“Together we are better.”
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
“United we stand.”
I’m sure you’re familiar with all of these. A successful group – whether an organization, family, church, community or country – is made up of the collective wisdom of everyone, led by a leader who uses their influence and emotional intelligence to connect, support, engage and unify. Today’s best leaders help everyone they lead tap into their potential, respect the potential of others and bring the entire group forward. These leaders make it their mission for the group, as a whole, to succeed, not just him or herself.
But for every great leader, there seems to be 1 or 2 or more poor leaders. Poor leaders are truly the complete opposite of a great leader. They divide, threaten, bully and intimidate. They use their role to create factions, pit people against each other and undermine the success of those who are not on their preferred list. They pride themselves on winning at all costs, unaware of developing (or unwilling to develop) relationships.
The sad reality is that we don’t have to look far to see the shameless, self-promoting behaviors of leaders. So many feel that winning matters most, so they’ve given themselves permission to cheat, lie and con others, and they justify their actions without any true moral compass. They are reckless with their authority and hold others to rules and behaviors they do not hold for themselves. Only their egos dwarf their hypocrisy.
Most of the time, these behaviors are accompanied by bravado, aggression and threats designed to intimidate others. They count on fear to help them advance their approach or agenda.
Aggressive and unprofessional leaders intimidate and activate others to play the way they do. Don’t let them pull you into the mud by returning bad and petty behavior when it has been doled out to you. Instead, hold on firmly to who you are. Even the rudest of today’s worst leaders deserve your values of compassion and respect.
Your response is about you, not them. You don’t have to be mean to be direct. You don’t have to be a bully to make a point. Consistent, calm, professional and intentional is the formula to succeed with a bully. Let their rantings pass around you and not take them to heart so you can stay calm, present and able to think clearly. Your stability then becomes a challenge to them which gives you a solid footing. Be responsive instead of reactionary. Be intentional instead of petty.
So, what do you do? How do you navigate the challenges a bully creates?
First, you need to understand what great leadership looks like. Great leaders build trust, respect and empathy. They care deeply about those they lead, aware that it is their role to help them achieve all they are capable of. They focus their attention on others, away from themselves. They applaud the progress of others and encourage continual growth, development and contribution. These aren’t weaknesses; they are strengths. When people spend their energy on fear and anxiety, they don’t have the energy available to do great things. Organizations fail. Families fracture. Nations fall apart. But when you help people be their best, they bring their best. And when people are at their best, organizations, families and nations thrive.
Second, become a great leader yourself. Develop your emotional intelligence to build and sustain your relationships. Care deeply about who people are and the quality of their lives, more than for just what they can do for you. Make time to discover, develop and manage your strengths, liabilities and triggers. A calmer, saner you is more capable to be responsive to others and to make wiser decisions.
Third, challenge bullies to rise to a higher standard. Call out their behaviors as unproductive and divisive. Be aware, though, that your intention here is to challenge behaviors, not personalities. Call out unprofessional, bully and unproductive behaviors and show the impact these behaviors are having on others, both in relationships and results. What organizations, churches, families, communities and nations need is unity – to bring people together to understand and appreciate their abilities, understand their environments and to bring the two together to make improvements that benefit all of us. Find your voice to professionally and confidently challenge unsuccessful, unethical and unprofessional behaviors. Demand better from those in charge.
Does it always work? No. But, it will empower those around you to see the wisdom of your approach and whether loud our quiet, will encourage their support. This could be in the walkout of congregation, a team of employees or the lack of support of a political candidate.
We live in a world of shared humanity. We will succeed or fail based on our commitment to learn to work together on issues of health, the environment, resources, faith, well-being and quality of life. Whether a family, a community, a place of worship, an organization or a nation, demand that its leaders focus on uniting and working through differences, instead of highlighting and exploiting them. It will only stop when we call it out, reject it and offer something better.