Poor leaders bullying staff

Surveys show that many people have been bullied by their boss or have witnessed bullying. As I wrote in Is Your Boss a Bully or Just a Really Poor Leader? there’s often a fine line between a bad boss and a bully boss.

Bad bosses are frequently good people doing a bad job. Bully bosses usually have complex psychological issues or badly twisted personal values. Sometimes ineffective leaders aren’t bullies, but their weak leadership fosters a poisonous workplace by failing to deal with conflict or not addressing toxic team members.

Dealing with a bad boss is one of our most popular topics. I’ve written about this big challenge many times. Is your boss a bully? My bully versus poor leader blog offered a quiz to rate your boss’s behavior and a few suggested responses to handle them.

Given the (sad) popularity of the bad boss topic, this quiz went viral. We continue to have many website visitors completing it. Most people taking this quiz seem to be reporting that their boss has crossed the line from bad leader with low emotional intelligence to bullying.

The most common scores fall into the Serious Bullying category. Choosing how to deal with bullying behavior raises a few key questions:

  • Will your boss grow out of this juvenile behavior?
  • Is this behavior impeding your job?
  • Is it affecting your mental or physical health?
  • How much do you value this job?
  • Should you go around your boss to HR or more senior leaders?
  • Is it time to find another job inside your organization or elsewhere?

If you’re dealing with bullying behavior, you should talk through your options with a mentor, close friend/partner, coach, or counsellor. Don’t make impulsive, emotional decisions you might regret.

If you’re dealing with a weak or bad boss who occasionally crosses the line to bullying, you might find some useful ideas in the summary and links of Leading Up: How to Lead an Ineffective Boss.

A fair number of survey responses rate their boss as Extreme Bullying. If you’ve ever said, “My boss makes me sick!” you might be right. A British study found that stress induced by a bad boss lowers immune response.

This very poisonous environment is likely hurting your mental/physical health and perhaps your home/personal relationships. Research shows a boss this toxic might occasionally make nice, or fake nice, but is highly unlikely to change — and more likely to get worse. No job is worth this level of abuse. Get away from this boss and get your life back. You may need to document the abuse and get legal advice.

Strong leaders don’t allow themselves to be victims of a bad boss. You may have lost the “boss lottery” and, through no fault of your own, end up reporting to an ineffective manager. You may not have been able to choose your boss, but you can choose how to respond. Good leaders refuse to be a victim of their boss’s weaknesses.