Nancy A. Shenker Headshot

Are You a Bully Boss? How to Tell...

Posted: Updated:

Everyone has had a boss who torments him.

Sadly, I have been that boss at times. The news is filled these days with stories about bullying -- at school and at work. Eighty per cent of employees say they are stressed and 60 per cent of absenteeism at work is a result of stress, according to this infographic about the work ecosystem. Women are more likely to die as a result of work-related stress than men, this study reveals.

This bullying takes many forms: from nasty comments at meetings, to criticism of projects that seems more personal than business, to spreading of gossip and rumors, to yelling and throwing things. (One of my co-workers once threw his desk stapler at a wall, nearly missing his employee's head. He was frustrated that the victim's project required multiple revisions; somehow, I don't think that's a problem punishable by injury or death).

We teach our own kids to be nice to their classmates. Most of us do not intend to send our colleagues and staff home in tears or on the verge of ulcers. So, why do even the most "successful" business people develop reputations as bullies, bitches, or tyrants?

  • Supervisory positions do not come with instruction manuals. Many leaders have learned how to lead from their own bosses. I learned some of my worst management habits from the bully bosses I've worked for over the years.
  • Organizations send mixed messages to tough and cruel leaders. Some of the bullies I've worked for and with have achieved high levels within organizations and are heralded at meetings for their bottom line results. "Getting stuff done" and feeding profits is often valued more than kindness within companies.
  • The stresses of employment in today's economy contribute to a survival of the fittest (not necessarily the nicest) mentality. The tiger will often survive by feeding on zebras.

Leaders who can be both effective and compassionate are a rare breed. The business world needs to cultivate more of them. Anyone who is in a management position at work (or aspires to one) has an obligation to inspire and teach, not leave scorched earth in his or her wake. After close to 30 years as a boss, I'm finally learning how to combine profitability and empathy.

If you're the workplace bully, get help. Take courses, read, talk to empathetic leaders about how they deal with difficult people situations, and solicit honest fedback from your colleagues and staff (which is tough because no one wants to be honest with a bully lest he retaliate).

If you're the victim, try not to take it personally. Here are some great tips on how to deal with them.

No office job is ever worth dying for. Learn to dodge the stapler and resolve to "un-bully" yourself as a leader. Productivity and humanity don't need to be mutually exclusive.