The Bullying Pulpit   June 7, 2013

By

Leonard Zwelling

            Kevin
Grigsby’s presentation in Hickey at noon on June 6 was excellent. Dr. Grigsby,
a social worker by training, works for the AAMC running Leadership Development
and Talent Management. Some of us on the Faculty Senate’s Anti-Bullying Task
Force had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Grigsby the day before. In both the
large and small venues he proved to be a superb teacher, clear articulator of
sometimes counter-intuitive social concepts (e.g., bullies have high self-esteem),
and a terrific person with whom to discuss institutional problems.

            But
I was even more struck with some of the optics of the big meeting than its
content. First, there were far more people in attendance for a talk about
bullying than attended the recent town hall run by Dr. DePinho. This is a
judgment on my part because I only assessed the crowd size on television for
the DePinho session, but there were many empty seats. I saw few in Hickey
Thursday.

            The
crowd was also very eclectic for the bullying talk. It was classified
employees, managers and faculty, including a senior VP. This suggested to me an
interest in a topic that hits home at every level of the organization.

            Finally,
there were more questions than speeches at the bullying talk than at the town
hall, where several faculty leaders used the town hall platform to opine on the
Anderson situation rather than ask the needed questions about cost and strategy
that went unanswered—again!

            Without
belaboring a point made to me in an email prior to the bullying session
Thursday, perhaps the leadership needs to take a hard look at these facts and
ask why the interest in behavior that we all know is bad for individuals and
bad for an organization has so consumed the place. Perhaps because it is all
too common. Perhaps because it is all too commonly tolerated.

            I
was extremely impressed with the openness with which Dr. Grigsby handled a very
sensitive topic—the repeated abuse of an unequal power relationship. My sense
was that bullying is not a disease. It’s a symptom. It breaks out in epidemic
form when an institution has lost its way, its focus and its soul. As such, the
question then is what to do about it?

            That
must come from leadership. The leaders must recognize the systemic nature of
the problem, root out its causes whatever they may be, and then establish a new
culture of civility in which bullying is not allowed.

            Dr.
Grigsby told a stunning story of a high-billing, but ill-tempered surgeon at
another hospital who one day in the operating room threw a scalpel at a
student. Fortunately, it hit the student’s gown and fell harmlessly to the
floor.  The institution where this
occurred charged the surgeon with battery, a crime because that is precisely
what his behavior warranted.

            Can
you imagine an MD Anderson where everyone is equally respected and equally
treated regardless of his or her ability to generate grant money or billings?
It can happen, if you want it to.

            This
is another wake-up call to those in charge. Please pay attention. Your
constituents are in pain and longing for a new direction, a new culture and a
new air of respect for all people who work here.

            Those
core values that took months to develop were chosen for a reason. We discover.
We care. We exhibit integrity. Let’s get back to first principles and I bet the
bullying problem will shrink and blow away like a summer breeze out of Austin.  

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