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Are you a BULLY?

Brett Will





We remember them on the play field, pushing people around, the lavatory flush with your head inside, your peanut butter sandwiches stolen and scoffed. And today the cyber bully who bullies you in the ether of the web/social media and gets you cancelled (yes, cancelled is a thing). We have grown up watching these tyrants from all ages and in different contexts… so what happened to them? Where did they go?


Well, they are still around and a plenty… They now reside in corporations, NGOs, schools, and government (and many other folds of formality). They wear suits and skirts, they come in all shapes and sizes, they have power, position and often privilege. Many are deliberate and conniving, and some are passive and implicit and claim to know not what they do!

Is bullying always intentional? Yes and no… some find joy in the demise of others, perhaps we have more psychopaths in our workspace than we know. Others are more subtle and less intentional but driven by their own insecurity; yet the impact is the same. I think it to be true: we all have the potential to be a bully. Sitting Bull (quoting a legend from the Cherokee people) said this “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins, I answer, the one I feed the most”.


Over the 20 years I have worked in the consulting and learning space, I have come across some very broken people, some as a result of difficult circumstances and loss, most from a bully under the guise of a ‘leader’. So, are you a bully, or do you or have you worked for one? What does their behavior look like? Deliberate or otherwise?


Manfred Kets de Vries, in his book, Leadership Mystique speaks succinctly to dysfunctional patterns of leadership and the impact it has on others. Bullying behavior is easy to spot… It’s the leader who loses his or her temper in public, inappropriately corrects people in the presence of others, they control you and micromanage all that you do, they are manic tyrants hungry for control and command. These people reward compliance and show favoritism to those that shut up and follow, they hate being challenged and often ‘steal’ great ideas of others and claim them as their own. Gossip is their official language and if they can plant a seed of doubt or vengeance, they do. Whilst this mostly speaks to deliberate bullies, many of these patterns of behavior play out because of one’s blind side or insecurity when working with others. If intentional you know what you are doing, you are leading with fear as your whipping tool which is not sustainable. If, as a result of your blind side or low levels of self-awareness, then become aware of the impact you have on the people around you.


The questions we must ask of the ‘bullies’ (and of ourselves), is this:


  1. Have you ever wondered how people experience you? How would people or your children describe you? Are people afraid of you?

2.     What type of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered?

3.     What ‘mood’ do you set in the work environment?

4.     Do you need to get ahead at any cost? Do you have a passion to help others succeed?

5.     Are you jealous of other’s achievements?

6.     Do you only ever see what is wrong and never what is right?

7.     Do you have an obsessive need to control everything? Can you let people arrive at an outcome, even if the path they choose is different to that of your own?

8.     Can you be vulnerable with other people? Can you say sorry when you are wrong?

9.     Can people approach you when they have a problem and have you be present?

10.  How often do you think of the people side of enterprise (the fluffy stuff as some call it)?

11.  Do you have the patience to teach and mentor? Are you busy breaking people or building people?

12.  How important is status and power to you?

13.  What do you do to introspect and be mindful/build emotional intelligence?

14.  Would people answer an urgent call from you at 02h00 in the morning? How sure are you that nobody has peed in your pot plant when you have been away?


To all the intentional and unintentional bullies out there, you may or may not care to make a change… but know this, breaking people down is the fastest way to loneliness. So, stop blaming the fact that you may have been removed from your mother’s breast too early or that your sibling repeatedly beat you with a tennis racket… Make the move to freedom, a special kind of freedom, one that sets you free from the inside, from the keeper of your peace… why not explore a little, reflect a little, and make a few small changes every day. Celebrate self-discovery and explore the impact you have on others…as they say…Don’t be kak…just be lekker!!

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