Leadership Barometer 52 Leading Without Bullying

May 28, 2020

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some squirrels 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 top levels of the government, 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. We need engagement and excellence, which are far different concepts than compliance.

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 bullying 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 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 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 and insecurity.

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. 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.

Successful Supervisor 24 – Holding People Accountable

April 29, 2017

In my corporate work on leadership, the most common issue that comes up is accountability. Reason: most leaders do a poor job of holding people accountable, so they do not get the change in behavior that they would like to see.

This issue is particularly evident at the supervisor level because the span of control for supervisors is normally much wider than for higher level managers. This article outlines a model for improved accountability discussions based on five concepts that all begin with the letter “C.”

Clarify Expectations

People must understand expectations to have any shot at meeting them. In some complex situations, a written document is required, but most of the time it is a matter of spelling out what the requirements are and gaining a verification that the employee has truly internalized them.

Often a failure to perform at the prescribed level can be traced to a misunderstanding between the supervisor and employee.

Supervisors sometimes make the mistake of assuming the employee understands what is required because he or she has heard the instructions.

To verify understanding it is critical to have the employee state in his or her own words the specific requirement. It needs to be framed up in terms of the specific action to be done by a specific time and with certain level of quality.

The employee can decide how to accomplish the task, but the deliverable must be crystal clear to avoid ambiguity.

Having the employee parrot back the expectation has the additional benefit in the event the deliverable is fuzzy. The supervisor can take the time to reiterate the specific deliverable before the employee attempts to do it. This saves time and money while reducing frustration.

If an employee has a pattern of habitually missing expectations and later blaming it on a misunderstood specification, then it is a good idea to put the expectation in writing.

In cases where the employee is on progressive counseling, it would be a good idea to have the employee sign the written document for filing. A copy should be given to the employee.

Contribution of Supervisor

Often the supervisor will attempt to hold an employee or group accountable when the reason for the shortfall was a blockage caused by the supervisor rather than the workers.

Most people will do a good job if the culture and environment set up by management are conducive to working well. When supervisors micromanage or otherwise destroy positive attitudes of the workers, they are contributing substantially to the shortfall they see within the workforce. They are quite often the root cause of the problem, yet they find it convenient to blame the workers for not meeting expectations.

I recall one supervisor who lamented that “all my people are lazy.” As I dug into the situation, it was evident that the bully attitudes of the supervisor had caused people to become apathetic and perform only when beaten.

The supervisor blamed the workers, but she was obviously the source of the problem. She could not understand this connection of cause and effect.

Her “command and control” way of managing was the root cause of her problems. If this supervisor was replaced by an empowering leader, those “lazy” workers would quickly become productive and show high initiative.


When giving feedback on performance, especially if performance is not at the level expected, be sure to treat the employee the way you would want to be treated if the situation was reversed. “The Golden Rule” provides excellent guidance in most cases.

There are some exceptions where the Golden Rule breaks down (like suppose I enjoy being yelled at and confronted), but they are rare.

If the manager demonstrates real care for the individual, even when the feedback is not positive, the employee will usually respond well to the input.

Comprehensive and Balanced

This principle means that the leader must take the big picture of what is going on into account when deciding if an individual is meeting what is expected.

There may be a specific reason for not living up to the agreed performance that is totally out of the control of the employee. If a dog is left locked up in the house all day, it is entirely possible you will find a mess on the floor, even if the dog would have loved to have been let out.

Make sure that the feedback is balanced such that you account for the good things they do as well as for times they fall short. Since most people do things right far more often than they fail, your holding people accountable should normally be a positive discussion.

Rapport and trust are destroyed when employees only hear from management when they are having problems. It is a common refrain for an employee to say “My supervisor only talks to me when I screw up.”

Collective Responsibility

If the accountability discussion has the flavor of everyone, including the manager, being responsible, then that feeling of a family working together will permeate the discussions, and they will be more fruitful.

When the manager points the finger at a specific worker and fails to involve the other people who also make up the system, the employee feels picked on. This results in hard feelings and creates more problems than it solves. When the atmosphere becomes one where “we win or we lose together,” then the proper level of teamwork is assured.

These five C’s will help you create an environment where holding people accountable is far more productive and effective. Try to remember these principles when you are dealing with the people in your life.

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

A Sixth Stage of Team Development

February 8, 2014

Solving a problemIn 1965, Bruce Tuckman coined the four stages of team development. He called the stages Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Most groups in business or social activities are familiar with these four stages.

The most interesting and challenging stage is Storming.

Teams enter into a time when members challenge each other for numerous reasons. Tuckman described it this way,

” The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict.”

The skill of the leader is critical for progress to guide a team through the Storming phase and into the Norming phase, when the group rules and policies are established,.

In 1977, Tuckman added a fifth stage he called “Adjourning.” This is where the group completes and documents their activities, and the team breaks up.

It is now 37 years later, and I became curious whether a sixth stage might someday be added to the lexicon. Bruce would now be about 76 years old, if he is still living, so I asked one of my leadership classes to work in groups to think of a potential sixth stage.

One group came up with a “Feedback” stage between Performing and Adjourning. In this stage, the team would document the lessons learned and make them available for future teams.

This practice is similar to the “After Action Review” (AAR) in the military where groups do a debrief after every mission to determine what went well and what could be improved in the future.

The AAR technique has been credited with saving numerous lives by consolidating the learning from missions that did not go as well as hoped.

After much debate, the group felt that the feedback function is really part of the adjourning process, so they did not recommend it as a sixth stage in team development.

Another group felt that a “Trusting” phase ought to be inserted between Norming and Performing. This is an important addition because there is a big leap between establishing the rules for a team and actually performing at a high level.

The team needs to knit into a unit where trust is the foundation of performing up to expectations. It is the time where mutual respect seasons into a bond where people recognize that the rules set up in Norming are not just words, but they actually form the basis for all actions.

In the “Trusting” phase, team members would learn how to walk the talk on stated actions, and they would learn how to call each other out if there were violations.

Another word that could be used here is “Testing.” This is the time when people realize that the good intentions set up in the first three stages are more than nice things to say.

The enduring performance of the team is dependent on everyone in the unit meeting the stated expectations of the group.

I believe a “Trusting” phase is a great addition to the Tuckman five stages of team development.

Without trust, you will have a lot of good intentions but the team will fall short during times of extreme challenge or stress. With trust, the team can withstand the vicissitudes of the real world and still accomplish their mission flawlessly.