Entrepreneurial bullies

Most of us have known entrepreneurs who take advantage of the power they have from the control of resources in their businesses. Quite simply, they are bullies.

Illustration / Kirk Lyttle / Newscom / File
When a small business owner uses her position or resources to force employees or other businesses into painful positions, that's a violation of the social contract that transforms an entrepreneur into a bully.

It is always a pleasure to welcome a new blogger to our discussions. Dr. Jackie Gilbert, Professor of Management at Middle Tennessee State University, has launched her new blog called Organized for Efficiency.

Like many of us have found when we get into our blogging, the model for Gilbert's blog is already expanding. The primary focus of her blog is on providing tips for streamlining office space and office processes. However, an area of interest that she has been pursuing in her research will also be part of her writing. The topic is bullying.

In a paper Dr. Gilbert co-authored with Drs. Norma Carr-Ruffino, Robert Konopaske, and with the late Jack Ivancevich. that is currently in press at the International Journal of Leadership Studies, they examine what they call "toxic behavior" in the workplace. Toxic behavior includes what we all know as bullying.

From their paper:

"When leaders in organizations routinely display toxicity toward their employees (exhibited through excessive employee monitoring, micro-management, and politically-motivated performance appraisals), the outcomes will be radically different than from organizations in which community or collaboration is practiced."

When she and I chatted the other day about her interest in bullying in organizations it struck a nerve with something I have been thinking about of late -- entrepreneurs who are truly bullies in how they conduct their businesses.

My experience over the years is that entrepreneurial bullying is a much more common behavior than we might like to admit. I have been involved in more than one deal with a bully and have counseled many entrepreneurs dealing with partners who are bullies.

I must admit that in the throws of the Great Recession, I often fall into the trap of holding up entrepreneurs as virtuous actors in our economy. They are David overcoming the challenges of Goliath, in terms of competing with large corporations and when trying to work with big businesses as their customers and suppliers in the midst of oppressively difficult economic conditions.

But, we have to be careful not to give entrepreneurs a pass when it comes to bad behavior. Most of us have knows more than one entrepreneur who takes advantage of the power they have from the control of resources in their businesses. Quite simply, they are bullies.

My concern over the ethical and moral imperative entrepreneurs face in our economy was one of the reasons I did my writing and teaching with Mike Naughton, including our book Bringing Your Business to Life.

My late father always warned me that business owners carry an extraordinary responsibility. Capitalism is a delicate social contract that requires entrepreneurs to act as prudent stewards of the resources at their command. If we don't, we run the risk of having society begin to take away our property rights.

When looking for the reasons that socialism has gained so much favor of late, business leaders and entrepreneurs must look in the mirror. When we abuse the power we have that comes from the positions we hold or the resources we own, we contribute to the social backlash that is most certainly to follow.

Gilbert plans to focus on "decorum" at her blog. She plans to discuss topics such as civil discourse, respectful interaction, and appropriate workplace behavior. This is not just an issue for corporate work life.

These are issues that entrepreneurs need to think long and hard about as they build their businesses and create the cultures in their ventures that guide how everyone who works for them conducts themselves with each other and with the various external stakeholders they interact with every day.

I look forward to being a "blogging buddy" with Professor Gilbert. I also hope that we can find some projects to work on beyond our blogs.

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