CEO Blog: What We Can Learn from Bullies

There’s a lot of talk these days about school bullying, with parents, teachers and administrators creating policies and programs aimed at helping our kids deal with the trauma of being bullied.

Hans Neleman | Getty Images

Certainly school bullying is a concern, but anti-bullying efforts may have unintended consequences.

I wonder what we’re teaching kids when a 9-year-old in New York City Public School 158 is suspended for taping a “kick me” sign on a classmate’s back. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with others —and life — when it doesn’t go our way. If we’re constantly stepping in to mediate, are we denying children the opportunity to learn how to resolve their own problems? Are we reinforcing a culture of blame and learned helplessness?

These children will ultimately grow into adults who have to take responsibility for their successes and failures, but are we teaching them to resolve issues without escalating them and to handle themselves in adverse situations? What impact will limiting “life lessons” have not only on the kids themselves, but on the workplace and our greater society? I wonder.

For most of my 20-year career, I’ve been a ‘corporate navigator,’ working with Fortune 500 companies on marketing and communications strategies and as an executive coach creating management strategies with senior-level corporate executives. Today’s business world is populated by individuals who are disillusioned and disaffected, and that’s led to a loss of profitability and innovation in the American workplace.

Helping alleviate this ‘corporate suffering’ is a personal and professional mission. In the past year, I’ve focused on identifying the lessons future business people – namely, our children – need to learn in order to ultimately create a workplace where people and businesses thrive.

Let’s face it, today’s office suites and cubicle farms are rampant with some pretty immature behavior. Reality TV has inspired us to act out, with drama, holding personal grudges and victim behavior a daily occurrence. Cooperation and teamwork are virtually non-existent, as we try to out-maneuver colleagues at every opportunity, letting others take the lead — and the blame — for projects where success is not 100% guaranteed.

Is 2nd grade too early to start teaching children how to survive in this kind of workplace? Think about the ‘bad’ behaviors you see every day in your office or place of business. Some of these behaviors are so ingrained, it’s evident they were learned as kids.

What should 2nd graders learn?

  • Making mistakes is a natural and expected part of learning.
  • The importance of valuing others for what they offer (vs. criticizing, judging, or bullying them for what they lack).
  • Conflict resolution: how to come to a workable compromise when you disagree with others.
  • Understanding how perspective can drastically change how an event is interpreted.
  • Owning your successes and failures is what responsible people do.
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: when each member of a team contributes his or her talents to a joint effort, the results are better than the efforts of any one individual.

Not bad life lessons for an 8-year-old student or a 38-year-old project manager, come to think of it.

Just as we work to prepare our children for life, we need to remember that a major part of their adulthood will include a career. It’s never too early to teach them how to thrive in the workplace.

Amanda Mitchell is the founder of Our Corporate Life LLC, a company that offers a new system for reducing unnecessary workplace suffering caused by the organizational, interpersonal, and ethical issues of our time. Our Corporate Life (OCL) is founded on the belief that adhering to core human values and achieving business success are always compatible, especially in these days of companies sacrificing profitability by wasting human capital.