executive bully

Five things to avoid becoming an executive bully

You’re not an executive bully, right?

Surely you’d know if you were. You don’t scream at people or threaten them. You don’t needlessly intimidate them.

And maybe you’re not an executive bully but, once in awhile – maybe under stress – some bully tendencies show up.

Or, maybe you are a total bully, but you have no idea.

Perfectionism, strength and determination can sometimes feel like bullying to those who look up to us.

Even if it’s not how we mean to come across.

Are you inadvertently being an executive bully?

If you want to be certain that you’re not participating in executive bullying, take a moment to reflect on these thoughts. Do they describe you or someone you know?  No scoring needed – you’ll know where you are.

  • You tend to dismiss those who disagree with you or assume that they don’t have the big picture perspective that you do.
  • You fall in love with an idea, position, or deal and have a hard time letting it go or stepping away from it.
  • Your staff doesn’t challenge your point of view very often.
  • There is little disagreement or debate within your leadership team.
  • When your team does debate an issue, there is a clear divide between the points of view and the same people usually end up on sides together.
  • You have success but you’re not sure if your team enjoys working with you.
  • You often feel like you’re the smartest person in the room.
  • Your team rarely reports bad news.
  • You often feel like if you had the time, you’d rather do everything yourself.
  • You don’t consider your contribution when things don’t go to plan.
  • You don’t remember the last time you apologized for something.
  • You find yourself correcting others – a lot.

So what if some of these resonated with you? Or you can see some tendencies of yours in the above? Here are five things you can do make sure you don’t turn into an executive bully.

Set and enforce a “no bullies rule”

How many senior teams have a member who shuts down everyone else’s ideas, is driven to win every argument, never gives credit to the troops and excels at touting his or her own accomplishments. If your company puts up with this, you are enabling executive bullies. If YOU do it, you’re setting the tone. Give team members explicit permission to call out this behaviour — even when you are exhibiting it yourself.

Remember, your instinct may be to react negatively or to deny. Try instead to absorb the feedback while remembering “if I get better at what I do, this whole team will be better in what it does.”

Pass the ball

Business is a team sport. No single leader can be expert at everything. Most of us, in fact, have glaring blind spots. The best executives recognize that and call on others with different strengths to help. Just as executives have content skills, they also have process skills.

If your skill is achieving success or driving a project hard until it succeeds and you’re worried your weakness may be how you engage others in that success — find a colleague who is willing to “speak truth to power.” In other words, they’re willing to call “BS” when they see it and ask them to help you observe yourself and give you feedback regularly.

If it’s too difficult to ask a colleague, engage an executive coach to be your thinking partner.

Welcome contrarian voices

Have you ever considered hiring people because they have a different point of view from you? How about formalizing the role of “Devil’s Advocate?” A high profile investment firm executive, interviewed in the Wall Street Journal put it this way:

“We have formalized the role of the devil’s advocate to force a structured dissenting view in our investment meetings…. By designating another senior member of our team to argue against an idea with the same rigor with which it was researched by the industry specialist, we ensure a balanced argument is not only presented but also heard.”

It reminds everyone that contrarian views can be shared without repercussion.

Take a look in the mirror

Try your best to honestly see yourself as others see you, and then ask, “Is that the way I want to be perceived?” One great way to learn how others see you is to have a coach conduct a 360° exercise — so your peers, staff and boss can all share input for you. It can also be helpful to make video recordings of yourself during meetings and watch them with an outside observer who has no stake in the game — perhaps an executive coach. Or, ask your coach to sit in on a couple of meetings to assess.

Are you willing to accept harsh realities and confront the problems that your direct reports bring to your attention? Did you respect the ideas of others? Did you encourage thoughtful debate, or did you squelch it?

Create and enforce a charter

This one can be a challenge, but well worth it.

Creating a charter isn’t the hard part — getting input from all levels of the organization to define what is acceptable behaviour can be a great exercise. But, who enforces it? Who calls out, and coaches, the senior leader who isn’t living up to it? How do you build a commitment to the charter in your day to day work?

In other words, when the stakes get high and the going gets tough, how do you make sure you’re still living up to the charter? If you can answer those questions, you’re well on your way to a solid charter.

Most leaders want to do the right thing for their companies, their people, and their communities. They don’t set out to be bullies. It’s doubtful that even the worst offenders think of themselves that way but, they may become executive bullies anyway.

Is there someone in your organization who could be an even stronger contributor if they were less of a bully? Are you willing to do everything you can to make that happen – even if it’s you?