The politician and writer, Lord Acton, has been credited with the quite famous epithet that, 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. We have been seeing the truth of this in spades in the ongoing saga of the rise and fall of Rupert Murdoch, if not his empire just yet. There are many interesting psychological aspects of this whole sordid business that demonstrate some of the rather more sleazy aspects of the human condition. It is not hard to be fascinated by the way unbridled power spawns automatic assumptions and behaviours, the morality of which would be questionable in normal circles.
Rupert Murdoch, and then the politicians with whom he had dealings, claimed without any hint of irony that their relationships did not involve mutual back scratching. The level of self-control of the questioners that prevented them from rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter was quite incredible. It is obvious to any thinking person that the relationship between Rupert and politicians was all about mutual advantage. Power is corrupting because the powerful (Murdoch and the politicians) have different definitions of what is ethical, right and proper, from the rest of us. In fact, it doesn't even enter into consciousness that something might be wrong with what they are doing. What was worse though, and certainly not amusing, was Murdoch's response to the allegations of bullying within his empire. When quizzed about a specific case of a woman being bullied he replied that she should have left the organisation. An attitude like this explains how there is a culture of endemic bullying at News Corp; ultimately an organisation reflects the values, attitudes and beliefs of the CEO and the Board.
It may surprise you to know that bullying is still a major problem in workplaces in Australia. Of course bullying can occur at any level in an organisation and can sometimes be isolated rather than cultural. I was in a management position once and was bullied very effectively by a member of my staff, so it can happen upwards as well as downwards although this is unusual and requires some special manipulative and narcissistic skills. More often than not the bullies are in positions of real or assumed power.
But the big problem is the failure of CEOs, like Murdoch, to act when they know that bullying is occurring. It is not uncommon to find that people in power turn a blind eye to bullies, particularly if they are useful to the organisation in other ways. There can be a lack of will or perhaps willpower to act even though people are being hurt. I know of a CEO who is seriously thinking of rehiring a person who he knows to be a bully simply because the person is technically competent, and influential in other ways.
Enabling bullies is an abnegation of responsibility and, at worst, a corruption of power just as bad as bullying by those with the means. If you know of bullying or are being bullied you should seek advice by contacting Workcover NSW. Remember, bullying is against the law no matter what the Murdochs of the world think.
Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.
You can visit his blog at stewarthase.blogspot.com.