by Joyce Chastain, SPHR - Strategic HR Expert
I really thought that collectively, as a society, we had evolved beyond the Bully Boss. I expected Bully Bosses were as extinct as the Dodo bird. I credited the demise of these tormenters to a couple of things.
Reason number 1 (and the most personally gratifying) is that we HR Pros had succeeded in doing our jobs. We had “trained” away the Bully Bosses. During our elaborate supervisor and manager training we had revealed the error of their ways, demonstrated how effective a bully-free workplace could be and recommended a plethora of leadership books written specifically for their enlightenment. This indispensable training had resulted in their repenting and vowing to bully no more.
Reason number 2 (and one for which we HR Pros can take no credit) is that the Bully Bosses have departed from the work place via retirement or death.
When I conjure up a mental image to accompany my recollection of bully bosses, I see a pudgy, bald-headed man, sitting behind a large mahogany desk in a high-back leather chair, puffing on a fat Cuban cigar and barking out orders to intimidated employees. Does Boss Hogg come to your mind?
Thankfully, we now live in a much advanced business society-one where employees are respected for the value they bring to the organization-or so I thought.
Recently I was asked to advise a client on the appropriate handling of one of the worst workplace bullying scenarios I’ve encountered in over a decade. And, get this…the Bully Boss is a woman. And this woman has been in the work force for over 30 years. When she began her career, women rarely held positions in management that she currently enjoys.
As I pondered that situation, I had to wonder, what made her this way? How did she rise to this level of power and influence in the organization with such poor leadership skills? How did she avoid all of our training?
I believe without a sufficient desire to expand our management abilities, we will each manage others the way we have been managed. So, there’s a chance that she is mimicking behavior that was once modeled to her. Whatever the root cause, this emergence of the once-believed extinct Bully Boss has fortified me with a renewed determination to coach this beast completely out of existence.
I also have examined my own behavior. Could some of my end-of-the-day exhausted responses appear short and snippy? Am I training up leaders and independent thinkers? Am I modeling behavior that I would be proud to have perpetuated? Early in my career, I was tagged with the nickname “Colonel.” I would like to think it was because I was in command of a large, well-run unit of the organization, but I fear it was because I, too, was guilty of barking out my share of orders. I have repressed that part of my persona and over the years have mellowed significantly. I attribute that professional evolution to the hundreds of leadership books I’ve read; each of which provided a chisel to chip away at the Bully Boss I could have become.