On Leadership, Bullying and Abusing People

Workplace Bullying

There is a silent epidemic afoot in organizations that is eating away at productivity, performance, and bottom-line results.

This silent epidemic is bullying in the workplace.

The Silent Killer

Workplace bullying is a cancer eating away at some of your most productive people in your organization. It can be an all-controlling force that feeds from fear and casts it shadow on the people who are trying to get stuff done.

Those who have witnessed the behavior are cowed into silence by the phenomenon. Bullying is status-blind harassment, and many states do not have anti-bullying legislation.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute:

“Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.”

The Modus Operandi

Workplace bullying takes on one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal and nonverbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors such as: Threats, intimidation, violent gestures, and Sexual – either physical or through innuendos, degrading, humiliation, or undermining of another person(s)
  • Work interference in the form of sabotage – which prevents work from getting done
  • Creates a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)

Uninvited Predator

According to the healthyworkplacebill.org, bullying has invaded the life of 37% adult Americans without invitation. Those who suffer from severe forms of bullying inherit many stress-related health complications:

  • Hypertension
  • Auto-immune Disorders
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Burnout
  • Phobias
  • Musculoskeletal Problems
  • Sleep
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Compounding affects of bullying further complicates a person’s immediate job and often their career may be disrupted, causing financial problems due to absence. As a result, family stress and tension start to mount.”

The bully can make life unbearable for the person at the receiving end. Bullies by nature display an obsessive compulsive behavior. They can be anyone in the workplace but typically, the bully is in a position of authority.

Deconstructing the Bully Monster

As a leader, getting to the root of the problem of a bullying workplace and solving it is often times simply a function of understanding the bully, decoding the needs, and supplementing those needs with a better prescription of behaviors.

Bullies Have Needs

Bullies have a need like everyone else, to connect and belong. Their need for power and control drives their behavior. According to The Virginia Journal of Education, a person who is less skilled has more need for power, and bullying offers a way to achieve it, although irresponsibly.

What matters most to the bully is challenging authority and asserting their own independence.

Digging deeper and understanding Why bullies bully unveils the fact that this type of behavior serves two needs for the bully:

  1. It’s fun to do
  2. To help them feel safe

You could almost say bullies get a euphoric feeling when they bully their targets. Additionally, it is a way to feel safe. A bully does not want to feel trapped or victimized; the safest way to protect themselves from this type of behavior is to bully others.

Self-Esteem, Personality, and Emotions of a Bully

Most people believe that bullies have low self-esteem but according to (Allen, 2006)

“Bullies have a pathologically high self-esteem that is unstable.”

This leads to a number of personality problems, from narcissistic personality disorder to obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Their personality problems may stem from deeply seeded emotional reactions from their childhood. Not knowing how to manage their emotions in many cases leads to quick tempers, outbursts, and socially unacceptable behavior.

Could You Be a Bully?

How to Identify Bullying in Yourself and Others

Here are some questions you can ask yourself. Are you or do you:

  • Enjoy confrontations
  • Charming in public – two faced
  • Find it difficult to trust others – need to control people
  • Department has high absenteeism or high turnover

Examples of Bullies Who Have Authority

  • Threatens to terminate others employment
  • Bad evaluations
  • Suggests others are incompetent, too sensitive, have emotional problems
  • Overwork with unreasonable timelines

What Can Be Done About Disruptive Behavior?

According to SHARP, leaders in organizations can intervene to build a collaborative safety culture by directing attention to safety and creating contexts where people can speak up and problem solve together.

The four levels of the Disruptive Behavior Pyramid consist of:

  • Informal Intervention – a cup of coffee conversation
  • Awareness Intervention – takes place after an apparent pattern develops
  • Authority Intervention – pattern persists and the person is unable or unwilling to respond
  • Disciplinary Intervention – restriction or termination of privileges related to policies and procedures

Impact Leadership

Setting the stage for success is critical to building a safe space, awareness, trust, rapport, and respect. Consistency and clarity in your message develops rapport. Allowing targets to bring all aspects of their self; spirit, goofiness, authenticity, and unique talents to work reassures them the work space is safe.

Impact leadership with patience and presence; finding out what targets need, is there enough space, and being present in the moment, lets them know you care, this builds respect and rapport.

Engage them in vertical learning and training that focuses on their strengths, this helps build trust. This is especially valuable when they can demonstrate it, however; if they are not getting it, encourage them to keep trying.

Alignment of purpose is seeing everyone as a leader.

Alignment helps us understand that everyone has different perspectives, even when agreement is not present. Alignment helps us understand and trust our purpose, connection, and to keep your head about yourself.

Is workplace bullying an issue in your organization, how are you handling it? Do you have methods in place to manage disruptive behavior and what do you like best/least about them? What approaches have you used to help targets reclaim their power? I would love to hear your comments and experiences handling this silent epidemic.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Debra Olejownik
Debra Olejownik is a consultant with DJC Core Consulting & Support Services, LLC
She helps clients identify comprehensive solutions to problems that inspires change
Email |  LinkedIn | Twitter | Web

Image Sources:jessicajjohnston.com

11 responses to “On Leadership, Bullying and Abusing People

  1. Debra,

    Great article. I agree that the issue of bullying in the workplace is a safety issue and as the results can be multi-faceted it is often more difficult to address than operational safety issues. The CSA has recently issue a new national standard in Canada titled Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace http://wp.me/p17MgC-au. A great step forward in ensuring the mental health of the work force.

    Thanks for posting,


  2. Great article. Unfortunately, what’s the solution to workplace bullying when it originates in Human Resources? This appears to be a taboo subject.


    • Some HR Departments can be notorious harbors for bullies. When bullying is being done by the HR Department… and it seems to be the accepted method of employee discipline, complaining won’t work, you need a different approach. Bullying is vile and contaminates organizations, hence the expression organizational disease.

      A great resource to utilize is http://www.workplacebullying.org/ go to their blog page at http://www.workdoctor.com/blog/ there are several great blog posts that address HR and workplace bullying.


  3. Wonderful post here, thanks for sharing. Hopefully, the more information we share about this going on in workplaces and businesses all across the country will help to reform things for the better.


  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that workplace violence by HR is an actual “policy” at some organizations. It isn’t in the HR manual, but it is a policy nonetheless. Inappropriate behaviour is denied and covered up. After all, what would a company look like if it became common knowledge that people in HR used physical aggression against direct reports?


  5. Thank you for dedicating time and resources to this issue. I was a target of severe workplace bullying and I feel as though I was raped. It was laced with such invasion and degrading harassment that I was diagnosed with PTSD. The company provided no assistance and the excuses given to me pushed me further into the darkness of PTSD. I was forced out of my job as I took leave and the company sent me a letter stating that I “would likely not recover” in the time allotted. It has been devastating and I still today wake drenched in sweat covering my sheets and night clothing. I have near agoraphobia and I find it negative amazement that a person can be violated in such ways that went on at work for this company.

    As the US works to rebuild our economy, legislators must understand that working is an uncompromisable necessity. Workers are the parents within families and parents are the legs that the entire family stands on. Experiencing demeaning constant degrading incidents at work leaves the target debilitated and eventually pulls the legs right out from under the family economically as well as emotionally, trickling down to the children in their development and family stability.


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