pendulum, so be it.


Nor I am buying the “All Men Are Too Dumb to Understand How to Treat Women at Work” lie some tell.

Eventually, we will find equilibrium and the middle ground on the issue.

Till then, I have a couple of thoughts on how to touch:

 – Handshakes are acceptable – DO NOT Double squeeze or hold hands to long

 – Saying someone looks nice today is probably Okay – DO NOT say she looks hot

 – A hug for a good friend or acquaintance is probably Okay – DO NOT Grind

 – DO NOT give a kiss in the workplace

 – When make eye-to-eye contact when talking – DO NOT make eye-to-breast contact

 – Ensure women don’t feel trapped – DO NOT block exit routes or stand over her

 – A gentle touch to the shoulder is probably Okay – DO NOT touch the small of the back


A couple of things to improve the climate for the women


 1. Read the room. If the person you are with reacts uncomfortably by your words or actions, STOP doing it.

 2. Ask before touching. Instead of grabbing Mary in a bear hug, try … ‘Hi Mary, it has been a long time … then stop! If she initiates a hug, see above.’

 3. Before you say something off base or touch someone inappropriately think about your wife, daughter, mother, or girlfriend. How would you feel if someone did what you are about to do to them? Does sounds right, fair or just.


I’ll leave the final word to Nicole Stamp. Nicole is a director, actor, and television host living in Toronto. ( In response to her male friends asking: How can I help?  She wrote an essay in response that was shared 70,000 times on Facebook and the commissioned by CNN

Here’s a summary of her essay, which describes concrete ways that men — in fact, people of any gender — can help improve the climate for the women around them.

 – Say: “That’s not cool” or “That’s not funny” Say it to other men who are saying disrespectful things to or about women.

 – Amplify women’s voices at work. If a woman’s contributions are being dismissed, interrupted or claimed by others, speak up. “That’s what Monique said.” “Hey, Zahra has a point.”

 – Be mindful of how you introduce women, particularly at work functions. Use a person’s full name and job title: “This is Professor Maya Campbell, our department head.”

 – Don’t use gendered or misogynist insults ‘like bitch or slut.’

 – Give extra space after dark. If a woman is walking alone at night or in a secluded area, recognize that she’s probably nervous. So, if you’re walking behind her, increase the distance between you or cross the street to pass her. It’s a small courtesy.

 – Don’t be dismissive or argumentative during conversations around types of oppression that you haven’t personally experience and never minimize their experiences as being “overly-sensitive.”

Nicole closes with this:

“So, when discomfort arises around these topics, the best response is to accept the feeling — and keep the discussion going.

Try not to change the subject, or make your own feelings the centre of the conversation.

Sincerely try to understand other groups’ experiences. Apologize for your mistakes. Be willing to change.

And above all, keep listening. It’s hard. It’s worthwhile.

Thank you for being decent. We see you.”

A Crime and Two Sins – How To Stop A Culture Of Harassment Dead In its Tracks (Part 3)

Three crimes led to one of the darkest moments in the history of the Canadian army.

Let me rephrase … one crime and two subsequent sins.

Click To Read Part 1

Click To Read Part 2

The Crime

The crime happened when two members of an Army unit deployed to Somalia captured, tortured and beat to death a Somali civilian. This was a violent crime, and in due course, the justice system dealt with the perpetrators.


The First Sin

A sin occurred when the unit and the system tried to cover up what happened. There are reasons for this, but all of them are inexcusable. When a few brave souls tried to expose the deception, they were victimized for being disloyal. As with all cover-ups eventually it began to unravel, the lies were exposed, and an inquiry was launched to ‘get to the bottom’ of it.


The Second Sin

A cardinal sin happened when leaders were not held accountable for failing in their leadership duties. The public inquest revealed that many in the camp knew the beating was happening and did nothing to stop it. When a cover-up was launched, leaders at every level were complicated by omission & commission.


The Repercussions

Some careers were slowed down, but to my knowledge, only one leader was punished. The Company Commander who was on leave and wasn’t in the camp at the time.

The Major accepted responsibility for his soldiers because he issued an order to stop civilians from sneaking into the camp and because he was their boss. In the end, he went to jail, was drummed out of the Army and lost his pension.


What has this to do with harassment in your workplace?

There is no excuse for anyone to harass, abuse or cause violence on a co-worker or employee.

If it were to happen, you must conduct a fair, transparent and rigorous investigation into it. If found to be true, the full weight of your authority should fall like a hammer on the perpetrator, up to and including being fired and the police being called.

If you cover up and try to protect the organization or excuse people you are equally guilty by omission as surely as the perpetrator is by commission.

Because you have lost your ‘moral authority’ to lead.

Read More about moral courage

In my opinion, every person who held a leadership position involved in the Somalia affair and that did not stop the crime or expose the sins should have been sent to jail.

And if I were the judge, the jail terms should have been longer & longer for each higher rank.


These people FAILED as leaders.

Police supervisors who cover up, ignore or excuse bad conduct; church leadership who knew but didn’t act to stop heinous crimes; your supervisors who turn a blind eye to harassment should pay a high price for their sins.



Because you are a leader!

You get paid as a leader, and you have the office of a leader!

You are responsible for the lives of the people who work for you

You cannot be able to stop every bad thing that might happen within your organization.

BUT, you can create a culture where every manager and supervisor knows that it is his or her job to stop harassment …

Dead in its tracks

You Can Stop A Culture Of Harassment (Part 2) – 3 Actions That Build Trust & A Safe Harbour

In Part 1 of this series, I made the case that predators likely exist in every workplace.

And I posed the question: What can leaders do to protect our people when most people have been victimized at work at on average five times before they say something or quit.


Why Are They Not Saying Anything?

1) Most feel they nowhere to turn for help.

2) They have no faith that leadership will believe or support them.


What Is A Boss To Do To Provide Safe Harbour

Legally and morally, you are required to provide a safe place to turn.

Legally, the courts and governments have found that workplace harassment & violence is to be treated no differently that any other type of Occupational Health & Safety matter.

Morally, you are responsible for developing policies and procedures to keep employees safe.


What Are The 3 Actions You Need To Do:

1. Implement a Policy & Procedures

Developing a policy is the easy part, just Google ‘harassment policy and the name of your state or province’ and you will find all you need.

But you must do more. Because adding one more policy to that giant thick book of policies is useless unless it is lived and breathed by everyone.

Implement an education program with lunch & learns, guest speakers, role-playing, etc. to educate everyone on the policy and what it means.


2. Evaluate the risk

Form a committee to review any history of violence in your workplace by:

– Asking employees about their experiences and concerns for themselves or others.

– Implementing a whistle-blower line

– Reviewing any incidents of violence

– Assessing the workplace for the risk factors associated with violence.

– Getting information from your industry association, workers’ compensation board, occupational health and safety regulators or union office.

– Seeking advice from local police service


3. Get Serious

You are responsible.

As the senior person in your organization, you must champion and personally communicate your commitment to a safe workplace.

When Army developed harassment policies in the 80’s, they used posters and peer training to educate the troops. That helped, but trust me, when the CO and the RSM personally came and talked about it … we took it seriously.

So get off your duff and demonstrate that you are serious

And when something comes up take it seriously, investigate it and act.


Build A Culture Of Safety To Provide People Somewhere To Go

Whether caused by predators, mental health issues, drugs & alcohol or challenging clients providing a safe workplace is 100% your responsibility as the leader.

Just as you take the financial health of your company seriously, invest the same into providing a workplace safe from violence and harassment.



Because it is the law,

It is the right thing to do, and

You are responsible!

In Part 3, We Explore The Leadership Responsibilities