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The Ethical Perspective of Bullying in the 21st Century Leadership
Dr. Ketra L. Davenport-King

Being an Entrepreneur, Educator, and actively involved in ministry it is time to accept and admit the unethical practice of bullying that goes on behind the doors and walls of an organization.

Yes, bullying is an undetectable act when directed by leaders. However, it has become a major ethical concern between leaders and their subordinates. Recently, while sitting in a professional development meeting being conducted by the leadership in my school. It became apparent to me that we are being bullied and treated like our students, sadly we have accepted this pattern of practice as a norm.

A simple way of viewing bullying is misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mismanaged behavior in work environments.

Many victims of bullying suffer from a form of social stress that is similar in nature to post-traumatic stress syndrome that can have a debilitating impact on the individual. Thus, the bullied individual can have social, psychological, and psychosomatic dimensions, which can manifest itself in a negative impact on the individual’s self-efficacy, and ability to perform his/her job.

“Bullying is repeated acts and practices that are directed at one or more workers, which are unwanted by the victim(s) which, may be done deliberately or unconsciously, but clearly cause humiliation, offense, and distress, and may interfere with job performance and/or cause an unpleasant working environment.”

As Christian leaders, our mandate is to maintain the character of Jesus Christ and constantly ask ourselves “WWJD” to His follows when no one is looking. The leading question for the 21st-century leader is ‘am I leading ethically or am I bullying unethical’?

What is ethics?

Ethics is defined as the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and to act accordingly. According to Rand, a 20th century Russian/American novelist, it is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives. Do to others what you would have them do to you, (Matthew 7:12).

In contemporary organizations, we see many leaders and followers whose behaviors bear marked resemblance to that of Judas (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13, 18, Acts 1:18). There are organizations that are deliberately violating the ethical standards that are necessary for the successful functioning of any society.

For example, Hoyk and Hersey suggest that within one year Enron, Adelphia, Tyco International, as well as the conviction of the CEO of WorldCom by federal court represents only a small segment of organizations and people implicated in unethical practices in organizations.

An examination of the recent election in Zimbabwe highlights the height of unethical practices that exist even at the helm of organizations governing a country; which has led world government according to Lauren complaining it as an outright charade. The urge to succeed at any cost, greed, and selfishness are just a few of the causes of unethical practices; these practices condemn the poor to be even more impoverished, while the rich become better off.

It should be noted that unethical practices undermine not only the trust of the stakeholders but also the general populace and create an unhealthy organization and a society that is not subject to rules and regulations; the end result disorder and enormous proportions of mistrust in the society, which ultimately will shorten the life span of the organization and the staff.

The Right Way

Today, many leaders adapt their behaviors and actions based on ‘best practices’ which contains unethical practices and in many cases, bullying. There are many times throughout the course of my day when I have conversations with colleagues who are afraid to discuss their concerns with management because of the fear of losing their job or being labeled as not following the ‘company way.’

This derived from asking myself, what is the right way. Is it fair for employees to feel bullied by their leadership? Many organizations have adopted bullying as a norm and without a change in this unethical practice this form of leadership with continue.

Harm to Employees and Others

Severe workplace bullying can inflict serious harm upon a targeted employee. Common psychological effects include stress, depression, mood swings, loss of sleep (and resulting fatigue), and feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and low self-esteem. Some targets have developed symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Common physical effects include stress headaches, high blood pressure, digestive problems, increased risk of cardiovascular illness, and impaired immune systems.

Workplace bullying is a profound violation of one’s personal dignity. One target reported feeling “maimed” and “character assassinated,” while others used terms such as ‘beaten,’ ‘abused,’ ‘ripped,’ ‘broken,’ ‘scarred,’ and ‘eviscerated.’ The bullying process was described alternatively as a “game or battle,” a “nightmare,” “water torture,” and a “noxious substance.” In describing themselves, targets used terms such as “slave” or “animal,” “prisoner,” child with “an abusive father,” and “heartbroken lover.”

Targeted workers are not the only ones negatively impacted by this mistreatment. Coworkers who witness or learn of this behavior may become intimidated and fearful, experiencing anxieties that affect the quality of their work lives as well. Targets of severe bullying are likely to bring their experiences home with them, affecting family and social relationships. For example, targets who are suffering from clinical depression due to bullying may be so consumed by their own situations that they are less attentive to the emotional needs of their children.

Bullying is unethical!

Prevention and Response

Genuine organizational commitment, effective education and policies, and attentiveness to people and their behaviors will go a long way towards reducing workplace bullying and responding fairly and effectively when situations occur. A sound organizational approach to workplace bullying should incorporate these practices:

  1. Organizational Leadership and Culture start at the top. Organizational leaders must send a message that workplace bullying is unacceptable behavior. Executives and managers who preach and practice dignity will see that quality resonates throughout an organization. Establishing a culture of open, honest, and mutually respectful communication will have the salutary effect of reducing bullying and other forms of employee mistreatment.

The presence of socially intelligent leaders will go a long way towards creating healthy organizational cultures. Social intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman, requires “being intelligent not just about our relationships but also in them.” Qualities such as empathy and concern for others are at the core of socially intelligent behavior. Organizations that value their workers will hire, promote, and empower socially intelligent managers, including mid-level supervisors and human resources directors who deal extensively with employees at all levels.

These managers should be educated about workplace bullying and authorized to handle concerns about bullying promptly and fairly, and they should be supported by their employers when they do so.

  1. Education and Policies Workplace bullying should be included in employee education programs and employment policies. Over the past decade, concerns about sexual harassment and workplace violence have dominated discussions about counterproductive behavior in the workplace and led to training programs and company policies addressing these behaviors. Although workplace bullying is a more serious problem in terms of pervasiveness (and sometimes in severity), by comparison, it has been sorely neglected by most employers.

Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute recommends that employers adopt a comprehensive blueprint to address bullying. This approach should include a “values-driven policy,” “credible enforcement processes,” “restorative interventions” for targets and offenders, and “general and specialized education.” All of these measures can be incorporated rather seamlessly into any good set of existing personnel practices and policies.

Education and policies are only the beginning. It is defined in most organizational policies there is a no-tolerance for bullying. Is this only for students? What about the employees who are faced with being bullied by their leadership?

To enforce policies relating to bullying it is essential to conduct genuine follow-up investigations and where necessary, assessing reprisals, when complaints arise. Unfortunately, those who are being bullied often report that organizational responses to their complaints about bullying made their work environment worse.

To anyone who understands the many ways in which workers have been bullied, mobbed, and otherwise emotionally pummeled by fellow employees, these questions are relevant.

People have lost their careers, livelihoods, and health due to these destructive behaviors, and too many others in positions of power and influence have chosen to ignore their pain and torment. The question of what to do about workplace bullying may not always yield comfortable, easy answers, but hopefully, the basic steps for the 21st leader will aid in ethical actions.

Dealing with Difficult People: Looking in the Mirror

The most difficult person each of us has to deal with is our self. If we are honest enough to admit it, we cause ourselves more trouble than our followers. David was no different. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband Uriah killed. When confronted with his crimes by Nathan the prophet, David admitted: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13, NIV).

At times we need the help of godly friends to help us see our situation clearly. In other cases, when we humbly ask God to show us the reason for our misery, he gently directs us to look in the mirror.

Then we need to do what David did: confess our sin to God and repent, knowing he always forgives and takes us back.

David had many faults, but he was the only person in the Bible God called “a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22, NIV) Why? Because David depended completely on God to direct his life, including dealing with difficult people.

We can’t control difficult people and we can’t change them, but with God’s guidance, we can understand them better and find a way to cope with them.

Change the perspective of unethical practices and take a stand on bullying. WWJD

God is faithful!

Dr. Ketra L. Davenport-King is a community leader, philanthropist, wife, and mother who resides in Duncanville, Texas. She is the Founder of Life After Advocacy Group, Inc. a faith-based non-profit organization helping victims of sexual abuse and leads The King’s Daughter women ministry at Full Gospel Fellowship Church. Ms. Davenport can be reached at 1402 Corinth, Ste. #211, Dallas, TX, 972-800-1430.


Einarsen, S.: 1999, The Nature and Causes of Bullying at Work’, International Journal of
Manpower 10, 16-27.

Goleman, Daniel (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY: Bantam.

Leymann, H. and A. Gustafsson: 1996, ‘Mobbing at Work and the Development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders’, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 5, 251-276.

Namie, Gary, and Namie, Ruth (2003). The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt
and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

Tracy, Sarah J., Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela and Alberts, Jess K. (2006). Nightmares, Demons, and
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