Career coach: Tackling bullying managerial styles

Q As an HR manager who’s just started at a large organisation, I’m concerned about a line manager who is considered a star performer. He is dominant, dogmatic and rude to his team, but the organisation turns a blind eye because he brings in so much money. I suspect he’s a bully, although no-one has yet come forward to complain. What should I do?

Adviser: Marielena Sabatier, executive coach and founder, Inspiring Potential

A In some organisations, there are ‘bullies in hiding’. They may be the ones who are control-orientated, who have a rigid way of thinking and don’t see anyone else’s point of view, or who are constantly blaming others or using excuses to explain why targets have not been met.

In this case, it may be worth trying to provide a safe, confidential forum where his team can speak up. As a new person in the organisation, you could try conducting one-to-one interviews with the team, as part of a process of getting to know people.

You could also consider introducing confidential 360-degree feedback as part of the appraisal process. As well as identifying whether the manager is a bully, it should also provide beneficial information on the management and culture of the organisation.

If the organisation is turning a blind eye to bullying, your bigger challenge would be to try to create a culture of dignity and respect. You can do this by actively defining and promoting positive working relationships and showing employees how to treat each other with respect, rather than simply trying to build a corporate culture where bullying isn’t tolerated. Just saying “we don’t tolerate bullying” is not enough. It is critical to focus on the positive behaviours that are required to succeed in the organisation, such as respect, honesty, and clear and open communication.

To do this, you need to get buy-in from other managers, run awareness training, and have a clear policy on how to deal with bullying.

Of course, it may be that the manager in question is not a bully. Some people are so driven by the task or challenge that they are unaware of their behaviour. They may have very little emotional intelligence or it could be the result of inexperience, stress-fuelled anger, fatigue or a lack of communication. Some line managers have an autocratic management style, while others occasionally become aggressive or snappy under stress. For these people, an accusation of bullying can come as a shock.

If this manager shows bullying tendencies, you might consider providing coaching to help him change his behaviour.

Bullying is cruel and disrespectful, and there are legal, moral, social and economic reasons why it should not be tolerated.

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