Intimidating Leaders – a Boon or a Bane
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My daughter who usually regales the family at the dinner table with her stories about the day was rather quiet for the last few days. Upon enquiring she mentioned that she was not having a good time at college. She was being bullied by a few seniors and asked me for a solution to handle the situation.
The conversation took me down the memory lane and I recollected instances where I had been bullied or had a difference of opinion with my peers or colleagues. I realised that the bullies I encountered always pushed me towards doing better or achieving something that seemed unattainable and some of these bullies are my friends today. I realised that maybe my reactions to being bullied were different and not everyone exhibits a similar reaction when they encounter intimidators.
We more than often come across bullies or aggressors at our workplace and I decided to study their personalities on how they have delivered to the organisation and most importantly how they impact teams and people around them? There was a visible pattern that emerged. Individuals subjected to constant and long term bullying by leaders or colleagues had damaged personalities and they develop psychological or health disorders. Such aggressive employees or leaders are extremely harmful for an organisation's culture. At the same time the research revealed that certain individuals, especially leaders who are subject matter experts and very high on potential are often abrasive in their demeanour. Given their focused attitude they drive performance through fear and push their teams towards achieving good results. However, in the long-term they end up devastating the teams and the performance could not be sustained. Then there are assertive leaders who strike a fine balance between being a bully and an empathetic leader. These individuals are very well versed with their subject, have a brusque attitude but at the same time are compassionate. They drive performance by inciting aggression in the teams through motivation. Their teams know what could take the organisation to the next level and together they strive to achieve it. Both teams and innovations flourish in this environment. The final category that emerged, were kind leaders who only lead with their hearts. Their teams are happy but extremely low on productivity since their leader lacks the vision, drive and focus to deliver results.
If the teams need kind and compassionate leaders they also need a bully who is rational and can drive them to achieve targets and bring improvement. However toxic leaders who constantly showcase this behaviour not only lead a team into poor performance but also scar the team members for life. There are both pros and cons of an intimidating leader. Pros are that they shake things up and provide redirection and may even turn the organisation around. However, if they continue to create havoc they can inflict too much damage and need to be weeded out. What is critical here is that whether people understand the underlying message behind this behaviour. One must discern whether the behaviour is short term or is your boss is difficult and abrasive throughout the year.
If the reason behind the behavior is a superior vision then you must not shy away from pushing yourself to align with the leader’s vision. You can learn, groom and transform your career by being in the shadows of such individuals. Given that such leaders are invincible in their area of work and are obsessed with the quality of deliverables. If you happen to have an assertive leader, then it is a best position to be in or work for. Along with influencing your professional career these leaders leave a positive impression on your personal growth as well.
However if the behavior displayed by the leader is all about humiliating others and you allow yourself to be bullied and accept it as a part of life, it will definitely have negative repercussions. When confronted with such leaders or colleagues you must not react brusquely but give a thought to the reason behind the disdain showed by the intimidator. How you could counter this behavior and not let it impact the spirit. Also, working with leaders who have great humility but no vision is equally dangerous, since over a period you lose direction and experience a stunted growth. Both these leadership traits are like poison, if administered in small quantity it may do wonders, but overexposure is always destructive.
If you read books and articles by management gurus, no two gurus will give the same formula on what goes into the making of a great leader. Neither have they been able to agree on a set of traits that define the right leadership style or a great business leader. Sometimes even fear works for an organisation especially when it needs to be shaken up. In our professional journey we will work for different organisation and will be subjected to different kind of leaders showcasing diverse traits. It is then for the individual to decide, what works for them and under which leader they are most likely to flourish.
In life whenever you encounter such behaviour be it at your workplace, your college or in your social circles, think about the power a bully has over you. Is he or she hurting your pride and distorting your personality? Most importantly, are you allowing him or her the importance they don’t deserve? When you are able to think this rationally, you will realise that this behaviour germinates from the bully’s own insecurities and rejections they have faced in their lives. Bullies get powerful when people succumb to their behaviour. You must at all times be assertive with them and never radiate fear because bullies cannot exist without victims. While I explained this to my daughter, I was not very sure whether she understood it correctly given that she was under a lot of stress. I then gave her one mantra that has helped me in my journey.
People don’t leave an imprint on your life, unless you give them a position of control and allow them to lead. Be the captain of your soul, every person you meet in your lifetime adds value and it is you who must decide how much of it you want to take!
About the author
Tapan Singhel is the MD & CEO of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Limited. This blog has been initiated by him so that he can directly interact with all the valuable customers and employees of this company.