Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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That's not motivation, it's bullying

I worked with someone a few years back who thought that as a leader they were someone to be held up as an example.

You know the type, always looking to make a point in perceived 'important' meetings by denigrating others; talking about how we could increase business value whilst pursuing personal goals; preaching the need for consistency and yet looking to short cut everything the organisation did; and talking up the team and how motivated they all were, whilst having the highest attrition rate of any area in the business. Self awareness was not a skill.

The leadership behaviours were of particular concern to us as a management group and yet when we raised them as such, we were told that we didn't understand the motivation skills and we need only look at the performance of the team to see how it was paying off. Our Director did not want to deal with the issues either as he felt that eventually the person would leave and yet, things got progressively worse as we lost key staff.

Behaviours we observed including the following (with the 'reasons' they gave provided in brackets):

  • Micro management (close coaching in order to lift capability)
  • Embarrassing staff members in meetings (immediate honesty is important in order to rectify their approach)
  • Over working staff (it's their job, they need to learn to cope better)
  • Overuse of 'formal' emails (it's important that people understand my stance clearly)
  • Denying team members opportunities to advance in other business areas (if it's not right for me, it's not right for the team)
  • Aggression (I'm a passionate person, it's hard to keep it in check when it's for the good of the organisation)
  • Exclusion or isolation of others (I'll bring them into the fold when the time is right)

As a management team we sought to address the issues through honesty and yet when I think back now, not one of us used the 'B' word. Would it have made any difference if we had? I'm not sure, although I'm sure we'd have possibly sowed a seed of doubt. We discussed the issues with HR, who immediately put them back on our Director to deal with. We raised the issues in our weekly one to one meetings in the hope that they would be addressed, but they weren't.

In the end the person relocated to another part of the country and decided to resign.

As a leadership team we sought to learn the lessons by publicly reiterating the behaviours that were expected of the team (and what they could expect of us as leaders), we also listed those that weren't acceptable. We set up an email inbox for staff to report inappropriate behaviours (witnessed or received) and gave our HR representative responsibility for working with managers to deal with any issues quickly.

According to experts Einarsen and Zapf there are five main types of bullying and these should never be seen in the workplace or any place for that matter:

  • Personal attacks
  • Social isolation
  • Verbal threats
  • Spreading rumours

In a Duncan and Riley study published a few years back, they stated that more than one in five people are bullied at work; in some industries, such as health, welfare, education, government and semi government services, the figure is far higher, ranging from 25%, 50% to 97%. This is simply not good enough. Every organisation has to take a good look at itself and its culture and ensure that it promotes the good whilst dealing with the bad. And as leaders we have a responsibility to stand up to bullying and ensure we do all we can to eradicate it from our workplace, for ever.

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