Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > I’m still not advocating bullying, but consider Winston Churchill; where do you draw the line?

I’m still not advocating bullying, but consider Winston Churchill; where do you draw the line?

Last week I mentioned bullying in a leadership context. Bullying is generally accepted to consist of three fundamental types of abuse; emotional, verbal, and physical. One or more of these techniques are used as methods of coercion through intimidation, and leadership is sometimes about coercion as it is about inspiration.

When a leader gets people to follow them through inspiration, painting a vision or any of the things that we like to talk about when we try to develop leadership concepts we are taking the moral high ground, And perhaps rightly so, but in reality there will be times that leaders need to get the followers moving by other means.

The prophetic aspect of last week’s bullying mention came via one of those fly on the wall TV shows last week. This series follows a 12 month project each week. I wasn’t following too closely to begin with as the characters and situation had not had too much appeal, but then came an incident where one of the team left the project because of a bit of a clash of personalities with the business mentor that had been appointed. The departing body had a few words to say as to why they were going and the other party defended their style.

The project was successfully completed and, at the opening do, one of the dignitaries referred in a light hearted way to the mentor as having bullied the project through, echoing the earlier clash of style. Someone else then said to the mentor’s face, again in a light hearted, way that they had been a bully and that led to tears. In the wrap up the presenter took up the bullying theme so, despite the risk that TV could not show a year’s worth of filming in an hour and therefore may have played up the controversy angle, there was a reasonable chance that the use of the term bully was not unfair.

Now I admire the results of the project concerned and applaud the team for having got it done. The mentor, as a leader, played their part in getting it done and deserves their share of the praise. What I did not admire was that they seemed to prefer to deny that there was an issue with their style instead of accepting that so many pieces of feedback had to have some significance.

In trying to rise above the way that the TV team may have used film selectively to try and portray conflict and resolution to build a story, my observation is that the project was successfully seen through, that it did need pushing (in my experience of similar projects they always do), that the style employed by the mentor grated, but that the mentor was generally loved by the team as evidenced by the farewell send off and gift. Bullying tactics had not diminished the good will of the team.

Sometimes you have to coerce. Take a situation where you have to make radical change. Some will see the need and go willingly, some will see the need and obstruct while others will just be difficult.  How are you going to get them all going the way that you want them too?

People are individuals and they respond to different things. The line between benevolent coercion and intimidation is a fine one. As a leader you have power that you should not abuse, but getting it right isn’t easy. Leading us in WW2 Winston Churchill used bullying; does that diminish him as a leader? What do you think? More on this in a week or so.

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