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Entrepreneurs 101, day two – with great power comes great responsibility

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No small business story can be more tragic than the case of the poor young girl who committed suicide as a consequence of bullying in a Melbourne café. It brought calls for an end to the ‘Gordon Ramsay-ing’ of workplaces in the hospitality industry earlier this year.

However, in truth, most businesses need to de-Ramsayfy themselves. If it’s not the boss, it’s someone down the management hierarchy tree who’s letting loose with disgusting tirades.

Usually the most tragic small business story imaginable is a case where a good business goes broke and the entrepreneur isn’t responsible. The pilots’ dispute of 1989 was a case in point, where many business builders could never have imagined such a long strike could crush their cash reserves and their business.

Given what has happened at this café, it would be surprising if this business can, or should, survive.

In case you missed it, four men were fined a total of $335,000 over the persistent bullying of a young waitress who could not take it anymore. The humiliating acts against her were barbaric and when this sort of thing goes on, the buck has to stop with the person who signs the wage cheques. This wasn’t only an occupational health issue; it was a risk management challenge and a complete failure of leadership.

In total, it underlines what can go wrong in any business that’s unsystemised, a common characteristic of most small businesses. Typical bosses are technically good at what they do but when their businesses grow they need to learn to manage and lead. They need more to work on their businesses rather than just working in them. 

Systems failure

Michael Gerber, the author of The E-Myth, says many proprietors’ businesses are owner-dependent, which means they really don’t own a business but just have a job with a maniac for a boss.

This overreliance on key men or women creates stress, bad decisions and the antics that Gordon Ramsay has made famous on his TV shows.

These outbursts reflect how poor his training systems are and how second-rate his recruitment systems are. But many bosses are in the same boat.

Let’s imagine that the boss at the café in question didn’t know bullying was going on – well, that’s systems failure. Of course, if the boss did know, then it’s criminal and it does break the law – hence the hefty fines.

However, even without knowledge, it violates occupational health and safety obligations. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991, employers are responsible for systematically addressing the risks of workplace bullying in their workplace. This includes applying a risk-management process to identify and control incidents of workplace bullying.

Business owners who yell at their staff set up a demonstrative effect, which says that this is the way management deals with frustrations. This creates a culture of bullying, which undermines productivity and disengages staff.

It’s failed leadership, plain and simple.

Leaders aren’t born

US leadership expert, John Maxwell, the author of Leadership Gold says leaders aren’t born – they can grow and it never stops.

“Leadership develops daily, not in a day,” he says.

Maxwell also argues that you often need an objective set of eyes to help you confront the brutal truth and grow into leadership.

It’s too late for that poor young girl who took her life but let’s hope other business owners recognise the leadership responsibilities that come when they employ someone and take steps so we never hear about a similar small business tragedy again.

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