The New York Times had a good read last week on the perception that somehow bullies or “tough” bosses make good leaders. Overwhelmingly, they found that contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to support that bullying, berating, yelling and generally, any similar behaviors produce good results. They might produce compliance in the moment, but not sustained performance or any sort of lasting engagement.
Bullying behavior is not a gender issue, it’s an equal opportunity leadership trait. I’ve seen both women and men bully as leaders and they are equally ineffective. We always seem to admire those leaders who are decisive and have confidence and we overlook the behaviors that we would not tolerate in our children. Researchers have found this as well:
“Leaders tend to emerge organically, and common traits of those who assume the role include boldness, a healthy ego and a sense of entitlement. Confidence, too: People who take charge in these simulations tend to be decisive, making calls from the gut, and quickly.”
The result of this type of leadership is always the same, short-term results at the expense of engagement, morale and company culture. Eventually, the employees just leave to be in a better work environment where they are not berated on a daily basis. People need stability to perform at their best and unpredictability is NOT what they look for in a leader.
One of the reasons I think this is allowed to happen so often in the workplace is that the higher someone moves in the organization; the myth follows that they must have deserved it. Others see what they are doing but don’t say anything because “maybe there is something they don’t know.” Then the bullying leader has a case of “expert opinion bias” and believes that how they are behaving is okay because no one says anything – confirming to them that they are on the right track. The more they bully, the more power they believe they have and the worse they become. The worse they become, the less likely anyone will challenge them. It’s a vicious cycle and often the only recourse the employees have is to leave. Until and unless, someone above the bully realizes the behavior is bad – and ultimately damaging the organization’s culture, nothing will change. Unfortunately, by the time the issue is recognized, the damage is usually done and lasting.
There is no justification for treating people badly. Yelling, mocking, boorish, brutish, angry behavior that would result in a 2-year-old being put in a time out should be responded to the same way in adults. And this goes for in person AND in writing behavior. “E-shouting” is not acceptable in email and/or texting. Power and authority don’t mean you can treat people badly. The golden rule is more likely platinum when it comes to leaders. Always treat others with respect and dignity, not just because that’s how you want to be treated but because it’s the right thing to do, in any circumstance.