Stress. Health. Business.
Mark J. Sagor, M.A., CEAP

About Mark J. Sagor, M.A., CEAP

Trying to make a difference in the ongoing drama of elation, disappointment, achievement, loss, bravery and stress that occurs at the intersection of professional and personal life.

The Difference Between a Tough Boss and a Workplace Bully

toughbossorbullyJoan Venocchi wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe last week about the curious case of Kelly Greenberg, the embattled head coach of the Boston University woman’s basketball team. It seems that her players just can’t agree on the question of whether she is a bully.

Ms. Greenberg has been accused of driving four players to quit this year’s basketball team as a result of her emotional and verbal abuse. In response, other players both past and present have come forward and developed a website in support of Ms. Greenberg’s coaching abilities.

All of us in the EAP profession see the impact of bullying in the workplace on employee health, well-being and productivity. In counseling sessions employees tell us about commuting to work with a pit of anxiety in their stomachs and driving home from work in tears because of abusive supervisors.

One of the reasons that bullying continues to exist in the workplace is that, as in the case of the B.U. basketball team, not everyone agrees on the differences between high intensity leadership and abusive bullying.

So where do you draw the line between a tough boss and a bully?

I see the following distinctions:

1. Tough bosses want to make you better, bullies want you to make them look better.

2. Tough bosses appreciate your best effort, bullies take it for granted.

3. Tough bosses are intensely focused, bullies are intensely disrespectful.

4. Tough bosses bring out your best, bullies bring out your doubts.

5. Tough bosses find solutions in times of adversity, bullies find someone to blame.

6. Tough bosses are admired, bullies are resented.

7. Tough bosses take responsibility, bullies take credit.

8. Tough bosses know how and when to listen, bullies are too preoccupied with finding fault.

9. Tough bosses are mentors, bullies are tormentors.

10. Tough bosses are people you don’t want to let down, bullies are people you resent.

Please add to this list in the comments section below. The best way to reduce bullying in the workplace is to call it out when we see it.


5 Responses to The Difference Between a Tough Boss and a Workplace Bully

  1. Joshua Sagor says:

    With tough bosses, you (as the employee) want to impress them because you respect them and it feels good when they are happy with your work. With bullying bosses, you feel obligated to impress them because you are scared what their reaction will be if you don’t.

    • Mark Sagor says:

      Yes. Thanks for adding the idea of fear into the conversation-that is a definitely a signature element of bullying.

  2. Karen says:

    Tough bosses invite feedback and go from there. Bullies have already decided bssed on agenda

    • Mark Sagor says:

      Thanks for your addition to the list Karen. I agree that one of the reasons bullies fail as leaders is that they don’t ask for or utilize the ideas of the people who work with them.

  3. Karen says:

    Tough bosses lead by encouragement. Bullies try to instill fear in hearts of subordinates

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