Playground to C-Suite: Bullying Behavior Causes Derailment


BullyingBullying is a topic that has been widely covered in the news recently. Schools are instituting and actively enforcing policies against bullying to prevent physical and psychological distress against those being bullied. Although we most frequently think of bullying in a school context, this sort of hair pulling, name calling, and harassing behavior is not limited to the elementary school playground or the high school locker room.

Bullies are everywhere, in academic settings and the corporate world alike. Why? Because those bullies who made fun of us on the playgrounds eventually grow up and learn to use their influence and intimidation tactics to make their way into the corporate world, and often to the top of the corporate ladder. Eventually, the hair pulling and name calling from childhood manifests itself as corporate bullies using emotion and aggressiveness to get their way and potentially make others feel ignorant as a means to win power over others.

A 2009 article by Nicole Perlroth provides an interesting commentary of the bullies in the C-Suite and in Hollywood. In her article, Nicole discusses two types of bullies: 1) the yelling, screaming, likes to see people squirm bully, and 2) the “I’m doing this for your own good” bully who uses emotion and aggression to both protect and demand performance from others. The interesting thing that both types of bullies have in common, especially in the corporate world, is that they get results. Martha Stewart’s perfectionistic, demanding, and micromanaging style is likely perceived by others as bully-like in nature. However, her ability to push people to their limits and demand perfection also commands loyalty from those who survive the tough work environment. It also allowed her business to continue growing rapidly while she was in prison. The late Steve Jobs is another example of bullying behavior that drove success. His creative, emotional, and at times condescending style created greatness, but at what cost and to whom?

These individuals are great examples of what often gets you to the top, may cause you to fail, or in Hogan terms, derail. Although both Martha Stewart and Steve Jobs were and in Martha’s case continue to be wildly successful, there is a cost. Whether it is in the form of brand image, personal reputation, or the trail of bodies that often follows these individuals whose strong and abrasive interpersonal style may destroy others.

Confidence, aggressiveness, and the ability to set high expectations are critical characteristics in successful leaders; however the way these behaviors are perceived by others is what ultimately distinguishes a great leader from a corporate bully. Awareness of the impact one’s behaviors has on others is the key to success in the corporate world and the elementary school playground alike.

The bottom line: It’s important to recognize the intention and the impact our behavior has on others because name calling and temper tantrums can only get us so far. If we don’t pay attention to and modify these behaviors we may find ourselves a captain without a team – kickball, dodge ball, or executive.