Managers: Does The Bully Have You Fooled?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Managers like to believe that everyone is working well together in their department. If they have a hands-​off management style, they might not realize that the bully has them fooled. In fact, managers might be scratching their heads, trying to understand why great employees are leaving for what seems to be no good reason.

How The Bully Fools Managers

Sadly, there’s often a very good reason for these departures. Employees leave when they’ve had enough of the boss protecting the bully, either actively or through benign neglect. In some sales organizations, the chief rainmaker can do no wrong in the sales manager’s opinion. While these rainmakers are busy landing the whales, they might also be granting new clients unauthorized access to customer service. If the customer service agent threatens to complain, look out. The bully will badmouth them in front of the boss, claiming they’re being negative or not playing for the team.

The bully won’t want their bad tactics to surface in front of the manager. In fact, the manager may continue to see a halo over the rainmaker’s head. They love that the rainmaker is helping the department make goal. Managers are willing to engage in the fantasy that the bully is spinning — the one where they are heroes and everyone else is villains, says John Young, because it’s easier for them.

But if this scenario sounds familiar, you need to address the bully’s bad behavior before the negative effects of their toxic behavior destroy the organization. Work with your HR folks to identify and document instances of bullying. Talk with the offending employee and give them a chance to change their behavior. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll have to prepare the way for their involuntary departure.

In our free eBook, we identify 13 types of toxic behavior that regularly surface in sales organizations. Unfortunately, bullying behavior is one aspect of several of these toxic sales types. In the scenario we described above, the bully who positions themselves as a hero is often a Jungle Fighter.

Sales Managers and Bullying Behavior

In some cases, the bully might be the sales manager and that’s when senior leadership must step in. Sales managers might be able to get away with their bullying behavior for long periods of time as senior leadership may be trusting them to do the right thing. In our Voice of the Sales rep survey, we’ve learned that 68% of sales professionals have left a company voluntarily. Of those folks, nearly 25% left because they had manager issues.

Sales reps tell us that their supervisors engage in the following bullying behavior:

  • Doesn’t take responsibility for mistakes that cost the reps sales or make them look bad.”
  •  “Yell at the top of their lungs.”
  •  “Take credit for someone else’s work.”

Employees have many ways of responding to bullying behavior. Most often, they depart. It’s hard enough to keep good employees these days. The last thing you need is a bully driving out employees.

If your employees feel they are working in a supportive environment, they might notify senior managers of these problems. If your organization doesn’t have that kind of system in place, it’s time to take those steps. Encourage your employees to report bullying behavior. And show that you mean what you say. When you witness bullying behavior, stop it in its tracks in a very public way.

When employees don’t have to worry about being bullied, they’ll have the energy for and interest in taking their performance to the next level.