There are different ways to manage people. Some managers use motivation and inspiration as main tools, others are strong in giving clear instructions and asking questions but there still exist those who manage through fear. That’s right, even in diverse and people-oriented organizations authoritarian management style is yet to be gone. Apparently there still are managers who aim to climb their career ladder by belittling and bullying their direct reports. And, indeed, sometimes they succeed.
On one hand the existence of a bully manager says a lot about the organization as such. We could say that such managers reflect the values and the climate of the organization. But do they really? In the case of the scenario where the vast majority of managers demonstrate such management style it could be acknowledged that it is an accepted management role model of the organization. But what about organizations where such managerial approach is an exception? Does the fact that such managers continue their career say more about organization or the team members reporting to them?
Recently during various coaching sessions with female professionals I’ve heard a few stories about their male managers not only being bossy but purely bullying the entire team. Organizations in those stories were different, people were different but the narrative was more or less the same: emotional pressure, shouting during the meetings, mansplaining, deliberate tension building, constant blaming, no appreciation, lack of listening and so on. Sounds like post-soviet eastern European style except that we’re here in the Netherlands.
I guess my biggest surprise was not hearing those real life stories. What shocked me even more was the answer to my question: “why haven’t you reported that yet”? The first thing all of those women said was “you know, Virginija, at first I thought it was me. I thought I did something wrong”. And only after the line was obviously crossed and other people started asking questions those females began to think that maybe the problem the problem was not with them. Wow…
It got me thinking, is it really so? Do women tend more often to take the blame first and then assess the situation later while the majority of male colleagues do the opposite? I have a perfect example from organizational life showcasing what happened to a bully manager who lead the team of male professionals. The process was a “no brainer” as one of the team members told me – all the team members got together, had a chat, identified the problem, identified the process, agreed on the action plan, executed and off the manager went, because it was obvious for the team and for the entire organization that such behaviour did not comply with organizational values. Simple as that.
Hence why can’t this happen in the team with the majority female presence? Even in the same organization with the same rules? I guess it is still related to gender different behaviours. As researches show female professionals apply to the positions only when they feel that they are meeting all requirements or ever are over qualified, opposite from male professionals who feel very comfortable to apply for a position when they do not meet all qualifications. We, women, still believe we need to be perfect to secure our spot at the table. Hence when someone marches in declaring our “imperfections” some of us tend believe this might be true and put effort to find and eliminate them. Except that sometimes there’s nothing to find.
Another important and non-gender related aspect is that in this world not everyone’s self-esteem is sky high in this world. Some of us are more advanced than others and therefore when our personal qualities and capabilities are compromised some of us start doubting. If it lasts just for a short moment, if it’s just a quick conscious and constructive reality check there’s no big damage. But if it takes longer… We end up having over-stressed and over-tensed employees pushing themselves even harder, subsequently ending up in depressions, burn-outs or simply leaving “bad” organizations.
What is also often mentioned when clarifying why people have not reported inappropriate management behaviour to anyone is so called favouritism. If someone’s protégé demonstrates bullying behaviour it creates a very sensitive situation: it’s obvious for everyone in the team but they are simply afraid to tell anyone, because some MD or VP is in favour or sponsoring the manager.
This creates a very big challenge the organization. The truth is that in front of our sponsors and supporters we always try to show our best side and traits of character. And therefore those people might never know what happens behind closed doors with the team. They often cannot see or observe the management style of the person and the alarm bell might start ringing only when the numbers of sick or leaving team members are unusually high. But do we really want to go that far?
It is crucially important for the organization to build (1) an environment where people would feel safe and encouraged to speak up and (2) the process supporting it. It is extremely sensitive and devastating to be bullied or mansplained by someone. It’s not easy to admit it to oneself let alone others. The levels of vulnerability and insecurity in those situations are very high and challenging to manage. It requires a lot of bravery to step-up for yourself and for the others. If we did not secure the environment for people to feel safe to do it that would mean only one thing – that we are on the side of bullies.
In conclusion I want to say that no one is perfect however there is no justification for disrespectful and intimidating behaviour towards direct reports and colleagues. It is onto employees to be brave to speak up or encourage others to do that. But it is also on the organization to create an environment where employees would feel safe to address it.