Leaders: Bullies by Nature or Nurture?

February seems to be anti-bullying month here at Great Leadership. Here’s a guest post from Colin Gautrey:

Many of the behaviours exhibited by leaders can
easily be classified as bullying behaviours, especially when many of them
converge to form the essence of a leader’s style. In a recent article, I cited 31
which could be viewed as legitimate yet prone to being
misconstrued. Of the more innocent you have…

– Demanding things at short

– Telling people what to do and
how to do it.

– Cancelling meetings at short

Closely monitoring work ―

– Asking people to do things
without giving them a reason why.

Do you know any leaders who do these
things? Of course you do. Now, what if you add a few less innocent ones into
the mix?

– Publically criticising poor

– Taking feedback personally and
being defensive.

– Forcing people to do things
that they don’t want to do.

– Publically favouring or
disfavouring individuals.

– Telling lies and being
dishonest for convenience.

Do you know any leaders who do these
things? Of course you do. And this is just a small sample from the list!

Many of these could almost be regarded as
side-effects to high levels of drive and determination, the innocent little
quirks of a multitude of individuals currently residing in leadership
positions. No, not everyone who behaves like this is a bully, but they may well
appear that way. Particularly to (dare I say it) those of a more “sensitive”
disposition. Are you at risk of being misunderstood?
People who are born with drive will grow.
Fed and nurtured by experiences, stimuli and results, they will emerge into the
world of work with their own unique way of getting things done. With drive and
determination valued, they will make progress ― forgiven for a while, for their
slightly edgy side. Is that forgiven, or conveniently ignored? They are getting
results after all.
Forgiven, ignored, but certainly not
forgotten or hidden. If these behaviours are allowed to pervade, they will become
increasingly ingrained. And, they contain within them the seed of disaster ―
for followers (or rather the led), the organisation and also for the leader.
What we tolerate, we nurture. And the longer we nurture, the bigger the
consequences and, in reality, the more culpable we become.
The implications vary depending on who you
are. Here are some questions to carry with you for a few days…
you are a leader:
How might your behaviour be
misconstrued? To what extent are you at risk? What can you do to soften the
impact of your drive and determination? How can you retain results while also
avoid being regarded as a bully?
you have leaders reporting to you:
To what extent
are you tolerating behaviours with latent risk? How can you challenge your team
to get results positively? Do your systems influence the likelihood of these
behaviours? Are you ignoring the obvious? What could the financial consequences
be? And, how does this impact the culture you are presiding over?
you train or coach leaders:
Are you unwittingly
encouraging these behaviours? How are you helping people to develop ways to
implement “with” the people? Have you got the balance right between care and
results? Indeed, are you even aware of the potential problem? Do values,
ethics, integrity and trust play a prominent enough role in the work you do?
you are being bullied:
It would be tempting to ask,
are you sure? However, if your perception is that you are being bullied, I am
not going to try to convince you otherwise. Instead, who can you turn to for
help? What resources can you tap into? How much longer will you tolerate this
before taking action? What needs to happen for you to feel empowered to act? Don’t suffer in silence, get help.
In my opinion, as we develop leaders, too
much emphasis is placed on skills and too little on values. Perhaps, we take
positive values for granted and work on the behaviours. Maybe it’s easier, not
having to delve into the depths of the human psyche.
Unless skills are added to a robust base of
humility, respect for others and fairness, it is difficult to imagine how a
great leader will emerge. Conversely, if you have the right value base, the
skills will probably take care of themselves and you’ll get a great leadership
result. In the process, you might also save on your leadership development
spend too ― not to mention avoiding punitive litigation, etc.
Great leaders, truly great leaders are able
to deliver drive and determination without the negative side-effects. Sadly,
great leaders, truly great leaders, are infinitely small in proportion to the
total population of people holding leadership positions.
In writing this article, my earnest desire
is to help you to pause and think. It is an important topic which needs to be
attended to. Whatever your role, you can have an impact on turning the
workplace into a more positive, productive and enjoyable place to work. You
have the opportunity to act. Act today.
Author: Colin Gautrey is author of the Influence Blog (
and several books, including 21 Dirty Tricks at Work and Political Dilemmas at
Work. His focus is the practical use of power and influence in the workplace.
Find out more about his work at
www.gautreygroup.com and @colingautrey.