Ecosystems, for example in the business world, need to deal with many ethical matters daily. People’s integrity becomes visible through their day-to-day actions, choices and interaction with others – both directly ‘in their face’ and behind their back, when they are not around. So many ecosystems are not ethical at all. When ecosystems are willing to keep track of the gradation of the ethical climate, there are always individuals who will try to continue to act in an egoistic or even socially sick manner.
One of the symptoms of a socially sick culture is the pressure from those individuals on the whole – sometimes indirectly, through using others as chess pieces in their game / battle. This literally jeopardizes people’s well-being and can have massive physical and mental health consequences.
Moreover, it can come with many losses, including the lack of public successes, favor and mostly recognition that would otherwise have been theirs. To be clear: that truly belongs to them, not only due to their content, but mostly because they will never show entitlement the way those bad individuals will – not in their thinking, attitude or behavior. I always connect reputation management to integrity and well-being in a 360 degrees cycle because pressure will impact all three and because there is not one without the other.
Moreover, power structures are being built up, enforced and maintained through the pressure and politics that some individuals apply for their benefit. Oftentimes, those individuals savage the ones that are in the way of what they want. Others that are actually much better or more pure than them. For example, many studies show how narcissists will try to ‘kill’ pure hearted people, by using many forms of coercion, including bullying, manipulation and breaking their reputation. Also by destroying their public likability, capabilities, knowledge sharing, personality traits, efforts and accomplishments. A personal note: as if being a cancer (yes, cancer, not figuratively speaking lobster) that will squeeze, until squeezing in no more possible. Be aware.
Spider webs and one chess piece and victim at a time
The worst part is that those individuals create spider webs to not only strengthen their position in the enclosed ecosystem, but well beyond, in many other networks and even broader in society. That is how they operate throughout time and continue to operate, one chess piece and victim at a time. They will try to squeeze their victims to death, thus until their sufferers will give up and will become a fraction of their full, true, beautiful, glorious, capable, pure and successful selves. Let’s zoom in on ethical decay or even total collapse within an ecosystem for a moment and focus on the business world in this piece. Let’s definitely revisit the closed-up Jewish environment that made me suffer massively in another piece.
Marianne Jennings, professor at the Arizona State University, has defined the so-called ethical barometer to educate ecosystems and responsible people. The ethical barometer can function as a simple checklist to know how far off an ecosystem actually is from what it should be in terms of good and bad, or figuratively speaking: light and dark. The ethical barometer is also included in this wonderful Dutch book called Het juiste doen als niemand kijkt (Doing the right thing when nobody is watching), by my respected colleague Frank Peters. Here is the checklist in a simplified manner:
Immense pressure to maintain financial goals and numbers
All companies and organizations feel pressure to achieve the financial goals and numbers. When a company has a poor ethical culture, those financial goals and numbers will be put before people. Another symptom is the fact that the accounting processes tend to become a bit too creative to make the numbers fit and to put the company in the spotlight.
Culture of fear
One of the classic symptoms of a socially sick environment is a culture of fear. A culture in which people notice the actual problems, yet remain silent for fear of retaliation by those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees, especially when those bad individuals are around.
Young careerists and glorified leaders – C-suite and beyond
When those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees compose their ecosystem with the upmost precision, they will make sure to surround themselves with people who will follow them blindly, who will tell on others who go against their interests and who will partake in turning people against each other for their benefit.
Oftentimes, a symptom is how those glorified leaders, for example in the C-suite and beyond, will hire young careerists that will be at the grace of their regime. Young careerists who will bring in fresh ideas and new domains that can be stolen from them, claimed by the ecosystem and ‘upper individuals’ mind you – noticeably or sneaky. One of the trump cards that those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees will use to succeed is the promise of professional successes and future career perspectives.
Weak board of directors or supervisory directors
A socially sick culture goes hand in hand with the symptom of a weak board of directors or supervisory directors. In such settings, that council lacks experience, consists of friends, has conflicts of interest, or does not spend enough time together, with all the consequences that entails.
Avoidance of conflict
Another symptom of a socially sick culture is the avoidance of conflict, especially when those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees are around. The ecosystem deals with a typical atmosphere of covering and favoring each other, all while telling on and breaking some, including shattering their dignity.
Entitlement due to belief of brilliance and innovation
Often, those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees construct a socially sick culture on purpose. They feel a great sense of entitlement due to the belief of brilliance and innovation. They believe that they are outstanding and that what they are doing is so important, that it gives them carte blanche, thus a free pass at unethical operation. Likewise, they are so brilliant, innovative and superior that common decency, humanity and integrity, normal accounting rules, corporate governance and even business economics don’t apply to them.
Belief that good outweighs evil
Self-reflection is almost impossible for those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees. Even though there are many ways to purify the dark in them, they are simply not interested in taking responsibility for the damage that they are causing. They prefer to continue in the same manner as they always did, one chess piece and victim after the other.
This symptom is quite persistent as the self-image that the administrators and the company are actually ‘good citizens’, are philanthropic, act ecologically just and apply diversity can destroy more than we can ever know. Meanwhile, practice shows a different or an opposite reality. Action speaks louder than words. When more and more people come to the same conclusions, we know enough.
Unmasking one ecosystem and individual after the other
The opposite of an ecosystem with a socially sick culture is a culture in which people flourish. An ecosystem without hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy and people savaging others to climb up, behaving like snakes. In general, much more awareness is needed on how all of this actually works, by unmasking one ecosystem and individual after the other – however severe or mild the case may be and yes, way beyond the large cases that we get to witness in the public debate. The methods to unmask those narcissists, popular and manipulative individuals, bullies, ‘spider men or women’ and queen bees will be discussed in another piece.
Listen to the (Dutch) podcast with Frank Peters on this topic: