When the boss is a tyrant, everyone does worse

It is one of the saddest examples of a culture of fear that has led to fatal accidents.

At the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, safety and technology always came first, until the competition with Airbus increased and the sale of aircraft became a priority. That approach led to record sales of the 737 Max, but put pressure on the people at the factory. Complaints about this were rejected; there was success after all.

After a while, employees stopped expressing their concerns about the 737 Max, just joking that they would never fly in it themselves. Two planes crashed, 346 people died.

Unsafe working environment

Where pressure is experienced, the atmosphere becomes uglier. That’s how it works. Leaders take control and are no longer open to another voice.

Globally, one in four workers experience what it’s like to work in a toxic environment, according to research from the McKinsey Health Institute. It’s when people don’t dare to voice their concerns anymore, don’t discuss mistakes anymore and only tell the boss what he wants to hear.

For the manager, it seems like a good situation, because it is no longer contradictory, but the consequences are big and painful. Just like with Boeing.

Teams that report the most errors also perform best

Open culture

It is therefore better to create an open culture where mistakes are discussed and learned from. Amy Edmonson, the Harvard psychological safety expert, studied high-performing teams and concluded that the teams that reported the most mistakes also performed the best.

Less well-performing teams probably made just as many mistakes, but kept them to themselves for fear of reprimand. As a result, the first team learned from its mistakes and the second made the same mistakes again.

Also read: Amy Edmondson: ‘A leader’s first job is to tell the truth’

Now DWDD, where according to de Volkskrant there was a culture of fear, was not a bad program. It easily reached a million viewers. But there was also criticism, for example from the guests.

They were mostly alike and were allowed to talk uncritically about their own hobbies. They ‘rather invite regulars than experts’, wrote the NRC. The Volkskrant article shows that the former manager at DWDD did not care about the guests that the editors had suggested. Therefore he kept resorting to the same names. “Then call Siewert,” he said, referring to one of his regulars.

Emotional exhaustion

The lack of creativity in the team can be the result of the unsafe work environment. In the newspaper Nightmare bosses: The impact of abusive supervision on Employees’, sleep, emotions and creativity by two American and one Chinese researcher, it appears that abusive management causes employees to have sleepless nights and eventually become emotionally exhausted.

This has a negative effect on their creativity and thus on their performance at work, the researchers believe. Those who play it safe will not easily come up with a surprising candidate. There is always a chance that the boss will get mad.

Copy behavior

It becomes even more dangerous when other employees adopt the behavior. It happens regularly, according to The dark side of leadership, an American study at a supplier of car parts.

After all, the manager has the power over the contract and the income. Employees will therefore closely monitor the manager’s behavior and adapt their own behavior accordingly. If the leader shows positive behavior, they will adopt it. If the boss’s behavior is negative, it is also copied. Anything not to deviate from the tone setter.

If managers do nothing about abusive behavior, the employee feels trapped

The bottom line is that leaders cannot create an uncertain situation on their own. There must always be people who support the big boss. Often, not standing up to or naming the behavior is reason enough for the bully to continue.

But this must be fed by others, such as managers or the boss’s boss. If they do nothing about the violent behavior, the employee feels trapped. Everyone is in the same conspiracy.

Protect star

This copying day is also reflected in the stories of DWDD. The behavior of editors-in-chief was sometimes called ‘much worse’ than that of the boss himself. In addition, there was the boss of the boss who did nothing.

Also read: Arrogance in the workplace proves to be dangerously contagious

The higher boss believed that protecting his star was more important than correcting him. Therefore, he pretended that this behavior was part of it because, according to the Volkskrant, they were ‘playing the Champions League’. With reference to top sport, which is also suffering.

As much as we would like to, it is not always possible to pinpoint a perpetrator. In jargon, it is the ‘system’ that allows and sometimes even encourages or adopts this toxic behavior.

Clarity is therefore necessary to keep the assholes out of the organization

If the manager was removed from this system, someone else would take over his role and automatically have to deal with the same pressures. If no clear agreements have been made about the desired behavior, there is a chance that the new manager will exhibit the same behavior.

Clarity is therefore needed to keep the assholes, as Stanford professor Robert Sutton calls them, out of the organization. In addition, it is important that feedback is given and received so that everything can be discussed. There is absolutely no reason to rule with a soft hand.

According to Edmonson, psychological safety is about a good combination of turning to each other and having the freedom to tackle new things, make mistakes and learn from them. As long as the rules are clear and everyone knows what is expected of them.

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