Workplace Bullying Is A Play: Meet The 6 Characters

workplace bullying process

When Innovators are bullied, and the abuse hits a crescendo, they will often go over the Dragon’s head and seek support from the Dragon’s boss. If they meet with a Figurehead, the disappointment will be palpable.

Figureheads either immediately dismiss the concern or pretend to lend a supportive ear only to later bury the sentiment in a file folder marked “trash” as they carry on with business as usual. Figureheads tend to promote Community Builders who they can count on to smile, keep the boat afloat, and thoughtfully shove hard conversations neatly under reality’s shag rug. Figureheads are concerned with appearances but lack the fortitude to address systematic injustices torpedoed at Innovators, who are often the most creative, productive, and courageous employees in the organization.

Innovators who work for Figureheads often leave the company, frustrated by the Figurehead’s inability to engage openly and honestly about institutional issues that impede employees’ sense of belonging and psychological safety. Figureheads create steady but stagnant cultures that dull creativity, encourage compliance, and produce silence surrounding injustices.

Related: How to Stop Being an Emotionally Repressed Person: Crying Therapy

6. Leaders

By contrast, when a Leader hears the angst of an Innovator, she takes action by researching the problem, asking tough questions, and speaking truth to power in order to work for impactful change. Leaders, unlike Figureheads, earn their position by disrupting systems in search of solutions and tying their self-worth to ingenuity and progress, not their name on the door.

Leaders understand that autonomy, diverse perspectives, and dissent are powerful tools of transformation, essential for breaking through mediocrity; fighting the status quo; and creating communities that are inclusive, kind, and competitive. Leaders personally engage in creative work and make spaces that invite others to rewire the system without the roadblocks of steep hierarchies and fear of speaking out. Leaders are willing to go to bat for Innovators and value loud and messy progress over quiet compliance.

Related: The Psychology Of Toxic Leaders

Dragons cannot survive in organizations where employees have transparent, public, direct, and truthful conversations about systemic, institutional problems, so the Dragons leave and the Innovators rise, and that casting change is revelatory.

In Conclusion

Innovators ask “Why” and “What if?” Dragons are the bullies. Shapeshifters fuel the fire. Community Builders ignore the heat while smiling. Figureheads pretend there is no battle. Leaders walk into the war and stop the bullying. What roles do the characters in your organization play?


Davenport, N., Schwartz, R. D., & Elliott, G. P. (1999). Mobbing: Emotional abuse in the American workplace. Ames, IA: Civil Society Publishing.

Written by: Dorothy Suskind, Ph.D
Originally appeared on:Psyhcology Today 
Republished with permission 
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Workplace Bullying Is A Play: Meet The 6 Characters
workplace bullying process pin
Workplace Bullying Is A Play: Meet The 6 Characters
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Dorothy Suskind Ph.D.

Dorothy Suskind, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Education and Counseling Department at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Over the last two decades, she has taught in elementary schools, middle schools, prisons and served as a reading specialist and middle school principal. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and has published over twenty research articles and presented at over forty conferences across the country as well as in Australia and South Africa. Her research interests include workplace bullying, writing as a tool for empowerment, critical literacy, social justice, creativity, and innovation. Dr. Suskind completed the Workplace Bullying University training with Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute and foremost expert in the United States on workplace abuse.View Author posts