Bully and Silent Bosses Aren’t Leaders

Accountability Communication Organizational leadership


Key Point: Hold yourself accountable first and help others improve. I believe the weakest and most ineffective “leaders,” more aptly described as “bosses,” spend their time chest pounding about “holding others accountable.” They are often “yellers” and recognize that their positions of authority provide a platform for subtle or even direct intimidation. I want these people out of organizations because they do little to improve performance, while adding lots of cultural waste, in the form of “ass protecting.”

In fairness, “bully bosses” may not think of themselves that way. They often have lower EQs and frame the world as “soft.” Hence, they believe the rest of the folks ought to be more like them. Now, I fully recognize that we are and should be disappointed by mistakes, poor performance and unmet expectations. We do need to set high bars of excellence and expect it within others and ourselves. However, what I have witnessed in my career is too much behavior at one extreme or another; bully at one end, mute at the other. As unfortunate as the bully boss is, the silent or mute boss might even be worse. This type of boss grumbles and seethes internally about poor performance and most often silently sneaks up on a “poor performer” after finally “having enough” and “gets rid of the problem.”

It is really hard to be a performance coach. It takes care and skill to engage performance issues effectively. It involves huge amounts of personal energy. And I believe that’s what leaders need to do: We need to hold ourselves accountable first AND help others improve. Yes, we’re human and have a right to feel frustrated, disappointed and angry with unmet expectations. However, look in the mirror first. Remember our best outcome is to coach others to higher performance. 

Peter Bregman is a coach, and a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. He’s also the best-selling author of 18 Minutes, and his forthcoming book is Four Seconds. I really respect his work. This is what Peter recommends when someone under-performs: 

Character Moves (via Bregman): 

 “1 .Take a breath (that’s the four seconds part). Slow yourself down for the briefest of pauses — just enough time to subvert your default reaction. In that moment, notice your gut reaction. How do you tend to handle poor performance? Do you get angry? Stressed? Needy? Distant? Your role is to give people what they need to perform, not what you need to release.

2. Decide on the outcome you want and be specific. What does this particular person need in order to turn around this particular poor performance or failure? Maybe it’s help defining a stronger strategy, or brainstorming different tactics, or identifying what went right. Maybe they need to know you trust them and you’re on their side. But here’s what people almost never need: to feel scared or punished. And more often than not, that’s how we make them feel when we ‘hold them accountable’ in anger.

3. Choose a response that will achieve the outcome you want, rather than simply making your already obvious displeasure more obvious.”

Performance coaching in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: We’re probably not all lucky enough to work for bosses that are also perfect leaders. But that doesn’t mean we should stop taking notes. Even poor bosses can teach us through bad example, so when we may reach leadership positions, we can model ourselves differently… Bully bosses and “mutes” can be discouraging, but I don’t think we should allow them to shut us down. Like any other relationship in life, it’s about learning and developing tastes and standards. Learn from the duds. What does your boss do that you like? What don’t they do? As our careers progress, we can take that model and keep puzzling together the most ideal fit in a leader, which in turn will hopefully form a successful team and working atmosphere.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis