Bigots in the Boardroom

Bullying is at a pandemic level in Australia.  The click/like/tag generation are experiencing a dangerous level of bullying on-line; in mobile text and messaging communications, social media and online gaming rooms.

School students regularly suffer increased anxiety and trauma from victimization and intimidation, leading to poor retention rates, high absenteeism, poor academic levels and a non-functioning cohort in the long term. Yet no one seems to take the bull by the horns and deal with it head on, as it should be dealt with.  

Bullies are everywhere in schools, workplaces, public transport, on the roads and in the boardroom. Whenever a meeting takes place; without formally recognised terms of engagement or meeting protocols, members are open to all types of bullying and discrimination.

Bullying will always rise in the board or conference room if terms of engagement and protocols aren’t clear and accountable.  It takes a strong leader to manage and prevent bullying from one member against another, it is not for the faint-hearted.  Setting strict boundaries and sticking to them, clears the way for meaningful and fruitful meetings.  Using the following tips helps towards a more enjoyable meeting with tangible outcomes:

· Agenda Items shared within a nominated time prior to a meeting allowing for reading and research

· Member group list noted

· Start and end times for each meeting notified and followed

· Positions either shared around the group each meeting or designated to selected participants

Meeting Protocols must be clearly defined, boundaries set and the role for each meeting clearly understood by all members.  As a senior leader with over 40 years of experience in meetings, conferences and boardrooms, it never failed to alarm me at the inconsistency and utter organisational chaos due to lack of strong leadership, boundaries and protocols.  It’s a dog eat dog world in the boardroom.

A comprehensive yet simple Meeting Protocol Agreement, signed by all members will help prevent bullying and nip it in the bud if it rears its ugly head.  A classic example of how bullies sabotage meetings goes something like this: I was chairing a senior leader’s meeting one afternoon and we had a very comprehensive Meeting Protocol Agreement in place. We started on time and was tracking at the halfway mark. In walked the notoriously late saboteur, hadn’t read the emailed agenda and proceeded to hijack the meeting forcing the discussion off track about a subject that had absolutely nothing to do with the meeting. Seasoned at wasting space.

Three times I politely called them back to the business of the day, reminding them of the agenda topic and meeting protocols. Three times that member continued to disregard my repeated requests as the Chair and the group’s wish to leave on time, their selfish actions and behaviours clearly trying to intimidate me.  


It is at this point that a group leader must call the behaviour and actions of a person who is not following meeting protocols. No one likes meetings at the best of times but they serve an explicit purpose for timely, clear, succinct discussion and voting on agenda items.  As adults, members participating in any meeting must accept responsibility for their actions and behavior not only for themselves but also for other group members. After three attempts to bring back the officer’s attention to the meeting’s agenda at hand, my final response was delivered with two words. I called their behaviour, lent forward and told them quietly to ‘zip it’.  Time to strap that ego back in its box and close the lid! The response?  Yes, you guessed it!  Total and unashamed indignation – that’s bullies for you, they can’t get over their own way.

Never fear to call undesirable behaviours and actions on the spot.  If the meeting leader/chair fails to do so, then they are modelling that boundaries don’t exist. Open slather for anything goes.  In my case, the bully turned the problem around onto someone else, being me, which is normal and predictable bully behaviour.  I was well within the rights of our Meeting Protocol Agreement and guidelines, in calling the behaviours.  No more wasted time, everyone wanted to go home.   

Don’t back down from a bully.  This person didn’t like that I used the words “zip it”, and that’s their problem, there being no law anywhere that says it’s unacceptable.   We’ve become a nation of bigots in the boardroom and it’s time to take back that precious, wasted time and money that we spend in ludicrous meetings, pampering others’ egos when we could be home with our loved ones.  

I once had a supercilious supervisor who demanded I drive three hundred kilometres to a meeting for a one hour face to face and then drive home another three hundred kilometres.  I was forced to do this weekly, using my own vehicle, my own fuel and paying substantial dollars to hire a babysitter to look after my kids as I returned late in the dark.  The meetings were worthless, leadership negligent resembling that of a “chaotic micro leader” who was fearful of losing their “perceived power”.  If I had stood up for myself or failed to attend the meetings, I would have been placed on a Performance Review.  Today under the Workplace Health and Safety Act and Industrial Relations guidelines, this should not occur, but it still does.  This was systematic discrimination and bullying.

It takes a strong and fearless leader to manage or prevent bullying from one member against another in a meeting.  In all my career, have yet to meet one.