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Jul 6, 2012

I’m sure you’ve seen it in the news, or at least heard about it – the bullied school bus monitor.

A bus monitor, 68-year-old Karen Klein, was bombarded with a stream of profanity, insults, jeers and physical ridicule by multiple middle school kids as she rode the bus. I’ll spare the specifics as to the obscenely rude and hurtful remarks uttered by these kids – one, because it really angers me personally and professionally, and two, because you can find what they said in the cell phone video and in various news stories.

As an organization development practitioner and trained behavioral scientist, and someone who works with organizations and the people in them, this story got me thinking, both about today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.

You see they are one in the same – and that concerns me, because bullies on the bus can become bullies in the boardroom.

Why you don’t want to be a bully leader

Now, I’m not saying all kids are bullies, and I’m not saying all kids will grow up to be leaders (sorry to all those parents out there giving gold stars for every little thing, but c’mon, seriously).

However, I am saying that as these bully kids grow up and begin to enter into our larger and diversified global business world, they’re going to have to learn some tolerance, respect, and understanding for others– not to mention some self awareness – particularly those who want to become quality leaders!

So here’s a bit of advice on why you don’t want to be a bully leader:

  • People may do what you want if you bully them, and they may be intimidated by you, but they will most likely never really respect you. Without mutual respect, you usually can’t have an honest and trusting relationship – the type that is really productive both personally and professionally.
  • Bullied people are usually not happy people. Unhappy people are usually not engaged people. Lower employee morale and lower employee engagement contribute to lower customer satisfaction, and lower customer satisfaction contributes to a decline in profits.
  • Reputation is important for a quality leader. If you have a reputation for being a hard-nosed, detailed-orientated, assertive, go-getter who still listens to others’ ideas and values and recognizes a job well done, that’s not necessarily a bad reputation. Actually, some people thrive under that type of leadership. However, if you have a reputation for being a self serving, obnoxious, intolerant, tyrannical leader, then most likely your bad reputation will precede you. If you have a bad reputation, good luck attracting the best and brightest talent to want to follow you and help you succeed.

Dealing with a workplace bully

Now, we all know bullies exist in the workplace, some may have been bullies on the bus and some may have become bullies as they escalated in their careers. Regardless, I’m sure you’ve most likely encountered one or more in your professional career.

So how do you deal with a workplace bully?

You deal with a workplace bully in much the same way you deal with anyone else who pushes your hot buttons, and for those details, I’ll direct you to our previous article: Are Your Buttons Getting Pushed? 3 Tips On What You Can Do.

Here it is in a nutshell, however:

  • Breathe — Yes, I know we all do that anyway, but I mean really breathe. Just stop and take a few of those yoga style deep breathes.
  • Communicate — I know you’re probably thinking, “well of course I communicate.” Yes, we all do, both verbally and non-verbally. We also all have distinctive communication styles and preferences. In short, if you feel your buttons getting pushed as someone is communicating with you, tell them.
  • Give (and get) feedbackGiving and receiving feedback is imperative to making sure your hot buttons don’t get pushed, and is imperative to helping to not push others, because it’s a cycle. And per these kids who think bullying others is cool, they won’t think it’s so cool when it’s the ones they’re bullying who grow up to be the quality leaders they report to in the workplace!

And per Ms. Karen Klein, I certainly hope she uses some of that money everyone’s been sending her to start an anti-bullying non-profit organization – after all she is now in position to help shape some of the future quality leaders of tomorrow, and we can never have to many of those!

As an update: It seems that the kids involved have in fact received punishment. As of June 30, they received one-year suspensions from school and regular bus transportation, they will be transferred to the district Re-engagement Center, and will also be required to complete 50 hours of community service with senior citizens and must take part in a formal bullying prevention program.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.