RCMP leadership crisis a sign of the times

Workers, emboldened by anti-bullying legislation, aren’t afraid to stand up to bullying bosses

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

That immortal line was uttered by fed up news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) in the classic 1976 movie Network.

Today, though, that line — or at least that sentiment — is being echoed in workplaces across the country when it comes to bullying leaders and command-and-control leadership tactics.

Buoyed by legislation in some jurisdictions that bans bullying and psychological harassment, workers seem to be less afraid to stand up for themselves in situations where, in the past, they would have either put up with offending behaviour or voted with their feet by walking out the door.

Case in point is the furor erupting in the nation’s police force. Earlier this week, CBC news broke a story that as many as 10 senior members of the RCMP, including two deputy commissioners, have complained to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and directly to the Prime Minister about the conduct of RCMP Commissioner William Elliot.

In an organization like the RCMP, where questioning superiors is almost unheard of, it’s a stunning development. (Though, the fact Elliot is a civilian who never wore the Red Serge could be one of the reasons officers felt comfortable going above his head.)

The claims against Elliot are that he is close-minded, verbally abusive, arrogant and insulting. One story alleges Elliot went into a rage and threw papers at an officer.

Telling is the fact Elliot reportedly attended a $44,000 course in Arizona that dealt with behavioural barriers to success, according to the CBC. And, in a memo to employees, Elliot said he learned his actions “can and did have unintended, sometimes negative impacts.”

While the allegations against Elliot are just that — allegations — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is taking the situation seriously. He said he was “troubled by the issues concerning management conflict.”

He went on to say that a workplace assessment of the RCMP would be conducted, led by an independent advisor.

But he also seemed less than pleased that the story had become public, saying: “Frankly, it is unacceptable for individuals in leadership positions in an organization as important as the RCMP to air internal disputes through the news media.”

But the new reality is that, frankly, it’s unacceptable for people in leadership positions to use intimidating and bullying leadership tactics. Not only is it an extremely ineffective leadership style (workers who fear their bosses are rarely engaged), but it can also run afoul of the law.

And, clearly, workers aren’t going to take it anymore.

Todd Humber is managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.


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