Is your organizational culture more “anabolic” or “catabolic”? And how does the answer to that question relate to workplace bullying?
In his book Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life form the Core (2008), coach and therapist Bruce Schneider identifies two types of energies that can shape and even define an organizational culture:
Anabolic energy is constructive, and catabolic energy is destructive. When the mind perceives a threat, anabolic hormones, such as testosterone, decrease, while the catabolic hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin, increase. . . . (A) constant release of catabolic hormones deteriorates the entire physical system.
These energies, he further explains, manifest themselves through organizational leaders:
Anabolic leaders have the ability to motivate and inspire themselves and others to do extraordinary things. . . . Catabolic leaders break down all aspects of a company, including the people in it.
Applied to workplace bullying
So what type of leaders are likely to engage in, enable, and cover up abusive behavior at work? Yup, catabolic ones. In fact, the very catabolic hormonal processes described by Schneider — the ongoing release of cortisol and adrenalin — describe what happens to a workplace bullying target who is experiencing severe, ongoing stress.
Some catabolic leaders can be coached, counseled, or trained to become anabolic ones. Schneider’s book is largely a running case study of a dysfunctional small company whose catabolic leader transforms himself, and whose workers (at least most of them) follow suit. The author’s engaged, dedicated coaching plays an important role in the company’s transformation.
Schneider worked directly with a company president who realized that he had to change in order to bring the best out in his employees. When organizational leaders buy in to the need for positive change, good things can happen.
By contrast, when a leader behaves in malicious, targeted ways that may betray psychopathic or sociopathic qualities, all bets are off. We’re dealing with a different kind of animal in these instances, and remedial measures designed to change the leader may be unrealistic or inapplicable. Unfortunately, such scenarios capture many of the worst workplace bullying situations. Here, the available coaching and counseling options are better exercised by the targeted worker, because the boss isn’t going to listen.