Being Respectful Wins Over Being a Bully

Recently, Adam Bryant who pens the ‘Corner Office’ column for The New York Times interviewed four impressive women about the challenges they face at work. When I first saw the article, I wondered whether the women’s responses would shed new light on the issues I and others have been blogging about. But one response in particular caught my attention.

I choked on my diet soda when Doreen Lorenzo, President of Quirky, a product development company used the phrase ‘Bullying in the Workplace’. I have rarely heard this term used and considered it to be a taboo subject. Ms. Lorenzo used this term to capture the jockeying that often takes place at work among men that can escalate to a point where individuals essentially give up and give in. Her comment brought back memories. I’ve witnessed bullying, experienced it directly and before I gained a little emotional intelligence, I know I acted like one at times. Yes, Ms. Lorenzo linked bullying to males but women are not exempt.

I look back on my early career and I was exposed to a work environment where employees who were forceful climbed the corporate ladder faster. In my case, being pushy meant that I was a dreadful manager, getting things done not because people believed in what I had to say, but rather it was easier to follow along than speak up. After witnessing a particularly bad scene with a manager berating an employee, I became so unnerved that I couldn’t shake the feeling that, despite this being the norm at the company, this treatment just wasn’t right. I wasn’t raised in an environment where people were treated with such disrespect so why would I subject myself to this treatment and participate in it day in and day out?

It didn’t take me long after that event to decide to change my work environment and I took action quickly. But why did I stay in a culture that was clearly detrimental to my becoming a good leader? Because it was all I knew. This job was the first professional job I had, so I had no other company culture to use as a benchmark. Even though all the leaders weren’t bullies, the behavior of those who were, was tolerated. “He’s just high strung!” “She sets high standards!” Yes, I used the term ‘she’ in that last sentence. I witnessed other females demonstrating the same behavior. Also, the people who beat their chests with their fists seemed to be the ones with the power in the organization.

I realize now, that despite my naivety, I have to take full responsibility for my behaviors. Had I simply taken a cue from others, I would have seen that employees were not only unhappy, but also I would have recognized that blame took precedent over problem resolution. Leaving was the best thing that ever happened to me but would I be a better manager in a new environment? I knew it would take more than a change of workplace. I knew I had to work on who I was as a leader and I took that goal to heart.

One year later, I was meeting with my new manager for my first performance review. I will never forget what he said to me. “I have to be honest, I was afraid to hire you because I heard you were really rough on employees.” My heart sank. I had really tried to control my ‘passion’ as I used to call it, to listen to other points of view and to work toward resolution without blame. My manager continued, “I mean really, I was nervous because I heard you were a real ‘B@#*%!’ But people really like you. They think you’re nice, helpful and a team player! And you accomplish a lot here. Nice work.”

I was thrilled and I will always remember that feeling. My mother was right. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

What have you done to improve your leadership style and bring out the best in employees?

Speak loudly, step boldly!

Image courtesy of Siona KarenOctober 31st, 2013 7:01am Beth Bierbower bullying respect