Managing the bully

pexels nothing ahead

What can be done about bullies at work? It is an uphill battle for everyone involved and sometimes you need to quit this toxic environment.

Ted, a senior VP at a large media company, was famous for publicly deriding and humiliating others. Working for him was like walking on eggshells, as he could fly into a rage over the most trivial matters. He would also impose deadlines designed to set his staff up for failure. To top off his bullying behaviour, he expected his staff to work 24/7, leading many to complain about stress-related problems. Ted’s management style sapped the morale of his division, which was afflicted by a disturbing absenteeism rate and high turnover.

When we think of bullies, we tend to remember the ones we knew as kids. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t end in high school. Some of these bullies-in-training turn into full-fledged ones in adulthood. Although there can be a fine line between a tough boss and an abusive one, bullying generally refers to being subjected to repeated emotional or even physical abuse. Bullies deliberately manipulate, belittle, intimidate, control or undermine their victims. And in our digital age, the bully’s playing field has now extended to cyberspace.

To determine if you work for a bully, ask yourself the following questions: Do I regularly feel intimidated, criticised and insulted? Have there been occasions when I have been humiliated in front of my colleagues? Have I been called names? Are my efforts constantly undervalued? Do I dread going to work? Is working for my boss making me feel sick? If your answers to these questions are affirmative, there is a good possibility that you are working for a bully.

The bullying personality

The personality makeup of the bully is difficult to pin down. There may be a relationship between bullying and narcissistic personality disorder, the latter characterised by an exploitative way of dealing with the world and the perception that one is entitled to special treatment. Given bullies’ frequent lack of empathy and remorse, some even ascribe psychopathic characteristics to them. Furthermore, it is fair to say that most bullies fall among the autocratic personality types which include a strong need to control and dominate ot…

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries is the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change at INSEAD and the Raoul de Vitry d'Avaucourt Chaired Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus. He is the Programme Director of The Challenge of Leadership, one of INSEAD’s top Executive Education programmes.

He brings a different view to the much-studied subjects of leadership and the dynamics of individual and organisational change. Based on his knowledge and experience of economics (EconDrs, University of Amsterdam), management (ITP, MBA, and DBA, Harvard Business School), and psychoanalysis (Canadian Psychoanalytic Society and the International Psychoanalytic Association), he scrutinises the interface between international management, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and dynamic psychiatry.

He is the author, co-author or editor of fifty books and has published over 400 papers as articles or chapters in books. His books and articles were translated into thirty-one languages.

Kets de Vries is a consultant on organisational design/transformation and strategic human resource management to leading US, Canadian, European, African, and Asian companies and has worked in more than forty countries.

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