Leadership Barometer 202 Leading Without Bullying

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching two squirrels chase each other. I started thinking of various animal species. In every group of animals, a certain amount of bullying behavior goes on.

It is a “survival of the fittest” world in the animal kingdom. Maybe that is why we humans often exhibit some form of bullying behavior in order to get our way.

The problem is pervasive

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the schoolyard to the top levels of the government. It is from the boardroom to the barroom. We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced unchallenged as adults.

We know the incredibly destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point. It does not feel good. The practice leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children. They do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

We are all guilty of bullying

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder. Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others. Some managers have it down to a fine art.

Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it leads to compliance.  The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done. We need engagement and excellence, which are far different concepts than compliance.

The practice leads to loss of hearing

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language.  It also occurs when headstrong managers become so fixated on their own agenda that it renders them effectively deaf. They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think.

Leaders need to consider alternate points of view. It is fine to be passionate and driving at times, but you must not take it to the extreme.

We should be better than animals

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. Use that power. Realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.  It may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run. Grudging compliance does not make for excellence.

If you are an elk, you are only thinking of the situation at hand. You are reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking long-term about relationships and possible future alliances. Why would you care how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best? The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.

Bullying in organizations

Applying this logic in an organization is easy. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding build up resentment and hostility.  While this may produce short-term compliance, it works against objectives long-term. By taking a kinder approach, managers can achieve more consistent results over the long haul. They obtain full engagement of people rather than simple compliance.

Here are ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

  1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way. Simply apply the Golden Rule.
  2. Observe the reaction and body language of other people. If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.
  3. Be sensitive to feedback. It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.
  4. Speak more softly and slowly. Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice.
  5. Ask for opinions often. Managers who seek knowledge as opposed to impressing their brilliance have better results.
  6. Think before speaking. Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?
  7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use. Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.
  8. Listen more and talk less. When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.
  9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak. Just because someone is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over them. It only reveals your own weakness and insecurity.
  10. Write your epitaph. How would you like to be remembered after you are gone?


My breakfast observation for today was that animals have a hard time following the Golden Rule. There is a bully in every group. We, humans, have the power to actually modify our behavior to think more strategically. We can do things that are not only right for now, but right for the long term. Caring for people creates a culture of trust that is sustainable.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.

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