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10 June, 2013 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Leadership

Terrorist in the Corner Office

Posted June 10th, 2013 | Author: John G. Self

As dawn breaks over America this Monday morning, the screaming, the shouting, the intimidation, the abusive behavior begins anew.

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The perpetrators – from supervisors to senior executives in corner offices – all have reasons or excuses for relying on this idiotic and harmful style of command and control.  Their rationale for the irrational runs the gamut from “promoting honest and open dialog” and a need to “remind and enforce the seriousness of what we do,” to a panicked desire to “create a sense of urgency for a cultural transformation.”  This kind of behavior has no traction with me or the vast majority of the victims, the people who actually do the work and serve the businesses’ customers.

Let me be clear lest someone take offense.  I am not talking about isolated or even periodic fits of anger, sparked by subordinates who neglect their responsibilities, the consequences of which may harm the business.  Anyone who has ever been a boss has had moments of outrage.  No, I am talking about a style of management that is a consistent, day in, day out routine.  It is, regrettably, a very common practice that is tolerated by corporate America.

Last night, as I returned home, I passed a billboard promoting an executive MBA degree with the tag line leaders are made, not born.  With apologies to Jack Welch’s larger than life smiling face that was plastered on the sign, I wondered who taught the thousands upon thousands of management bullies these unbelievably bad habits.  What management professor would ever claim credit for teaching this sort of leadership terrorism?  At the other end of the spectrum, it is probably safe to say that no newborn baby enters the world as a jerk.

So the question is where did these management terrorists learn these toxic habits?  If Jack Welch is correct, that leaders are made; his billboard promotion begs the question: who taught these people to be abusive?  Noisy, demanding, mean-spirited parents?  A jackass with a PhD after his or her name?  Or is there some special poisonous management residency or fellowship that I am not aware of?

I would like your comments.  It is not enough to share bad experiences.  I want you to share your thoughts as to why you think some individuals behave so badly under the guise of being “a tough effective boss who is respected.”  

© 2021 John Gregory Self


  1. Elizabeth Moss Evans says:

    No one taught the screamers, shouters, abusers or intimidators to use those behaviors as a management style. Managers resort to those behaviors from fear. Fear of not making their goals is the cover for fear of being found to be inadequate which has been their worry since being placed in a leadership position. They think they will be found out, pitied perhaps, and not just fired, but fired for having been a lesser human being than their position in leadership indicated to others. All those management charts on p/l, efficiency, organization are nothing compared to the internal chart a bully keeps on him or herself. As a woman in business, I have experienced abuse perhaps a bit differently and perhaps more often than the men. No one has ever screamed at me, but men have used their physical size to stand over me or asked me to do something they would not have asked a man to demean me. If a man is afraid of being seen as inadequate, just think how much worse it is now for them that women are present in management in ever increasing, albeit slowly, numbers. To be fair some women are just as afraid of exposure as men and with higher voices, their screams shriek. It would help if corporations would test for personal regard for others …… basic human decency ….. in hiring to eliminate some bullies from management. We are all afraid to some extent of being found to be inadequate, but the good leaders never allow their fear to overcome their decency.

  2. Chris Sandifer says:

    John, unfortunately in America the primary metric for hiring or promoting people is financial. I’ve been in sales/sales management for nearly 20 years now, and rarely if ever have I been asked about my leadership style, soft skills or even had to submit to a personality profile. It’s all numbers, numbers, numbers. And the only number that seems to matter is profit. So what you get is a variety of managers who hit their numbers by bullying people into compliance and a company that rewards them for it.

    One of the hightlights on my resume is the unusually low turnover rate I have with 1099 commissioned sales reps in an industry ripe with attrition. Though proudly displayed on my resume, I am almost never asked about it. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say this–for all of the bully managers out there, Thank You. You make it incredibly easy to poach and keep your most valuable salespeople for my own.

    Jimmy Johnson, Superbowl and National Championship winning coach said:

    “Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a person as if he were where he could be and should be, and he will become what he could be and should be.”

    • John G. Self says:

      Chris, great comments — well done! I am astounded by the fact that your low turnover rate is not a huge asset in an interview. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Nicely done.

  3. Brent Magers says:

    John, the best leaders that I have been around, and what I try to do myself, is to create a clear, mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished, focusing on results, not methods. I like to identify the parameters within which the organization should operate, including any formidable restrictions and failure paths. I like to identify, with the help of those closest to the assignment, what resources are required to accomplish objectives (human, financial, technical, and organizational). Then, set standards of performance to use in evaluating results and specify what will happen, both good and bad, as a result of the evaluation. I credit Stephen Covey with this approach—but, it works! Brent D. Magers

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