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Be passionate. Be honest. But don’t be a bully

Ann Dewar
April 27, 2023

Bullying. It’s a word that’s rarely out of the headlines these days. From Whitehall to the racetrack to our emergency services, it seems that many leaders have a problem with abusive behaviour within their organisations.

I count myself lucky that in all the years I have been in business, I’ve never had to deal with this cultural phenomenon within my team. My businesses have all won awards for being great places to work.

It’s not all luck, however. I pride myself in being very clear about the kind of behaviour I find unacceptable in the workplace. I am a spiritual man, who lives by a set of unshakable principles. I try and avoid extremes of emotion, for example – I am very rarely angry or frustrated. If I do lose my temper, I know to take a beat and remove myself from the situation rather than say something I might regret later. I try to lead with empathy, putting myself in other people’s shoes whenever I can.

I also try and emphasise the positive contributions that people make, taking them on the journey with me. If you make your colleagues feel valued and supported, they bring their best selves to work and there are fewer disagreements.

Of course, you can’t control every variable. There will always be people within your organisation that don’t get on, or rub each other up the wrong way. But the key is to create a workplace culture that makes it clear bullying will not be tolerated and sets out a process for diffusing troubling situations between members of the team.

The world has changed a lot in the time that I’ve been an entrepreneur. It used to be totally acceptable for company bosses to rant and rave at their people (not that I ever did). Leaders didn’t think of team members as equals, but as workers – only one step up from servants really. Bosses were never called by their first names. Humiliation and fury were used to discipline people, creating a toxic environment for many.

These days, it’s all about leading with empathy. You have to adjust your tone and style of leadership for each individual, understanding what might motivate one person will leave another colleague in tears. It’s a lot more complex to be a leader today but the workplace is much better off because of this evolution.

If you want to make sure you eradicate bullying from your organisation or ensure it never rears its ugly head in the first place, follow these five rules:

1.)  Passion, never oppression

As a leader, you are allowed to be passionate. You are allowed to care if a customer leaves or you don’t win a deal. But it needs to be very clear that your passion will never result in people being humiliated. It’s dangerous to force people to bottle up their feelings completely. Passion, respectfully shown, is your prerogative.

2.)  Stay positive

Even when things are going wrong, you need to be supportive of your team members. Don’t just fixate on mistakes; remember to praise the things that went well or were done right. It’s important to analyse why things have gone wrong, but you don’t want to decimate morale, so use setbacks as a way to motivate people.

3.)  Get to know your colleagues

When I run businesses, I do all the final interviews during the recruitment process, and I check in with team members regularly. Why? Because it helps me to get to know my people. Once you know colleagues’ backgrounds, what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, their quirks, you are better able to craft a unique leadership style that gets the absolute best out of them.

4.)  Offer support

I find it so curious that some leaders will happily tell staff what they have done wrong, but don’t provide any guidance on how to make things better. You need to support struggling staff and discuss what they are finding hard and how to make that easier. That is your job as a leader, to remove obstacles and pain points for your people. If someone hates their job, give them the opportunity to move around the organisation.

5.)  Know when it’s time to say goodbye

If you know that someone is struggling to pull their weight in your organisation, and you have done all you can to help them – including giving them a shot in a different department, then be honest and transparent with them about their performance, and let them go. You are not doing them any favours keeping them in your business. They are miserable and they are going to drag the rest of the team down, so give them the opportunity to find a job they love.

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