Are You a Boss or a Bully?22

Being the boss isn’t all reserved parking spaces and 401k plans. Even the highest-paid leaders question whether the compensation outweighs the pressure and headaches. Regardless of the number of employees, the success or failure of the company is typically attributed to (or blamed on) the boss. And speaking of employees… It’s no secret they are quick to fault leadership for their discontent.

Poor leadership appears to be an epidemic these days. Of the 1200+ comments on our article, Why Good Employees Quit, 90% sited terrible management. While there is no justification for abusive leadership, it’s important to acknowledge there are two sides to every story. Many managers are under immense pressure from their own bosses. The majority were promoted due to their success as an individual contributor, many not having any experience in a large leadership role. To make matters even worse, they received little to no leadership training.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the leaders themselves to take a good look at what kind of leader they are: a boss or a bully.

5 Questions to Determine if You Are a Boss or a Bully

Are you a good listener?

A boss is an active and engaged listener. She recognizes her staff has valuable insight she may not be privy to as someone removed from the day-to-day goings on. She is open-minded as she listens to both positive, and negative feedback, and gathers all the facts before taking action or making a decision. A good boss creates an environment where employees feel safe coming to her, knowing they will be heard and respected.

A bully does not have the time, nor the interest, in feedback from her team. When she must meet with colleagues, she is quickly building her defense or formulating her answer as soon as the speaker utters a few words. She enters most conversations with a preconceived notion about the topic and the speaker and is unwilling to adjust those notions no matter the evidence. In fact, she may rarely have to engage in conversations simply because she has made it abundantly clear, she will not listen nor make necessary changes.

Are you a good communicator?

A boss knows how to clearly and succinctly take his ideas and communicate them to his team. He accurately outlines the necessary steps and details outcomes. Most importantly, he recognizes when he is not communicating well. If his message is met with a sea of blank faces or the team fails to deliver on expectations, his first response is to clarify his communication, not blame the employees.

A bully is all about the message and has little interest in how that message is received. Details are overlooked or not clearly communicated and outcomes are assumed rather than explained. When problems arise, communication breakdown is never considered and employee incompetence is the only explanation.

Are you honest and ethical?

A boss holds herself to a high moral standard. She endeavors to be honest and fair and to make decisions in accordance with the rules and expectations of the company. Entrepreneur contributor, Tanya Prive, says, “…we try to make a list of values and core beliefs that both you and your brand represent, and post this in your office. Promote a healthy interoffice lifestyle, and encourage your team to live up to these standards. By emphasizing these standards, and displaying them yourself, you will hopefully influence the office environment into a friendly and helpful workspace.”

A bully’s ethics are much less clearly defined. They tend to bend in whatever direction suits her purpose at the time. She has no problem asking her team to behave unethically, and even illegally if it benefits the company, even if it’s “just this once.” A bully is dishonest and regularly fails to follow through on promises. She gives mixed messages depending on her audience and is evasive when confronted.

Do you share the wealth?

A boss recognizes that “the wealth” is more than compensation or stock options. Delegating responsibility and giving employees opportunities for growth are equally if not more important that compensation. The #2 reason employees leave their jobs is a lack of growth opportunities. A boss knows his employee’s long and short term goals and trusts his team to get the job done. Most importantly, he knows their strengths and weaknesses and intentionally provides opportunities to improve both.

A bully delegates tasks rather than responsibilities. He is unwilling to relinquish control regardless of his team’s capabilities and often micromanages the few responsibilities he does hand out. He often takes credit for all accomplishments, yet assumes no responsibility for mistakes or failures. What is most detrimental is his inability to recognize his team’s strengths. In doing so, they are often assigned tasks of little to no interest and lack the challenge they seek. Ultimately, he is pushing his own team out the door.

What do your co-workers and peers say about you?

A boss knows the answer to this question because she has sought the council of colleagues and peers, invested the time and resources necessary to acquire knowledge and training, and consistently strives to improve. Most importantly, she asks for authentic feedback from her team, to learn what she does well and where she is falling short as a leader.

A bully wouldn’t bother asking what others think of her. In fact, she continually ignores any feedback, assigning blame to the other person. She can’t be bothered with improving her leadership skills because she feels it is irrelevant and has no impact on the success or failure of the company.

Your innate leadership skills (the good, the bad and the ugly) will be evident in the way you manage your team. However, the choice to be a positive leader is just that: a choice.  Take an honest look your leadership style. Hopefully you’ll see more “boss than “bully.”

Not sure what type of leader you are? We suggest buying a copy of Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. It also includes an online StrengthsFinder test.

Reprimands and consequences take the place of follow up conversations to clarify confusion.