As star employees enter management ranks, as managers of smaller teams and organizations step up to lead larger ensembles, the problems they must solve are no longer just “business” challenges, but people challenges.

There are the personal issues that everyone (managers included!) bring to work…balancing the stress of day-to-day living with the needs of the job. (To truly succeed, a manager cannot be short on empathy.)

On a professional level, a manager must consider the people involved, their working styles, and whether the right kind of behavior is being rewarded. The manager must ask herself — not anybody else — what kind of organizational culture is she creating through subtle approvals and overt feedback? The clues lie in the behaviors she sees in the workplace.

Control or collaborate?

Growing, competitive organizations naturally attract strong players who bring a wealth of talent and ideas to the table. But do they “play nice with others,” or do they control more than they collaborate?

In my recent blog “In a corner office, but still stuck in high school?,” I wrote about bullying in the workplace and how employees need to avoid getting caught up in the games if they are going to get ahead.

Faced with bullies on the team though, managers — leaders! — need to get involved in a substantial way, leading by positive example and nipping bullying behavior before it takes root and does harm. That doesn’t mean lashing out and becoming a bully yourself!

No matter how frustrating, leaders must quell those desires and avoid showing strong “reactive” behaviors in public forums.

Remember, as a manager you are on stage, always under a spotlight. Your team is ever watching, paying particular attention to how you handle difficult situations, and making interpretations of what you do.


Leaders must work diligently to set the stage for collaboration, to create an environment with ground rules that show how your team will operate. Taking the ideas of others seriously, without being flippant or dismissive, is a great way to start.

My colleague John Madigan of ETS Executive Talent Services, LLC offers an excellent strategy for how to approach this. Before responding to someone’s idea or suggestion, first restate it and ask the person if you got it right. Even if you don’t see it right away, assume there is logic behind the idea and mull on it. Try to understand it before challenging it or offering an opposing point of view. This will foster positive dialogue now and in the future. (Insight like this is an example of why I like partnering with John on interesting projects!)

You don’t have to pretend an idea has merit if it doesn’t, but approaching it in a thoughtful way encourages effective, #NoSnark dialogue and instills confidence in your staff.

Be a role model

Leaders should also be careful not to talk about others behind closed doors, not even a bully. Not only does it make those in the room wonder what’s being said about them when they are not there, but it provides tacit approval and even encourages bullying behavior.

Let your actions be transparent. Constructively confront the bully in private and work on establishing a culture that values collaboration and an inclusive process. The best leaders evaluate performance on both the results achieved and the manner in which those results are achieved. Ends do not justify inappropriate means.

Jack Welch, the legendary leader of General Electric, spoke about hitting the numbers and living the values. A star player who violated the values at GE could lose their job just as easily as someone who didn’t perform.

Conveying that message through your words and your actions demonstrates leadership to the team.

In my decades serving in senior level roles at large organizations, I’ve seen the good, the bad, the snarky, and the truly ugly. If you’re frustrated by bullying in your ranks, drop me a line and let’s talk.