We have all experienced the boss from hell. They exist everywhere. They bully and fight their way to the top. They get promoted because they are poor performers or they are well connected or simply because people are frightened of them. They take this promotion as an endorsement of their inappropriate behavior and it boosts them to continue this management style that has "got them to where they were now". They are well known in the business or organisation in which they work. I say "organisation" because these monsters don't just work in the private sector, oh no, they work in the public and charitable sector too. They manage, like vermin, to squeeze into all parts of our lives. They leave the school yard triumphant in ruining the lives of other children to grow steadily more skilled at maiming and demeaning as they enter the workplace. Everybody knows who they are, they hide in bright daylight. They verbally and mentally bruise their victims openly knowing they will not be challenged.
Some bullies are lifetime offenders, some bully whilst momentarily loosing the plot, some bullies enjoy their behavior and there are other leader who are disgusted by the tactics they have to use to cope with their job. Bullied people can become bullies but that is neither a fact nor a defined destination. It is more often used by ex bullies who do not want to own the shame that they were once a bully.
I am sure you have worked for a bully I have worked for several. You may even be a bully yourself at work now. Every day is an opportunity to attack and defeat well meaning co-workers who just want to earn a living. Like most schools and teachers, managers would prefer to turn a blind eye to bullies. They know it's wrong and they will document how they have been through the policy process, while the victim is told somebody has had a word with him or her. Oh yes these bullies are women too. A drunken female boss who was my office manager when I was 17 inappropriately mistreated me. The details are not important but she used her power and threat of unemployment to make my life a misery. Thankfully she became unwell and took early retirement. My tormentor was told I had complained of her inappropriate behavior, so she had a quiet word with me and things got worse.
I am sure everybody reading this will have a story to relate about the way the bully used there sense of power to insult and abuse. At one point in my own career I became aware of the inappropriate behaviour of a close friend of mine at work. Nothing terminal but it was unsettling for me to see him fall into the ways of the bullies I deplored. He had an excuse, his workload was ridiculous, and the performance pressures were immense, the hours long and hard. He was a good guy but he was struggling with the pressure. He convinced himself like all good bullies that if the staff worked harder they would not make him behave like a bully. This of course was nonsense. No one made him bully people. He was in control of his actions. He 'made him' bully people and the first steps to stopping this inappropriate behaviour was taking responsibility for his own actions and behaviour.
I caught him a few times saying things to people that was inappropriate. I would replay them back to him afterwards wondering why "in the heat of the moment" he had thought it was ok to behave like this. I would repeat the words asking him to imagine his children were watching his performance - it sent a shiver down my spine of disgust. He had some great staff that would give him honest feedback that he had lost his way, his gentleness had gone, his humour removed, his breaking point was too low and he was loosing the goodwill of his team. He had a few peers who took him under their wing and invested in him, I coached and challenged him.
As a coach who has worked with lots of bullies and reformed bullies I have always found it easy to spot a bully, they are weak and never know when to pick a fight and when to walk away. Inevitably they pick a fight with the wrong person. There are warning signs everyone can spot, warning signs to spot in your own behavior. And of course bullying is not contained within the workplace. I have seen bullies who continue at home as though it was appropriate to run their family relationships like a 1950 army boot camp. Similarly I have seen workplace bullies become kittens when they walk through the doors to their homes. This sickening use of control makes me weep.
Now as a coach I am brought into organizations that either know they have bullies and don't know what to do about it or they don’t possess the moral courage to tackle it. Sometimes organizations invite me in because they know performance is poor but can't put the finger on the obvious cause. Finding the bully is easy, they see me as fresh meat, someone on who they need to leave their mark and demonstrate they are still “top cat” in the company. The bully needs the attack to be public and in boxing terms a knockout. Knowing I am a target enables me to feel relaxed when the attack comes my way. Quietly absorbing the blows and drawing the bully into the ring allowing myself to be completely and utterly humiliated in front of all who stand and watch. From this point the story can go one way or the other, the choice of redemption or a delusion that life for the bully can continue like nothing has happened. I can coach a bully, I can offer alternative behaviors, I can give them tools, build peer support groups and tackle root causes but at the end of the day the bully has to decide. For many the way forward is an exit. For some, redemption can be achieved by taking the opportunity of coaching and the forgiveness that is being offered.
A born again bully can be a tremendous boost to the motivation of a workforce and can add hugely to the credibility of a leader. We don't need of leaders to be squeaky clean, but we do need them to authentic, we need them to have lived a life, be courageous not least because they are brave enough to challenge their own behaviours but also the behaviour of others. If you are bullied I hope you can find someone like me who will help you tackle it. If you are a bully I hope you can find someone like me who can lead you to the place of bully redemption. Both of you have my best wishes. If you are knowingly managing a bully who you use to get stuff done for you and sort out your mess, I hope you find someone like me quick because your indirect support for a known bully is a worse sin than the bully him/herself.
Remember this does not have to continue, you can do something about it today. Pick up the phone/email and call someone like me. Thanks Roy