One of the things that we have observed in our work is the rise of the corporate bully. Bullying in the workplace has the same characteristics to the playground bully, and the motivations of the bully are also similar, but as they are masked in adult behaviour, they can often be ignored or even encouraged by organisations.
Why, I hear you ask, when so much evidence tells us that supportive and engaging leaders achieve more and get far greater levels of commitments than a bullying leader, would organisations encourage such behaviour?
One word – Fear. The playground bully is a child that feels compelled to bully because he or she feels fearful. This may be because they are not very smart in the classroom, or they observe dominant and bullying behaviours at home. They bully to gain power and control. They crave this because at a deeper level, at the sub conscious, they do not feel worthy of love or respect, and therefore believe that if they can’t have both, they will settle for respect, or at least what they misconstrue as respect.
Those very same feelings that are observable in the school child of 10 or 12 years old, are virtually identical to those motivations behind the senior corporate bully. The head of marketing who insists on humiliating under-performing team members; The Head of IT that shouts and screams when team members have missed an important deadline; The Head of Finance that forces his or her team to work late to fix accounting issues to ensure a positive report to the Board, each and every one of them is driven by an innate sense of their own unworthiness or likeability. They mask the deep hole that these feelings bring by creating fear, distrust and keeping everyone at a distance.
But what of the bosses of these bully managers? What motivates them to tolerate this behaviour, even if they personally do not sign up to such tactics? The answer also brings us back to the same issue – fear. Whilst their fear is not wedded to their sense of self, it is linked to poor organisational performance, a track record of poor delivery and a belief that something is needed to turn this around. Often exacerbated, they turn to the corporate bully to pull everyone up by their boot-straps to ‘get us out of this mess’. But does such a strategy work?
According to the CIPD bullying cost UK businesses over £2billion per year (2005 CIPD report). A workplace bullying survey found that over 38% of Americans have reported bullying at work. Corporate performance does not fare well in bullying environments. In fact the losses may be even higher than some estimates have suggested, if we factor in reduced creativity, low morale, and increased turnover — all factors that weigh heavily on the bottom line.
Strategies to help you or your team if bullying is a factor:
- Have your targets and delegated duties written down. If your boss has a tendency to change their mind, or blame you for not delivering something that was outside of your control, written documentation will help. Always follow up with an email confirming your understanding of requirements.
- Find an independent mentor (either in your department, or in another division) who can be a sounding board and the voice of wisdom when you are feeling under pressure.
- Think deeply about how important this role or this organisation is to your long term plans. If it is very important, then start to network to build a wider span of influence beyond your immediate team to build support. If it is not important, then start to consider your exit strategy and focus on what qualities and culture will be important in your next role.
If you are affected by these issues, website resource that might help include:
If you would like more personal support, then we can offer confidential, focused and targeted coaching package to give you strategies to support your needs. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can also offer engaging and highly participative public speaking and seminar sessions if you would like to bring this or matters of people and performance to your corporate event. Contact us at: email@example.com.