“Leading by fear gets things done! You know how ‘they’ are, if they see any sign of weakness they take chances “. This was the response from a senior manager (let’s call him Mr Boss) who had just received feedback from yours truly, highlighting concerns regarding the morale and learned helplessness behaviour of his team. Ironically, he had insisted that his team desperately required assertiveness skills and made attendance of the course compulsory. Mr Boss, also asked that upon completion of the course, I provide him with an open and honest feedback report so that he can take the necessary remedial actions regarding his management style. To say the least, I was more than blind-sided by his response. After gathering my thoughts and some deep breathing, I continued to provide my report only highlighting the positive actions of his team and bid him a quick farewell.
A few days down the line and after some journaling, some retrospection and some more journaling, I have this to say to Mr Boss:
Yes sir! You are so right, leading by fear definitely gets things done.
When it comes to delivery, nothing is more of an incentive than the threat of the possible loss of your and your family’s only means of income.
But wait, not only do you get short term delivery, leading by fear also affords you the following rewards:
- Subordinates that will not question your judgment
- A team that will always support your ideas
- No direct conflict with your subordinates
- Control of all decisions and actions in your department
- No need to waste time on innovative ideas or suggestions from your team
- Less problem solving because the team will not dare to raise them
With such benefits, I should consider putting a course together on this Leadership Style. NOT!
Perhaps you find yourself working for a Mr of Mrs Boss, besides my sincere condolences, and if you have no other options right now, here are a few tips you may find useful:
- Don’t get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
- Don’t blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you; it’s about the bully. Don’t lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent. They are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance.
- Do your best work. The behaviour will seem more justified if you aren’t doing your best work, or if you do things like come to work late, take long lunches, turn in work late, etc.
- Build a support network. Instead of allowing the intimidator make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your co-workers so that you have support and the bully doesn’t turn them against you as well (although he will try and may even be successful).
- Document everything. Keep a journal (on your personal computer or in writing, but never leave it in the office) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources, you have the information you need to make your case. Keep their unprofessional emails and notes.
- Seek help. If you think you’re being intimidated or bullied by your manager, it’s time to start talking to others who can help you manage this situation. Try a mentor, advocate, seasoned/experienced friend, even a legal advocate who specializes in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.
- Get counselling. It will help you deal with the stress, especially if the pressure is already affecting your physical and mental health. You have to take care of yourself.
- Stay healthy. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Work out, get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy diet.
- Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about intimidation, your company’s policies on inappropriate behaviour and occupational law regarding this kind of experience. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.
- Don’t expect to change the perpetrator. You have no control over your manager’s willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it. You can do your best to manage the situation, but in the worst-case scenario you may need to leave your job or be prepared for a long hard fight with your manager and your employer.
I will probably not see Mr Boss again, because in all honesty, he will probably never get to see or experience the benefits of his team’s newly acquired assertiveness skills. However, if I did get to see him again, I would like to leave him with the wise words of William Arthur Wood: ‘Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.’