What’s one’s bias is another’s truth, while another’s truth (reality) is one’s bias.

It never seems to surprise me anymore on toxic cultures. And managers or account directors who are so young (chronologically) and inexperienced.

Who has no business nor credible skillsets in leadership? Do so much damage to accounts and high-performance teams—inclusive and diverse cultures, including prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s age.

Like they do. Such as, for instance, in a marketing solutions partner (in the upper Midwestern United States) who claims they are grounded, evolving, and leading. Taking bold steps (they claim) to build, transform their industry. And offer clients such as sporting goods and outdoor company which has grown substantially from their small beginnings in the second-largest U.S. state by both area and population.

I am reminded of what a great coach and mentor, Geary Rummler, once reminded me. “You put a great performer in a flawed system. And that system will win every time.”

I know quite a bit about working in these optics and landscapes (now over thirty years of practical and executive experience). With partners and stakeholders who span the public and private sectors—conducting executive coaching and managing performance (process) improvement. Human performance improvement. Workforce development (enablement) and training. Changemaking and organizational change management.

When in over their heads. These immature (on so many levels and fronts) gratify their impulses by gaslighting, bullying (horrible rumors, secrets, and insults). And the inability to marginalize their “Queen Bees and Wannabes” social cliques (or obsession with membership). Insecurity, manipulation, inappropriate boundary issues (personal side to themself) with social sharing on “everything” (holding members) in meetings hostage.

These members of these high-performance teams quickly sense inauthenticity. They assume this manager or account director is marketing to these members of this high-performance team. Why?

Self-indulgence. Meism. Questionable characterological issues such as toxic narcissism or histrionics. Or even possibly more disturbing. Borderline inappropriate coping mechanisms.

Moreover, these managers who unfortunately become promoted up (organizations that gratify poor managerial leadership) move it out of the immediate performance context. Carry their baggage with them.

They continue to “overdo” this baggage. These managers are just the opposite of what they should be doing (being counseled and mentored, placed on performance improvement plans). And continue to undermine themselves (and sadly, high-performance team members) ultimately.

High-performance teams have little choice other than to take on that same emotion in this climate and culture. Or worse? Lose faith in this manager or account director’s ability to lead. More catastrophic?

Every time this manager or director becomes vulnerable (or not). Team members are watching (observing) and analyzing this manager or account director’s words and actions (identification with the aggressor) for a deeper meaning. Assuming this manager or director even has the capacity for conscious leadership, insight, and self-reflection at all.

Moreover, this behavior keeps this manager or account director from finding (or discovering) how to uncover a balance or prioritize their boundaries. Other than to remain an enabler and force multiplier to their toxic narcissism, histrionics, and worse yet, borderline management style, they push on to members of their high-performance team.

What does this manager or account director fail to realize? High-performing teams need psychological safety. Not to mention how to create it.

However, more times than naught, they have no clue or the insight required to do so. Why? Because if they cannot do it for themself.

How can we expect this manager or account director to do it for their high-performance team, can we?

Psychological Safety

What would I say, you ask, to this manager or account director?

I would remind them of what Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, claims. There’s no team without trust. How does he know this?

The massive two-year study Google conducted on team performance. And what did it reveal?

The highest-performing teams had one thing in common—psychological safety. The belief that you will not be punished when you make a mistake.

Studies, Laura Delizonna claims show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking. As does speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without having it cut off—furthermore, just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.

And, the opposite of what this manager. Now account director in this marketing solutions partner (in the upper Midwestern United States) was incapable of creating or managing their digital marketing high-performance team. Inside the client context—sporting goods and outdoor company.


Another affliction this manager now promoted up account director displays amongst their high-performance team? Glad you asked. 

It is the optics and landscape (climate and culture) of gaslighting. Marking the fault line between who gets ahead and who does not is enabled and force multiplied in this herd mentality. In both this marketing solutions partner (in the upper Midwestern United States). Including sporting goods and outdoor company in the second-largest U.S. state.

The power games usually start subtly. This manager, now promoted account director, frequently withholds critical information about their shared clients and projects. 

Not to mention, direct reports constantly apologizing (for lack of information or knowledge being withheld from this new account director) to others on their high-performance team or still others throughout the sporting goods and outdoor company.

To say nothing of direct reports feeling as if they are going crazy. Experiencing this form of psychological abuse causes reports to question their self-worth and sanity. Doubt their perception of reality.

As if this is not bad enough, right? No, there is more here.

The toxicity for the high-performance team. The climate and culture this team exists within. It adrenalizes. Because this manager, now promoted account director, is obsessed with the action of transferring something or the process of being transferred—the redirection to a substitute (a direct report). Emotions felt in an earlier stage of their life (transference neurosis).

“Walk in as you own it. Walkout like you sold it.”

This account director unconsciously redirects or transfers to the present situation going on inside the client site. Likewise, direct reports are left feeling “never good enough.” Nor ever going to do their job and tasks “exactly as this director has done or would do in a similar context and situation.” And knowing they will be continuously “beat up” or punished for this inequity.

The growth of our economy in this coronavirus pandemic and the post-pandemic world rests on the service sector. These economics depend on quality services and innovation. 

They are creating (must have) psychological safety. Including damaging, ruining (busting up) gaslighting. Are these elements the tipping point for greater service design awareness?

Ambitious agendas for quality services and innovation depend on a flourishing service sector. One where service designers (and providers), managers including account directors are up to the challenge?


As the saying goes, “People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.”

What is it both this marketing solutions partner (in the upper Midwestern United States)? This manager, now promoted account director, including sporting goods and outdoor company, has grown substantially from their small beginnings, lacks insight?

When they hire and tolerate bad behavior from their managers, including this promoted account director, good people will leave.

Trust comes with this promotion that this account director authentically understands (empathizes) their job’s impact on their high-performance team (each member)—financially, emotionally, and mentally.

With this insight comes realizing what authentic leadership maturity is all about: this promoted account director refraining from or stopping their obsession entirely with micromanaging. And likewise, their microaggression.

Not to mention, capability to move from being a manager to an account director. Who has reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult?

This optics and landscape require self-awareness. Are you hearing me? Yes, you, newly promoted account director? Of individual and group behaviors as critical building blocks for sustainable change. Likewise, build sustainable and healthy leadership behaviors that you “own.”

Instead of obsession (as a process). Entirely with micromanaging, microaggression, and “Queen Bees and Wannabes” social cliques. As your management behavior and “style of conscious leadership.”

Why is it so hard to speak up against a toxic culture? Like the one in this marketing solutions partner (in the upper Midwestern United States)? And, the sporting goods and outdoor company which has grown substantially from their small beginnings?

Because of silence, Francesca Gino contends, “is pervasive in organizations due to the widely shared belief that speaking up about sensitive issues is futile or even dangerous.

Speaking up, as Francesca Gino challenges, often results in negative performance evaluations. Undesirable job (or task) assignments. Or even termination.

Most of the people on this account director’s high-performance teams are painfully aware of these potential costs. Moreover, as a result, stay quiet about bias (including unconscious): injustice and mistreatment. 

Can there be anything more toxic? Yes, there can. We refer to it as the “bystander effect.”

When is someone in trouble on this promoted account director’s high-performance teams? Others who are present. Often fail to intervene. Because they assume other members of the teams will. Or because these members think it is not their place to act. Moreover, the more costly intervening will be? The less likely members of these high-performance teams are to do so.

What becomes the fallout? The after-action-review? The lessons learned? 

It is the ambush meeting, Jonathan Wilson frames it. It is a favorite tactic of the workplace manager.

These ambushes, he contends, are a tactic, likewise this newly promoted account director uses (and will continue to do so) to surprise an “enemy or perceived threat.” Furthermore, in such a way that it has limited opportunity to defend itself and destroy it

Anything inappropriate or untrue said to team members (by this account director) in these meetings is intended to undermine the target member(s) confidence. And will be denied or twisted by the bully in the future.

It is part of a gaslighting campaign that leaves high-performance teams (and members) questioning their sanity. And likely suffering trauma that can last several years.

Psychologically Abusive Work Environments

I borrow from Sherlock Holmes here to drive home my point, “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.”

The growth of the service sector economy. And the dynamics of high-pressure corporate work environments, David Yamada argues, “have combined to fuel the likelihood that workplace bullying will occur with greater frequency.”

Furthermore, as he points out, our service-sector work is dependent on personal interaction. As such, this work becomes a form of “emotional labor.” Whereby psychological consequences of work (positive and negative) become exacerbated.

David Yamada contends that frequent, ongoing personal interaction becomes a fundamental element of “a job.” The more people interact, he concludes, the more likely it is that personalities will clash.

Most if not all of us from work experiences realize those leaders who were great listened and observed.

They knew what was going on regardless of whether they are in the upper Midwestern United States. Or in the office or on the company floor in the second-largest U.S. state.

Operating in this mode highlights David Yamada, lets these leaders pick up on indicators of workplace bullying and employee discord.

What do many realize in sharing their narratives regarding workplace bullying?

These individuals are excellent at rationalizing their behavior. Normalizing the abnormal, it’s still abnormal, including covering or even spinning the politics to sabotage the reputation of a coworker deliberately (in any of its overt and covert varieties). 

Such as when high-level performers trigger reactions from insecure bullies who see them as a threat. Or others are vulnerable to bullying from supervisors or managers, account directors due to particular personality characteristics. And, likewise, it may be targeting based on race, sex, age, or other attributes by those harboring certain biases.

Human-Centric Change Is the Ultimate Frontier

Personal change (sensemaking) lies at the heart of collective change. And, the interactions between us and our worlds are entirely reciprocal.

Moreover, this sensemaking (for making changes) is either—personal or collective change. That releases a spring or catch, which sets off a mechanism, especially to fire—Reciprocity.

A mutual exchange. It is a process of exchanging things with other people to gain a mutual benefit—advantage or profit through reciprocity.

That can be good or bad: Trust Your Neighbors but Brand Your Stock.

The norm or rule of reciprocity is a social one, where if and when someone does something for you, you then feel obligated to return the favor.

Business, like farming, is not just a job. It is a way of life—value-added work.

Like a farm (or ranch), an organization is a complex social system that sometimes performs well. And sometimes, it fails miserably. Subordinates, workers, nor farmers perform in a vacuum, nor should they a silo.

Who is trapped in a situation, predestined to fail from the outset? 

And a reality where no one takes responsibility for these lousy systems.

Human cognition nor behavior fits elegantly into boxes, categories, or silos. Creating authentic behavior change that sticks is not easy, nor fast, or linear. 

Everyone has a choice as to how they will approach performance management – whether the employee or leader. It is a choice to tailgate, speed, cross lanes, ignore blind spots, and be bad drivers.

What decision will you make before turning into Mr. Hyde?

This pandemic has turned the whole world, inside out, upside down.

There’s no going back. Even if we wanted to, we can’t. Just as Thomas Wolfe discovered in his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. Attempting to relive memories is doomed to failure. We can’t stop the waves with this pandemic, but we can learn to surf.

Normal is dead. Maybe it always has been. Or perhaps it should be, now. There is no normal. As Luvvie Ajayi Jones says, “Normal packed up its bags and left the keys on the kitchen counter.”

Normalizing the abnormal is not an authentic change nor not acting, which is a form of action and change in and of itself.

Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.
— Mark Twain


  • Mark Rogers

    Managing Partner

    Insights Without Borders LLC

    — Idea Ambassador. Mindshifter. Truthteller. turning fatigue: disruption and change into opportunity . . . Author of Transforming Organizational Change: Change or Be ChangedDisrupt or Be Disrupted

    Mark is a "hybrid" who thinks big, works hard and is a results-oriented leader, speaker, including a roll-up-your-sleeves coach, writer, and practitioner with a passion for the human side of change.

    Mark demystifies change, reboots the mind, and activates talent for some of the best brands in the world. He helps organizations leverage their people (sensemaking, mindshare, and mindscapes) to adapt and succeed in these challenging times.

    By helping you break free of Chained in the Cave ThinkingSee and Lead in the Dark. Get Out of the Cave. Develop transcendent thinking and innovation for Transforming Your Stories from merely impressive to World-Changing. Craft New Realities that navigate around Trust Your Neighbors but Brand Your StockTrading labor for money. Buying talent instead of developing it.