Where Does Antibullying Rank on Your Leadership Qualities List?


October is National Bullying Prevention Month. While the event was designed with schoolchildren in mind, workplace bullying remains a problem for managers and employees. An antibullying stance should rank high on the leadership qualities list for your organization.

Antibullying and Your Leadership Qualities List

Regardless of the type of organization you run, your leadership qualities list likely includes some familiar terms. In our research on sales managers, survey respondents most frequently cited self-​motivation, adaptability and responsiveness as necessary traits. Empathy and social awareness appeared further down on the list.

Managers in general have received the message that it’s their responsibility to keep things running in an organization. For some managers, the short-​term goal of meeting a deadline on time and on budget means ignoring the health of their team. If there’s a bully or a toxic employee making some team members miserable, managers often overlook the problem. And they ignore the details of any leadership qualities list you may have shared with them.

Allowing toxic behavior or a toxic culture to continue will cost organizations more in the long term. At least 30% of employees “have been bullied at work.” And over 60% of employees have worked for a toxic manager or with a toxic co-​worker. Employees experiencing this situation are not productive. They can’t wait to leave. And once they depart, while you’re trying to replace them, your corporate reputation is taking a hit on social sites.

Researchers report, “It can be tempting to see bullying as a behavioral problem between individuals, but the evidence suggests that bullying actually reflects structural risks in the organizations themselves.”

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Having unrealistic expectations regarding workloads
  • Openly criticizing an employee in the presence of others
  • Belittling an employee’s safety concerns
  • Using different standards to measure different employees

Changing The Culture of Toxicity and Bullying

Unfortunately, attitudes about how people treat each other in an organization flows from the top down. As a result of their extensive research on this topic, Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, along with Charles Sull, have developed recommendations to effectively clean up toxic corporate cultures. They report that senior managers must set the right example and “influence culture indirectly based on the distributed leaders they hire, retain, and promote.“ Specifically, they should publicly announce a leadership qualities list.

Start by deciding how you want employees to treat each other. For example, instead of shouting at each other in meetings, state that attendees must allow the current speaker to finish their thought before another person can ask a question or offer their own suggestion.

Resolve to address any performance issues in private one-​on-​one meetings. Practice the rule with your own team members. And speak to the importance of this issue by bringing it up with managers who work for you.

Manager and Leaders Must Model the Best Corporate Behavior

Distributed leaders and managers who work in remote locations were found to have the authority to create “distinctive microcultures.” Without sufficient and ongoing training and coaching, middle managers fill the gaps by creating the kind of work environment they need in order to meet corporate expectations. That work environment will not always be healthy for team members.

If you plan to make a significant change in your organization’s accepted standards of behavior, it will help to “make distributed leaders aware of the negative impact of their toxic behavior on colleagues.” That’s not an easy assignment, but one that’s necessary.

You can also minimize future problems by using psychometric assessments to evaluate potential new hires, or existing employees who want a promotion, for potentially toxic behavior. As a manager, you might be prepared to promote an employee who wants more responsibility. The next logical step on the career path might be a supervisory position. A quick review of their likely work behaviors will let you know if this employee might turn into a taskmaster as a supervisor.

Given that knowledge, you might still promote this team member. But promise to provide consistent oversight and reminders to be empathetic. Help your newly promoted supervisor refrain from assigning too much work, berating their team members and giving workers the silent treatment when they miss a deadline.

It’s challenging enough to generate a profit and ensure the longevity of your business. If your employees are dealing with bullying supervisors and a toxic culture, focusing on product excellence won’t be their first priority. Make sure your leadership qualities list includes aspects that nurture and develop your team members. 

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.