What Richie Incognito Can Teach Us About Stopping Bullying

You may have read about Richie Incognito’s story in the media.  He agreed to a paid suspension that ends his NFL season and the Dolphins are effectively ending his career with them by not offering him a new contract next year.

The news media has spent the last four weeks calling out the veteran offensive lineman as a bully and detailing his interactions with Jonathan Martin, a second-year lineman.  While there’s no way for us to know all of the details from media reports, It's become an all too familiar and extremely tragic story.

I say it’s tragic because I believe all of us could play a part in preventing these kinds of scenarios from happening.

You see, bullies don’t become bullies overnight.  They usually have a history of bad behavior.  Too often, we give extraordinarily talented athletes a pass at a young age, allow them to perform incredible feats on the field and then let them get away with all kinds of inappropriate things off the field over a long period of time.

In many organizations, we put zero tolerance policies in place for bullying, cheating, doing drugs and fighting.  But, for all of the processes we put into place to identify these bad behaviors, they end up being only a band aid.

What really needs to be addressed is the cause of repeatedly bad behavior. And, the only way to change behavior is to alter the cultural response.

Culture is defined by three parts: behaviors, stories and artifacts.  When a culture allows--or  even fosters--certain behaviors, then stories will bubble up that begin to redefine culture so that the behavior is simply accepted.

Let me ask you a question...what if a middle school coach came alongside athletes with bad behaviors, chose to not overlook it because of his or her amazing talents and sat them on the bench?  That single event might not solve everything, but at this crucial, character-forming age, if an appropriate adult mentors this athlete and halts her playing time until she sorts out her behavioral issues, then the development of a bully could be short circuited.

These kind of stories don’t have to turn out this way. I believe we could have done more to help serve Incognito and Martin so that the trajectory of their lives never reached this point.

I believe everyone has more in them.  Everyone can be better.  I believe that you (and I) have more potential, more capacity, more ability, more talent, more gifts, more influence, more fulfillment, more energy to share. You can be more than you ever dreamed if we foster the right behaviors together.

So, let me ask you...will you tolerate and accept bad behaviors?  Or, will you take action to keep destructive behaviors from hurting the people that are acting out and those around them? The choice is up to us all.

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