Is it Bullying or a Self-Perceived Privilege of Leadership?
When I conjure up images of a bully, I always think of the school playground in 6th grade. I wasn’t born with any athletic ability, and this was a constant source of humiliation. I dreaded Track and Field Days (but I did covet a lovely collection of purple “Participant" ribbons), and typically, I was the last one chosen to play British Bull Dog or games that required coordination of any kind. There was a massive amount of teasing, or perhaps it was bullying but I was too young to realize it.
Those days are long gone, but the bullying stayed well into my adult career. I was shocked when I saw a senior Army officer bully my Commander of the same rank. This same individual rose through the ranks and humiliated and intimidated military members along the way. This leader considered themselves “untouchable.” It took years for the personal behaviour of this individual to finally catch up with him. I am sad to think of the individuals impacted by his antics and the path of destruction he forged.
But, I also saw this in the corporate world, where senior leaders got away with unacceptable behaviour because of their position. Once again, they were deemed "untouchable." They made you walk on eggshells, they had you continually questioning your abilities and shattering your confidence, and they did so without a second thought. In my case, I was never sure if it was because I was a mature woman or because I stood up for our employees and the positions I presented. Regardless, it was a challenging time.
This article found a few years back in Psychology Today helped me better understand a bully's definition and the reality of them coming in all shapes and forms.
A bully can be an aggressive juvenile, an intimidating boss or colleague, a controlling romantic partner, an unruly neighbor, a high-pressure sales/business representative, a condescending family member, a shaming social acquaintance, or those in a variety of other types of abusive relationships.
There are five different types of bullying outlined in this article, and I realized that the adult bullies I am referring to above fit into three of these categories (2, 3 and 4).
1. Physical bullying
2. Tangible, Material Bullying
3. Verbal bullying
4. Passive-Aggressive or covert bullying
In both cases, I did raise concerns and confront these individuals. This article suggests,
"Many bullies are also cowards: When their victims begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, a bully will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.”
In the military environment, it was more standing up for my Commander, who did not seem to want to do so himself. I was embarrassed for him to be treated the way he was in front of subordinates. The bully just laughed it off and suggested I get my Commander to “man up.” As for the civilian/business context, I shared concerns with my leadership, but this fell on deaf ears (nobody would address this with the boss). I confronted him and shared how I felt his actions towards his assistant and others were inappropriate and told him that I never felt I was meeting his expectations and that our working relationship needed a more professionally acceptable tone. He then started to ignore me - or so it seemed. When he eventually moved on in the company (a promotion, of course), I had other female members of his team often calling me in tears asking how to “manage him.” I gave them the same advice, call him out – don’t let him make you feel like that or he will continue to do so.
I am writing this blog with the hope that if you have a bully in your life, you will find the confidence to stand up to them and talk to them about how their actions impact you.
If you witness acts of bullying, I encourage you to be an advocate for others and call them out on it.
Tell them why you feel they are a bully or how their behaviours could be perceived as bullying - wear your pink shirt proudly and do not tolerate this behaviour.
Bullies may be present in our lives, but we can't allow them to leave us feeling demoralized and defeated. We need to empower one another and Take action today.