Bully leaders …

It was the Festival of Lights today morning in India. One of my young colleagues messaged me that she was upset and wanted to share something. She felt guilty that she may spoil my festival day. I encouraged her to share since I as a leader learn more by listening to others.

She then explained how she was upset with some leaders, who behave rudely and treat her very badly. She further enquired if I could write on how to cope with such bully leaders at work. I listened to her patiently and she appeared relieved. I thanked her for giving me yet another idea to write a blog on a subject, which may help youngsters to cope.

I have come across leaders right through my career, who have thrive on bullying others. Their behaviour is atrocious and the less said about it the better. However, the interesting thing is that such leaders do not realise how much their behaviour and language impacts others. They think they can get away with such behaviour right through their career.

Some of them also think that if they are successful in their career or competent in their field of operation, they have the license to behave rudely with others. This is neither true nor desirable. Every leader needs to realise that their rudeness will not get them anywhere. While they can get away with their ill behaviour with their team members, it does catch up with them at some stage of their career.

I have always believed that while we can build competence in people, it is difficult to change behaviours. It is important for all of us to realise that our behaviour defines our personality. People do not remember our functional competence but always remember the way we made them feel. The earlier we realise this, the better it is for us to grow and evolve as a respected leader.

It is important for organisations to focus on leadership behaviours. Many organisations are willing to tolerate bad behaviour of leaders if they are able to deliver on their results. This may harm the organisation more in the long run than they may realise. While nobody would like to work with such leaders, their results are also not sustainable in the long terms since their poor behaviour will come in the way some time or the other in their career.

The damage Bully leaders can cause on their team members is irreparable. While a physical injury can get cured, a mental blot does not go away so easily. Such leaders impact the confidence of their team members. Their behaviour ruins their self esteem and in turn demoralises them. It is for senior leaders and HR in every organisation to keep an eye of such leaders and deal with their behaviour immediately. The earlier we correct their behaviour, the better it is for them and for their team members.

One of the questions asked is – “how to cope with such leaders ?”. While we may not be able to avoid such leaders, since many of us cannot choose our bosses, we can learn to cope with them. It is important to give feedback to such leaders privately and in a polite and firm manner that their behaviour is demoralising. It may be worthwhile to speak to your HR partner so that they can help these leaders by giving feedback on behalf of employees. It may also help to keep a social distance from theses leaders and not participate very actively in their projects. This will be a good sign for such leaders that many team members are not keen to work with them and hopefully this will also be a significant feedback to them.

Another important lesson I have learnt is that it is easier to change our behaviour rather than trying to change others. We need to learn to be courteous to such leaders but at the same time make it clear in a polite way that rude behaviour is not acceptable to us. It may be easier said than done. But, in life, the most difficult challenges are this way. We need to learn to catch the bull by the horns or else the bulls will continue to rampage our lives and we may be the losers.

Lastly, it is important to realise that all of us are also leaders in our own right. We need to learn only the good things from such leaders. After all everyone has some good qualities. If we learn how to bully others, it may harm us more than help us. We need to learn that bullying as a leader is neither an acceptable trait nor a desirable one.

If leaders behave this way, there is no difference between a bullying monkey and the leader’s behaviour. I would rather say that comparing such leaders with the monkey may be an insult to the monkey.

It is time to stand up to such behaviour and have “zero tolerance” just like we would do to company values like ethics, safety and compliance.

Time to start is now, not even today.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th Nov 2020

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