When leadership turns toxic: The fine line between being tough and being a bully

 

By Karlyn Borysenko

Shortly after Senator Amy Klobuchar announced her bid to become the next Democratic nominee for president, horror stories began popping up detailing years of consistent abusive treatment of her staff. The reports contended that her reputation made it difficult to recruit someone to manage her presidential campaign. In response, Klobuchar’s supporters argued that she was being targeted due to her gender and that a man in her position would be considered “tough” instead of toxic.

While it certainly is true that assertive women are much more likely to be viewed as bossy or unlikable than their male counterparts who engage in exactly the same behaviors, we can’t assume that just because someone is a woman, it means that her behaviors towards her staff are being wrongly characterized when charges of toxicity are made. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30% of workplace bullies are women, and according to a recent study more than two-thirds of women have reported being a target of workplace bullying by a female boss.

So, how can you tell the difference between when your boss is being tough and when they’ve crossed the line into workplace bullying, regardless of the gender they identify with? Where is the line? Here are some differentiators to consider.

Tough bosses have bad days. Bullies are consistently bad.

According to Bartlett and Bartlett, workplace bullying is defined as “the experience of repeated and unwelcomed negative acts such as criticism and humiliation, occurring at a place of employment, that are intended to cause fear, distress, and harm to the target from one or more individuals in any source of power over the target, where the target has difficulties defending him or herself.” Continue reading

Should I stay or should I go?

The topic of counter offers is an interesting one. I am sure you have seen articles and thoughts about the subject and they are usually one person’s perspective on the topic. For a somewhat different approach, we’ve reached out to people in our network to gain their thoughts and perspective on the topic.

 

 

We asked:

You have just received an offer to join a new firm. You are giving notice to leave your current position and your employer makes a “counter offer” to keep you from leaving. You start to think about whether or not to take that “counter offer.”

Why would taking a counter offer can cost you more in the long run?

You made a decision to leave your current company and pursue a job lead in the first place.  That’s never an easy decision.  Whatever motivated that decision hasn’t really changed.  It may change temporarily.  But it didn’t change for the right reasons or motivation.  If an employer didn’t make the adjustment based on your negotiation/needs without your imminent departure, then their motivation may be less than “righteous”.  What happens when their back isn’t against the wall?   You both will always know that you got what you needed because they were threatened with your departure and nothing more.  I have never in my career heard of a counter offer working out in the long term.  So as wonderful as it sounds to be wanted and needed, feel good about the complement and use the great energy to do an even better job in your role!

Amy Callister, Group Manager, Avanade

 

My view is accepting, or not accepting, a counter depends on the reason one is leaving.  If one is leaving because one was happy, but was approached for an outside role at a significant premium then accepting a counter is fine.  If one left for other reasons, unless those reasons are addressed by the counter, one should leave.  Otherwise, the hidden cost of accepting the counter is the fact that none of the reasons one looked at other opportunities have changed.

John Fafian, Director – Head of Strategy and Sourcing , PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

 

This actually happened to me about 16 years ago. I think it makes you look like you are getting leverage to get a better situation at your old company.

Which compromises your integrity and can severely tarnish your reputation in the marketplace.

You should always consider if there were something that would make you want to stay with your existing company and address that with them letting them know you are considering leaving.  But once you seriously engage new employers it is rude to lead them on and then not make a change (unless the offer was really cheap or the job you didn’t want).

I also actually have had a few people do this me as the hiring manager.  I went to bat internally to get approval the salary they wanted and then they didn’t take the job.  One of these people I will never hire or recommend as she is just not reliable based on what she was leading me to believe and walking away.  In the end it was a blessing she changed her mind for me but I still remember her and she is still in our marketplace and I will never recommend anyone hiring her –

Janie West, Vice President, Strategic Relationship Management at NGA Human Resources

 

We hope you find these perspectives interesting. If you would like to share your thoughts on this for future blogs, please let me know.

Larry Janis, Managing Partner, ISSG, janis@issg.net

How Leaders Can Maximize Their Impact

by Henrik Bresman, INSEAD Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, and Deborah Ancona, Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

 

Effective leaders need to know whether their ‘people hat’ or ‘P&L hat’ fits most comfortably.

A leading supermarket chain in an eastern European Union country feared an 8 percent drop in sales as discounting giant Lidl was about to enter its market. So, in collaboration with researchers, it decided to run a randomised controlled experiment. The goal was to reduce its costly personnel turnover problem, in a bid to improve quality and operational efficiency. Selected store managers received a letter from top management, encouraging them to do something about the 90 percent yearly staff turnover. It worked: Over the next three quarters, the monthly quit rate fell by 20 to 30 percent. However, surprisingly, this vast improvement led to no discernible effect on the predefined performance metrics (sales and value of perished food). In interviews, the researchers found the explanation. As store managers focused more on HR issues, they spent less time interacting with customers (to increase sales) and dealing with the flow of goods (to reduce food wastage). Continue reading

Are Your High Expectations Hurting Your Team?

During a recent interview with a member of my client’s executive team, a leader said to me, “Nothing I do is ever good enough for [the CEO]. We’re all starting to ask ourselves why we bother trying.” When I later debriefed the assessment findings with the CEO, she said, “People consistently disappoint me. It’s always been that way. I have high standards. That’s why I get the results that I do.”

When we discussed the unintended consequences of her expectations, it had never occurred to her that she was undermining the very results she sought. Conventional management wisdom suggests that setting a high bar for employees is a good thing. But when employees can never reach that bar, those high standards become weapons, leaving bitterness and unrealized potential in their wake.

This study of more than 300 executives in 10 countries shows that approximately 35% of executives fail because of a tendency toward perfection. That’s because achievement-oriented leaders tend to be chronically dissatisfied. While you may be thinking that you’re “just pushing them to be the best,” you may actually be setting them up to fail. Step back and reconsider whether your constant pushing may have unwanted side effects. Here are a few you might see: Continue reading

A framework for succeeding as a first-time CEO

We’ve all seen the signs of a floundering first-time CEO: leadership attributes and behaviors we can all agree are not only ineffective but sometimes harmful. Although well-intended, there are four damaging leadership attributes and behaviors first time CEOs often display:

• Over-helping: First time CEOs are often eager to help their new teams gain trust and build relationships. However, this instinct can occasionally turn into over-helping, which often becomes micromanaging or functional leadership.

• Egocentrism: Perhaps born from a fear of failure or insecurity, first-time CEOs often fall into the trap of being driven by their egos. They take on the hero mentality and the accompanying sense of martyrdom.

• Overcapacity: While CEOs should be eager to get involved, they shouldn’t book themselves over capacity. Frequently, first time CEOs try to do so much they become frantic and unavailable. At the worst of times, this devolves into seagull management.

• Ambiguity: At the start of a first time CEO’s tenure, it may seem like the game is moving too fast. As such, the organization may suffer from an unclear vision, strategy and culture. This can manifest in slow or poor decision making and living in ambiguity. Continue reading