The research on effective leadership continues to expand, as we explore all the factors that make a great leader.  Transformational leadership. Adaptive Leadership.  Mindful Leadership.  There is no shortage of leadership theories and advocates for each one. The issue of effective leadership made headlines when the presidential candidate and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar launched her campaign last year and came under fire for reports about her abusive style as a leader.  Anecdotes about her throwing binders and forcing an aide to clean a comb she used as a salad fork made for good pundit banter.  However, in my estimation, what the report highlighted was how so many employees a forced to endure such volatile and unprofessional behavior.  Senator Klobuchar’s bullying behavior, as usual had its defenders, who discussed how sometimes a “tough” boss is needed to get results, and who talked of a double standard when it comes to women leaders.  While there is some truth to the statement that women leaders are indeed judged more harshly than their male counterparts, it is undeniable that the behavior attributed to Senator Klobuchar, whether from a man or a woman, is unacceptable. It did not, however, deter Senator Klobuchar from supporting such actions.  She in fact, further doubled down on this notion, at a town hall, saying that “toughness” was required of a presidential candidate to be ready to deal with Vladimir Putin.  In more recent news, the CEO of the luggage company Away Steph Korey was accused of creating a toxic work environment, through the use of bullying tactics such as publicly humiliating employees via Slack channels and forcing employees to work exceedingly long hours.  Unsurprisingly, Korey and her supporters defended her actions as what was needed to make a startup successful.

A great many people in our workplace society ascribe leadership success to this notion that “a tough boss gets results,” so that the ends justify the means.  Steve Jobs made Apple great.  Bobby Knight created a college basketball juggernaut at the University of Indiana. Both men were known as notoriously abusive leaders.  However, research has found that this belief is false.  It indicates that while abusive bosses may get short-term results, over time, employee performance deteriorates, and good people consistently leave the organization.  Despite this body of research, I know that many individuals will still cling to this belief that they need to be a tough (i.e. abusive) boss to be successful.  So for those who are in a leadership role or transitioning into one, here are some simple tips to prevent you from becoming, or continuing, to be an abusive, bullying boss:

  1. Don’t yell, throw things at, or aggressively touch people-

    unless someone is in danger of physical harm, there are few circumstances in which it is acceptable to yell at another professional, hurl any object at them, or to touch them aggressively.  While intentions can sometimes be misconstrued, and an elevated tone can be perceived as yelling, it is pretty clear when you consistently exhibit such abusive behaviors. If you have anger management issues, seek counseling because it is not ok to fall back on the defense of “I just have a bad temper.” And constantly apologizing also does not make it better, unless you change your behavior.

  2. Don’t humiliate  or purposely offend people as a joke

    do not consistently degrade employees through verbal taunts, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or other offensive comments, or belittle them publicly when they voice their discomfort with such behavior. Further, don’t hide behind the typical defense of “It was just a joke, why are you so sensitive?”  If someone is offended by your behavior, as a leader, you need to examine your actions, and not simply dismiss their concerns as being too politically correct.  Being politically correct is not the same as calling out offensive behavior when it is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise unacceptable in civil society.

  3. Don’t force people to do things wildly outside of their job description-

    do not ask someone to do things which would be degrading to most reasonable people, and is not in their job description, like clean your house, help you with your graduate studies, or assist with other personal issues (e.g. pick up your kids from school).

  4. Don’t treat people how YOU want to be treated, treat them how THEY or MOST PEOPLE want to be treated

    – as an individual contributor, you might have felt that you excelled when you had someone yelling at you, which you believed was motivating for you.  Therefore, as a leader and as a manager, you may then assume that others will respond to such behavior as well.  However, I would encourage you to refrain from making such a conclusion.  Most employees do not want another adult yelling or throwing things at them.  As stated earlier, there is generally no rationale for doing so in a professional work environment.

  5. Don’t penalize team members for not responding immediately to your  non-emergent needs-

    most of us don’t work in environments, which require us to be on call 24/7.  Therefore, it is unfair and unreasonable to expect your team members to respond to your every email, text, or phone call at all hours of the night and on weekends.  Your team members have a right to set a boundary between their work duties and their personal lives, and you shouldn’t penalize those who do so, by writing poor performance reviews, ostracizing them, or otherwise preventing them from being promoted or rising in the company.

  6. Don’t punish people for wanting to advance their careers or lives-

    if an employee plans to leave for a better job, announces that she is pregnant, or plans to take parental leave, don’t take it as a personal affront.  Don’t threaten or berate them for wanting to advance their lives and their careers.

Being an effective leader can involve a series of complex factors, including the type of support you receive in developing your leadership skills, the kinds of employees you hire or inherit, and the approach you decide to take in leading. Therefore, that is why so many leadership theories have emerged, with no clear consensus about what it takes to be a great leader.  However, there are some simple rules about what it takes to be a poor leader, namely being an abusive bully.  While the list of Don’ts above is not exhaustive, it is a great start to understanding the behaviors to refrain from in your quest to become the most effective and respected leader possible.

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