Bullying Leadership

In the past few years, successful college football coaches  left or were forced from their respective positions stemming from inappropriate behavior toward their players. From an outside perspective, they could be characterized as bullies.

However, bullying is not just reserved for the sports’ arena; sometimes, unfortunately, bullying is a part of organizational life.

Professor Gerald Ferris from Florida State University, a well-respected researcher, co-wrote an article that included two of my friends (Robert Zinko of ECU and Robyn Brouer at Buffalo) that details bullying as a part of organizational politics. They define bullying as strategically selected tactics of influence usually pointed at those in submissive, less-powerful positions for the achievement of personal and/or organizational goals. In essence, they believe that bullying acts as a type of persona that leaders can assume if all else fails. Behaviors can include emotional outbursts used at strategic times and should not be confused, nor grouped, with destructive leadership behaviors such as sustained displays of hostile, rude, discourteous, and tyrannical behavior. The type of bullying Ferris and his co-authors detail can produce, under the right circumstances, potentially positive outcomes such as short-term effects on job performance (not long-term however). In addition, bullying “immature” workers may force them to either “get the point” and “shape up” or better yet, compel them to “ship out” so that the position can be filled with someone more appropriate, mature, and just plain easier to work with.

So, is bullying in the workplace wrong? Probably, especially if you follow in the fired coaches’ footsteps – physically and verbally abusing players/staff – and do so repeatedly. Can it be effective? According to research, it may prove somewhat effective if used infrequently and strategically, and its use is geared for short-term improvements rather than long-term results.

Have you ever bullied effectively (or ineffectively) and what were the outcomes? Or have you ever been on the receiving end?

- Bill Gentry

Photo Credit: Fist Charles Dodds Fight Kai Schreiber


About Bill Gentry

William (Bill) is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and also an adjunct assistant professor at several colleges and universities. In applying his research into practice, Bill’s current focus is on helping leaders who are managing for the first time in their life. His research interests are in multisource (360) research, survey development and analysis, leadership and leadership development across cultures, leader character and integrity, mentoring, managerial derailment, multilevel measurement, and in the area of organizational politics and political skill in the workplace. He received a BA from Emory University and an MS and PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia. Follow Bill on Twitter: Lead_Better
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2 Responses to Bullying Leadership

  1. I appreciate that the university conducted a fair and thorough investigation

  2. avatar Switzer says:

    Bullying seems to be very much part of corporate culture, teabaggers, the minority congressional party, and last administration and rw TV – what can we do about it and how do we return to civility?

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