Workplace bullying is a very complex issue. There are many reasons for this, but one is that bullies do not know what constitutes bullying and what does not. Gary and Ruth Namie, from the Workplace Bullying Institute (2009, 2016), suggest that leaders who are workplace bullies are not able to differentiate between leadership and bullying behaviors. This is in fact true, but this is true for all workplace bullies not just leaders. In fact, most workplace aggressors justify their behavior because they view it as professional when it is far from it.
Workplace bullies try to disguise the bullying behaviors as being professional. This false narrative about their behavior is done to manipulate the work environment and their colleagues. It helps them get away with their bad behavior. For example, a co-worker might continually bring up a topic in a meeting under the auspice of trying to improve the work culture when it is aimed at humiliating or embarrassing the target.
One isolated incident of bad behavior is not workplace bullying, but they are still unprofessional. However, these unprofessional behaviors become workplace bullying when unprofessional behaviors are not stopped but allowed to continue. Workplace bullying is created out of repeated unprofessional behaviors that are intended to harm the target and are not stopped. Workplace aggressors will continue to try to camouflage aggressive behavior as professional to create a false narrative that allows them to abuse the target.
Aggressive leaders engage in the same type of masquerade. These leaders live under the façade that they are doing a good job in management, when they are, in fact, causing damage to their workers and the environment. It is almost impossible to stop workplace bullying when the leader is the abuser.
Bully leaders are the worst because they use their position to hurt targets to empower themselves. But bully leaders do not only hurt the target, but they hurt all workers, the work culture, and the organization’s bottom line. These types of leader's role model workplace bullying for their workers. Thus, setting a standard of bullying and essentially endorsing it as the norm for everyone. Whether they know it or not, they are truly undermining their leadership paving the way for increased hostility towards other workers and even themselves.
Namie, B. D. (n.d.). Workplace Bullying Institute. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/
Namie, G. & Namie R. (2009). The bully at work: What you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL Sourcebooks, Inc.
Call to Action:
Does your organization have professional behavior standards? Start to have conversations with others about professional behavior standards.