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As a Leader, It's in Your Best Interest to Recognize Revenge

by Jill Foster on April 8, 2009

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Guest post by Katie Kemple, producer of the Women Grow Business leadership series. With an extensive background in radio, television, and communications, she holds an Executive Master’s in Leadership from Georgetown University. Katie believes in the power of positive thinking (plus embracing failure as a path to success). She’s writing a memoir about being unemployed and a book on finding joy in leadership (with her blog at Love Your Layoff, where she can be reached).

Are you seeking revenge?
Revenge has been on my mind lately.

Not because I just lost my job (which I did), but because it’s the topic of a new book I’ve been reading by one of my favorite professors at Georgetown, Robert J. Bies and his co-author Thomas M. Tripp called Getting Even: The Truth About Workplace Revenge and How to Stop It.

Bies and Tripp define revenge as:

an action in response to some perceived harm or wrongdoing by another party, which is intended to inflict damage, injury, discomfort, or punishment on the party judged responsible (p. 3).

Their studies have led them to believe that “the motivation for revenge is primarily rooted in a sense of injustice. Further, revenge should be seen as actions intended to restore a sense of justice (p. 13).

Exacting revenge without even knowing it
I’ll admit when I first picked up the book, I didn’t consider myself a revenge seeker…but as I started to read, I discovered I was! I had exacted revenge on past bosses without even knowing it. In particular, one of my first job experiences came to mind. I was working a low level position at a large organization and about three months in I got a new boss. A hyper type-A personality, he was highly competitive, vocal and controlling. One of his first assignments for me was to “keep an eye on our project manager,” suggesting that she was not spending enough time on our account. Having worked with the project manager for several months already, I knew she was hard working but my boss didn’t trust my opinion on the matter.

After awhile, it seemed he didn’t trust me either.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I was taking revenge out on my boss everyday in the form of:

  • avoiding him
  • talking behind his back and
  • expending the least amount of effort possible on his pet projects.

While these might seem like minor acts of revenge, they made me feel like I was restoring a “sense of justice” to my work place. By undermining him in little ways, I was “taking back control”. Of course, the problem was I was:

  • not collaborating
  • ruining my reputation, and
  • being less productive.

The “justice” I sought was actually hurting me.

As a leader, it’s in your best interest to be aware of revenge.
Sometimes it’s preventable, sometimes not. But one thing’s for sure: revenge wastes time, energy and resources. It zaps productivity. It destroys trust and collaboration between parties. It’s a quick fix that might feel good in the moment but has repercussions for all parties further down the line.

Mediation: painful but necessary
My former boss and I had to go through mediation to sort out our problems. It was a painful conversation, but the truth is, we worked much better together afterwards. By getting things out in the open, we were able to put the past behind us and focus on achieving present goals.

(‘Talk To Me’ image entitled Google Talk by Daniel F. Pigatto, Creative Commons)

Authors Bies and Tripp offer much wisdom on revenge management and prevention in their book. At the heart of it is justice, and the first step is awareness. For that reason especially if you run your business and team, I suggest asking yourself these questions about your current business environment:

1) Do you have a transparent, inclusive system for making decisions and communicating those decisions to employees?

2) Do you frequently solicit employee input on major decisions?

3) Are you aware when employees are unhappy and/or frustrated with a decision?

4) Do you have a formal system for employees to file a complaint and/or request mediation from an impartial party?

And, in addition to that I’ll add, a personal question:

Are you seeking revenge? You may be surprised by your answer…

Check out these resources for additional information:

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