Scott Pelley, as a CBS News 60 Minutes correspondent and award-winning reporter, likely thought he was the master of interview questions when he interviewed for the CBS News Anchor job.
But he forgot one in his own job interview. That is, what kind of anchor role am I being hired for? The one that reads teleprompters or the one that gets thrown off the boat and hurtles to the bottom of the ocean?
Let’s just say he found out.
When you’re in a toxic workplace and especially when dealing with toxic leadership, asking questions of yourself and trusted allies are key to survival. And lack of them can sink you.
Pelley, in comments on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, revealed that he was fired from his job after speaking to then-CBS News President David Rhodes and CBS Chairman Les Moonves about the toxic work environment for men and women within CBS. You’ll remember Moonves for being fired for sexual misconduct within the workplace and obstructing an investigation into his actions.
Scott Pelley is obviously a straight shooter, a man of integrity and someone that cares about his coworkers, but he desperately could have used the information in my recently released book, The Arsonist in the Office:Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees and Cultures, back then before he spoke out. I wish I could have told him how his situation would end: badly.
I have seen what a toxic workplace looks like when bad actors are out of control or leadership is in cover-up mode. It’s what inspired my book. I was assigned to work with the employee who had the senior levels of the organization terrified. She was the person they felt was too volatile to dismiss, no matter how much chaos had been dealt out and no matter how many false claims had been lobbed at unsuspecting employees.
They called her ‘The Arsonist’ because of her destructive actions. I kept a safe distance as much as possible within my position, but when her actions invaded my personal space with her bizarre behavior toward my spouse, I asked my leaders to intervene. They did–by literally never uttering another sentence to me until I was terminated two weeks after I spoke up.
Pelley’s experience resonates with me because the actions he describes by CBS management is the same picture that I viewed from my toxic management: a mural of winks, nods, cover-up, and self-preservation.
For anyone in a toxic workplace, Pelley’s experience and mine should show you that toxic management is a danger to employees who show concerns about disturbing actions happening internally.
At Pelley’s income level as a major network anchor, perhaps he had the flexibility to say ‘Enough!’ and say exactly what he thought. But not all of us would have Pelley’s flexibility or paycheck. What should you do?
If you want to protect your finances, career and professional stability, there are questions you need to understand before speaking up, including:
- What is my organization’s culture?–What happens to people that raise potentially embarrassing concerns in your company? If they all leave, you need to press a ‘pause button’ and read below.
- Who can I have a safe conversation with?–Scott Pelley could not have picked a worse person to talk to about the lack of response to sexual harassment and toxic conditions than Les Moonves, the king of sexual misconduct at CBS. Was Pelley justified in speaking out? Absolutely. Had he cost himself his job the moment he walked in Moonves’s door? Very likely. And if you’re in a toxic environment, fully understand how your HR department operates before confiding in them. They are not put in place to weigh moral judgement and they may be under just as difficult a position at work as you find yourself in. Be careful with who you discuss your concerns with.
- Do I have a path to victory?–When Scott Pelley spoke up and complained about toxic conditions, he likely spoke for dozens and even hundreds of employees in that absurdly broken CBS culture. However, if any part of his gameplan was survival, he erred by showing his cards to his boss, David Rhodes and Moonves. They clearly saw Pelley as a threat and treated him as such. Was Pelley going to win a battle against his boss and his misbehaving Chairman. Never.
- Shouldn’t common sense dictate that smart people will see my point of view?–That’s a really nice thought, but if your leadership is wanting to bury issues, you may get buried in the process. No, common sense rarely matters if self-preservation or misplaced priorities trump everything else.
- What are my other options?–While I will never fault anyone for speaking up if they see toxic, abusive behavior in a toxic workplace, you should understand you are risking your job if you raise concerns. Have you looked at transferring out of your department and encouraging the other affected coworkers to do the same? Have you mapped out all of your options?
I encourage anyone reading this to be a leader in promoting dignity, positive cultures and respect for all within the workplace, but also know that all great leaders can put themselves at risk when they challenge the status quo–whether they’re a media star or middle manager.
Pete Havel is CEO of the Cloture Group, LLC, a company committed to shaping and reshaping organizational cultures, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-NO-ARSON (855-662-7766). You can sign up for his newsletter or purchase copies of his book, The Arsonist in the Office, HERE