Seven Ways to Spot a Bully

Kevin Cashman is the global leader of CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry.

Bullies have always been around. From schoolyard brutes to world leaders, they are unfortunately a fact of life. However, there is an increasing amount of research available to detect and deal with these dominant, self-focused types.  In his new book, Negotiating with a Bully: Take Charge and Turn the Tables on People Trying to Push You Around, Greg Williams provides some thoughtful counsel on understanding and dealing with this aggressive, anti-social breed. Here are seven things we need to pay attention to in order to spot a bully:

Bullies are egocentric.

They have to be the center of attention in order to satisfy their need to appear superior to others. As such, they will belittle, demean, and put others down to maintain their illusion of superiority. Be careful not to associate egocentricity with toughness, competence or confidence.

Bullies attract people weaker than themselves.

A bully tends to recruit weaker people into his or her fold and uses them as foils in an attempt to build up their image. The caveat being, the bully needs to be the sole leader and will only allow those in their immediate sphere who will subjugate themselves.  Associating yourself with a bully ultimately weakens you.

Bullies alter facts to make them look good.

Doing so is a way to psychologically arrest the logical thought process of others in an attempt to bend their outlook to his or her will and perspective.  Bullies create alternative realities with themselves at the center.

Bullies are loyal until you become a threat.

Once threats occur, loyalty loses its two-way dynamic. Bullies will willingly throw supporters under the bus. Loyalty becomes one-way, and that way is in favor of the bully. Loyalty to his or her supporters becomes muted because of the bully’s need to maintain a hold on power at all costs.

Bullies need constant praise.

However, can you praise them without losing your values and integrity? It is a tough and risky balancing act.

Bullies lie incessantly.

They manipulate others to attract people to their perspective. This action of the bully is very dangerous because one never really knows what to believe and what to trust when a bully speaks.

Bullies keep others subjugated to their will.

Once a bully begins to lose the appeal that makes others bow to him, he can become more aggressive in his attempts to reacquire the power and control he has lost. That’s when a bully is most dangerous, because he may engage in activities that are very far outside the realm of rationality or civility.

On deeper psychological examination the behavior of bullies intersects closely with sociopathic tendencies. Why is this critical to leadership? Jon Ronson in his research for his book, The Psychopath Test, estimates that as many as 4% of organizational leaders are sociopathic in their orientation. He chronicles the devastating consequences when sociopathic tendencies intersect with leadership roles. Massive value destruction is often the sad long-term result.

A version of this article appeared on Forbes.com.

Bullies often lack the character, courage and competence to lead with values, inspiration, service and collaboration.  Leadership becomes self-serving versus enterprise-serving under their anti-social influence.  Do you know any bullies in your life?  In our world?  Recognizing and removing bullies from positions of power may be one of the most difficult and courageous leadership challenges we face today.

Authors

  • Kevin Cashman

    Global Leader, CEO & Executive Development

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