Years ago, I remember I was working with an organisation who owned and operated a number of medical centres in Sydney.

They were experiencing all sorts of people issues. Most concerning for them, in the previous couple of years they had witnessed significant turnover from around 10 of their really good nursing staff.

Upon investigation, what they discovered was there was one very senior Doctor (let’s call him Dr X) who was behaving completely inappropriately towards the more junior staff within the team. He would regularly belittle and humiliate the nurses, he would yell at them in front of others and would often be heard swearing at them as well.

Dr X was the classic ‘workplace bully’.

The challenge was, Dr X was also the Doctor that was bringing in most of the new patients into the clinics and hence, driving profitability.

Once they had uncovered this pattern, I asked the owners of the business “So when are you planning to sit down and discuss the issues directly with Dr X?”

This is where this story gets interesting and quite frankly, disappointing.

There was silence. Awkward silence. The owners looked at me, a little confused, and said “What do you mean? We can’t raise it with him. What if we upset him and he decides to leave?”

A fish rots from the head down!.

When an organisation fails (or in this case, when there is a pattern or culture of bullying behaviour within an organisation) leadership is often the root cause.

Sometimes it is through the crappy behaviour that they themselves role model and others copy that behaviour and it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’.

In this case, it was through the leaders choosing to ignore the crappy behaviour Dr X who was driving the results. In other words, taking the easy road, not the right road.

My question to Senior Leadership is this “What do you reward within your organisation?’
Remember: Behaviour that gets rewarded, gets repeated!

In this case, all the rhetoric indicated that they had a zero-tolerance to bullying behaviour (policies etc) and yet through the leaders action (or inaction) they were sending a whole other message to the team.

The recent Royal Commission into banking is a classic example of this. The organisation and leaders were rewarding, not necessarily bullying behaviour, rather illegal behaviour, and ripping off customers in the process (and we all saw how that played out!).

If and when there is an issue in your team, as a leader, you have a huge responsibility to look in the mirror and reflect: ‘Am I role modelling the behaviour I want to see in others?’, ‘What action have I taken or not taken, to take to address the issue?’ ‘What do I need to do next?’.

No one wants to work for or join an organisation that stinks!

Until then, keep smiling,


P.S. On the flip side, it is always such a joy when we get to partner with amazing leaders who really care about their people and want to create workplaces worth belonging. Huge shout out to the Deputy Secretary of NSW Govt Dept (you know who you are) for the recent rollout of our “Combat Bullying” program across your entire team. It was a massive commitment and investment of time, resources and energy. Your leadership and passion do not go unnoticed by me and your entire team! You are a wonderful example of brilliant leadership in action.


BLYTHE ROWE & Her Life on Heels.

The founder and director of Human Incite, is widely recognised for her passion, energy and her ability to shake things up. Blythe is brilliant at revving-up productivity and performance in organisations. She is on a mission to rid our workplaces of toxic behaviours, build meaningful relationships, personally and professionally and create workplaces worth belonging. Her enthusiasm simply is infectious!