May 19, 2020

Why bullies succeed at work

Bizclik Editor
5 min
Why bullies succeed at work

Written by Ivy Turow



Aggressive, bullying managers are said to be more likely to rise to the top than their diplomatic peers because people are reportedly impressed by their dominance. I disagree. There is nothing inherently impressive about aggressive behavior. People's response to aggressive behavior is not a result of admiration, but a product of fear. And like a great many specimens that are not at the very top of the food chain, most people defer to the greatest predators that stalk the savanna of life. Why? Because they're afraid of the predators' teeth. Admiration has little or nothing to do with it.

Contrary to popular belief, we have not evolved beyond our evolutionary animal past as much as we'd like to think. We are still a society very much run by fear. In fact, I tend to say that the chief fault of the average man is not that he is evil but the fact that he is weak. And it is this weakness that allows bullies to get away with as much as they do. Weak people are vastly more numerous, but unaware of the strength of their numbers. It is this systemic flaw that allows the structure of fear-based rule to function unchecked time and again, with a staggering consistency. But make no mistake - this is primitive evolutionary baggage on our part.

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Women have been socialized to ‘play nice’

Women have historically been socialized to ‘play nice’ and to behave in a more group oriented manner.  Men, in contrast, have been socialized to “lead, follow or get out of the way”, as the saying goes. The trouble is that these two modes of operating cannot harmoniously coexist. One teaches you to kiss upwards and kick downwards, while the other does not. The former is not something that most women can adapt to overnight. Socialization processes run deep and any amount of short seminars on the matter will not help the vast majority of those who are not predisposed to that kind of behavior in the first place. At best, it’s only window-dressing.

What tends to happen is that women who do not adapt to the traditional way the game is played tend to get spat out by the system. And those who do adapt tend to uphold a structure that has served them well. The result is that the old game remains the same. That is why equality laws take so long to materialize into reality. The trick for the powers that be is to insist on gradual change, so that entrenched interests can recruit members of their own ilk. That way the momentum of change can be arrested. So what if a few ‘token’ women have to be taken into the inner sanctum of power – it’s preferable to the alternative.

These mechanisms actually transcend the workplace and can be applied to all areas of life. Established power blocs are generally prone to resist significant changes to their preponderance. The workplace is only one of many manifestations of entrenched group dynamics that prevail simply because they have not been successfully challenged.

Challenging the status quo

So where does that leave those who stick to ‘playing nice’? Statistics on equality pretty much say it all. Admittedly, decent men tend to lose out in this system as well, but numbers do not lie when it comes to the gender divide. The high percentages of top spots occupied by predatory males tell a very clear story. 

What continues to amaze and sadden me is the fact that we have not collectively - that is, as a society - managed to transcend the behavioral structures that are clearly the vestiges of an animal past. I am prepared to concede that in an animal setting, these dynamics may have served the species adequately, but have we really not come further than this? Shouldn't we be able to logically arrive at a more benign mode of coexistence?

I can only presume that animal groups have neither the reasoning skills nor the linguistic skills to collectively envision, communicate and enforce a gentler collective dynamism by way of numbers, but we do.  Modern homo sapiens can actually move past unthinking group dynamics. Not only can we analyze bullying behavior; we can actually decide we don't want it and fight back collectively so that other characteristics and values prevail.  So why is effective pushback to bullies still so rare? Why is acquiescence and appeasement the norm?

I have come to realize a stark truth: bullies do what they do for one very simple reason - because they can. In other words: due to the absence of an effective counter-power. As long as decent people do not harness the power of their numbers and demand otherwise, that is how it will stay. Bullies will never cede an iota of power voluntarily. The only thing power understands is effective counter-power. And the sooner this truth becomes accepted, the better, because the only effective counter-power is one that occurs in critical mass, i.e. in big enough numbers. That means that resistance must be coordinated. Predators only know fight or flight, but a pack of smaller animals can chase away a lion. Predators know this perfectly well. Their best bet is that you don't.

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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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