Leadership Barometer 28 Lead Without Bullying

December 10, 2019

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some robins chase each other around the back yard. I started thinking of the various animal species and the fact that 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.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, 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 incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good.

We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

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 is a way to obtain compliance.

The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Compliance leads to mediocrity rather than excellence.

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 to the ideas or concerns of others.

They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should 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.

If you are an elk, you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do 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.

Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility.

While this behavior 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 and obtain full cooperation from 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 in 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 or agenda on others have less tendency to be bullies.
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 you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.
10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, 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, and there is a bully in every group.

We humans have the power to actually modify our behavior to think more strategically and 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., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Successful Supervisor 58 Don’t Be a Bully Supervisor

December 31, 2017

A student in one of my graduate leadership classes posed an interesting question. If bully supervisors cause so much grief, why are so many of them allowed to remain in power?

The question got me thinking of the many reasons bully supervisors, even the extreme ones, seem to hang onto their positions. Here are some of the reasons:

Weak Leadership Above

If a bully supervisor is allowed to remain in place, it means the leaders above him or her are not doing a good job. If those in charge look the other way while a supervisor is abusing people, then they are the real culprits.

It is rather easy to spot a bully supervisor when doing a 360 degree review process, so once one is identified, if the person is allowed to stay in a supervisory position year after year, I blame the next level of leadership.

Also, weak leadership might look the other way because the bully has powerful allies. Bully supervisors intimidate people at their own level and higher in the organization. They know the buttons to push or people to pressure in order to get their own way. If a weak leader is afraid of the bully, that can be a reason this person is allowed to continue.

If the bully is the top dog and not beholden to anyone, there is no force from above to curtail the negative behaviors. In this case, barring some kind of epiphany, the bully will keep on with the same conduct until he or she leaves. Attempts from below to enlighten this person will usually be fruitless; they may even exacerbate the problem.

Sufficing

A bully supervisor does elicit compliance because people are fearful. The unit reporting to this supervisor will perform at a credible level, even though people are unhappy and underutilized.

The crime is that the unit could be so much better, and the lives of the workers could be richer if the supervisor was replaced by someone with higher Emotional Intelligence.

Many units get by sufficing on a culture of compliance and avoidance and do not even realize the huge potential they are missing.

Being Clueless

I have written on this before. The idea is that most bullies simply do not see themselves accurately. They would view themselves as being tough or having high standards of conduct.

My observation is that most bully supervisors are genuinely proud of their prowess at getting people to behave. They have no impetus to change, because their twisted logic reinforces the behaviors that elicit compliance.

They often view themselves as smarter than the people working for them and bark out orders because they sincerely believe they know best.

Another clueless possibility is that the entire corporate culture is stuck in this Ebenezer Scrooge mentality. Hard as it is to fathom, there are still old-style companies where management likes to terrorize. The same holds for family businesses where one generation intimidates the next.

Lack of trust

A bully supervisor trashes trust on a daily basis without realizing it. When trust is low, all other functions in the organization operate like a car would run on watered-down gasoline.

The irony is that when the bully supervisor sees things sputtering and not working well, the logical reaction is to jump in with combat boots on to “fix” the problems. That bullying behavior perpetuates the problem in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. If there is no external force to break the cycle, it will just continue.

Short term focus

Most bully supervisors have a fixation on short term actions and do not see the long term damage being done to the culture. They would describe “culture” as some squishy concept that is for softies.

If you propose ideas to improve the culture to a bully supervisor, he or she will start talking about performance and accountability.

Holding people accountable is a very popular phrase in management these days. Imagine a world where there was less need to talk about holding people accountable because the culture they worked in was one that automatically extracted their maximum discretionary effort.

If the vast majority of workers in a unit habitually performed at the very peak of their potential because they wanted to, then accountability would take care of itself.

Lack of skills

Bully supervisors often have not had good leadership capabilities built in through training and mentoring. You cannot blame a tyrant if he or she has never been shown a better way to lead.

Bully supervisors are often accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude toward people, but I would contend that many of these misguided individuals simply feel “my way is the only way I know how to get things done.”

For these leaders, some intensive reprogramming can be an effective antidote only if they come to the table eager to learn new ways.

Fear means people will not challenge

Most workers are not going to be willing to challenge a bully supervisor. The fear of getting their heads chopped off for leveling with the boss makes the prospect of telling the truth feel like knowingly walking into a lion’s den.

Every once in a while there is a person so foolish or confident that he will just walk into the lion’s den because there is little to lose. This person can help provide shock therapy for bully leaders by providing data on how the behaviors are actually blocking the very things the leader wants to accomplish.

These people might be called “whistle blowers” because they provide an errant supervisor, or the leadership above, with knowledge of what is actually happening.

Occasionally, a bully supervisor is so extreme that he or she must be removed and replaced by a more people-oriented supervisor. Unfortunately, it is also true that many bully bosses have the ability to remain in place for long stretches.

This adhesion to power is extremely costly to the organization in terms of current and future performance along with a prime cause of high turnover. If you have a bully supervisor reporting to you, get him or her some help through training or coaching. If that does not work, move the bully out of a leadership role and put in someone with high Emotional Intelligence.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763