Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Organizations Leadership Workplace Bullying

Leadership is Key in Workplace Bullying Cultures

white character in suit with brief case with head down and red character pointing figure at the other one
Original Post Published on June 30, 2015; Edited and Republished October 28, 2019

Leadership is a key component to dealing with workplace bullying. It takes commitment and skill development on the part of leaders to cope effectively with a work environment that is plagued with aggression. First, leaders need to open their eyes and recognize that workplace bullying is a real issue that could be invading their workplace. Bullying and aggression are increasing and as such, it is vital that leaders educate themselves on this issue now. Education and training help leaders develop a better understanding of the risk factors that put organizations at risk, such as organizational change or organizational structure. Knowing the risk factors help leaders be proactive in addressing workplace bullying rather than reactive. 

Leadership style, directly and indirectly, influences the work culture. Leaders, therefore, need to understand how their leadership skills affect their organization, both positively and negatively. Leadership need to recognize that some skills and leadership styles can create, enhance, and support an aggressive environment and some skills are better to effectively stop and prevent it. For example, a leader who sends inappropriate emails or allows workers to express poor non-verbal behavior in meetings is setting the stage for aggression to occur. They are essentially saying that unprofessional behavior is acceptable behavior. In a workplace, leaders need to role model the behavior they went replicated, provide consequences for poor behavior, and reward good behavior.
Leaders who can deal successfully with workplace bullying typically have solid active listening skills and have the tools to hold workers accountable. This means that when accusations of workplace aggression occur, the leader hears them, takes these claims of aggression seriously, and the leader intervenes to ensure a safe work environment. They also hold workers accountable to a healthy standard of professional behavior. This is where many leaders drop the ball because they do not know who to believe or what to do. Many leaders are caught up in who said what or who to believe rather than focusing on solving the issue and maintaining a healthy workplace.

If a leader does not know how to intervene, it is their responsibility to ask for help and figure out the best course of action. Leaders may need to seek outside consultation on this issue because many organizations and human resource personnel do not know how to intercede effectively. Leaders must remember that not intervening only enhances the aggression and often revictimizes the target(s). Lack of intervention is easier at times for leaders, but ultimately makes the work environment more toxic and increases the aggression. It also reinforces the actions of the aggressor, encourages bad professional behavior, and makes the leader’s job much more difficult.

Leaders need to remain objective to ensure that they are treating people fairly and equitable. Leadership is key in creating positive relationships with their workers, but also enhances the relationships amongst workers. Thus, creating a collegial work environment where workplace bullying is less likely to occur and one in which workers thrive.