The Fear of Bullies
This past week I have had flashbacks to my childhood as I watched my eldest son transition from a 4 year old to a 5 year old. Kids are so raw with their emotions, and we do our best to limit television consumption so as not to create manufactured emotions (even though they are watching the movie ‘Trolls’ at this very moment). Jackson, my eldest is a sweet and deep child, but in those moments of honestly raw moments he can say or do things that make me cringe. For example, his 6 year old friend made him a card for his birthday. When he saw it he said, “I don’t want a card”…. (story to be continued at the end of the blog). How do I nurture a man of integrity and not bring out the primal instinct to be an alpha / bully.
I grew up in the home of my Grandmother, and her less than $10,000 per year in social security income. I didn’t give much thought to my scenario until I hit middle school. I was a popular kid until the 7th grade (that’s how it worked back then). It all changed at the Glenwood Orientation, when parents sat beside their kids in the auditorium and I sat there clutching a bike lock key in my hand. I was quickly labeled an “orphan” which caused others to inspect me further.
At that point in my life I had deformed ears… which earned me an elfish nickname. I also had braces that extended beyond the time frame to remove them because my grandma could not afford their removal. I was also a skinny kid with freckles and economy haircut, which didn’t help my cause. My last hangout with a friend was in September of that year, and I never had a friend again until my Junior year in high school, 5 years later.
I was a fairly athletic kid, but my confidence was not battle tested. I visited the school counselor, who proceeded to tell another student of my personal pains. I earned a spot on the basketball team, but all the baggage an 11 year old carries earned me a spot in the back of the bus on road games and a table isolated with one other boy away from the rest of the team at post game dinners.
By the time I got to high school I was just ignored, which I preferred to the bullying. Sure, at times the “jocks” would steal my lunch money or baseball cards, or make me pay extra to trade cards with them, but I survived. I was accepted at Ohio State, but couldn’t quite kick my internal fear of bullies. I ruined friendships, rarely had a date, but I survived.
I will have future writings on lessons learned in my teens and 20s, but the message I want to share with my readers is that no matter how old you get or how high you move on the corporate ladder, there will always be Bullies. You either learn to deal with them productively, or you let them consume you. Do not be mistaken, the way you handle your emotions with bullies is not an overnight phenomenon… it takes years.
My journal to effective bully-management occurred in the fall of 2008, at the ripe age of 30. My faith was blossoming, but my life-wife came along, Emily. Over the next 8+ years Emily would force me to go to my core and root out the source and address it. When you face decades of bullies fear and anxiety become a natural part of your life. It is like a drug addiction, you may go into remission, but it is always a threat.
Corporate America has a new kind of bully, or they just mature in their bullying tactics. I am fortunate to work for a line of bosses that are anything but bullies. My boss has some amazing stories in his journey, and from him I have learned “corporate patience”. In a previous life, a long time ago in a galaxy far away…, I wasn’t as lucky. At every corner came an attack… I was called a ” battlefield promotion”, ineffective, disloyal, and pitchforks galore pointed my direction. In those moments I fought like hell to defend my my integrity and work, but but the bullies in glass houses wouldn’t have it. Have you been here? If you have, you know the kicking and screaming approach doesn’t work.
As I said earlier, Emily was the first “Avenger” in my life who started my rethinking. Then I had more great people in my work life like Erik Chuang, Barry Wellins, and Rick Seba. Men that would challenge me to be better and hold me accountable to change. I learned that Bullies will always be there, they are like seed scattered along the side of the road. The wind will scatter them further and they will bear no fruit. As long as I make character and integrity the soul of my actions, I will be fine. As long as I communicate with my team, boss, and business partners, deliver sound action and results, I will be fine. As long as I control my temper, do not divide people, and respond in kindness, I will be fine. Do I fail sometimes, YES! But my inner soul, and Emily, make me aware, and I apologize 🙂
Do you find yourself dealing with corporate bullies? If so, meditate on my story. Bullies live in perpetuity…. get use to it, but don’t accept it. When they come at you with pitchforks and sledgehammers, take Martin Luther King’s advice and do not pick up a weapon in retaliation. Make your communication crisp, drive results, own your mistakes, and lead your people with the utmost integrity. You may lose a battle, but the war will not be lost.
Oh so Jackson. Emily and I had a conversation with Jackson and helped him explore his feelings. I said he was a deep boy and he proved it. He was remorseful and wanted to rectify the situation. He approached his little friend at church this morning, hugged her, apologized, and told her the card was beautiful. I am so very proud of my son!
Happy birthday Jackson!