As the saying goes, ‘People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.’ Bully bosses might believe that yelling and threatening is the best way to motivate employees, but according to research, being an abusive supervisor does not lead to greater employee productivity. It makes no sense for a leader to rule by cruelty and fear. Why undermine and rattle the very people you need to get the job done? There is a big discussion going on in brands and in business about the value of kindness. Traditional competitive-style leaders might think kindness is a kind of weakness, but it costs nothing and adds so much value to every interaction. Even when I have to do tough stuff, I have always tried to be kind. Whether you work with 10 people, 10000 people or just yourself, paying attention to employee wellbeing has never been more important.
A good leader practises kindness and patience to gently encourage workers to do their best work. I’ve used these same tools to defuse bullies who might’ve taken a look at me and decided I was an easy target. On one occasion, a client, the CEO of an apparel company, was trying to bully me into doing more work for less money, and he was relentless. It got to the point where I struggled not to show my frustration whenever I was in his presence. You know that feeling when you have a lump in your throat or you think you might cry, but bite it back because you’ve been told you should never show vulnerability? Bursting into tears in a meeting is not deemed to be professional. I got it in my head that if I cried in front of him, particularly as a female, I’d lose my dignity, my upper hand and reveal my weakness. Looking after hr app can sometimes be quite difficult.
While struggling to stay in the discussion and not break down, I realized that I could never make my case in an emotional state. I had to separate myself from my immediate emotional reaction in order to find my wiser, more rational self. The next time this client started to berate me, I said in a perfectly calm, quiet voice, ‘Excuse me, I’m going to take myself out of this conversation. I don’t accept or appreciate the way you’re speaking to me, and I think I’m about to cry.’ Then I got up and left the room. No drama, no emotion, just fact. The reprieve gave me a chance to collect myself before I went back in. There are small, simple steps you can take to make mental health in the workplace something that people can talk about.
When I returned a few minutes later, he was chagrined and begged me to forgive him. Then he opened up about the pressures he was under and how he might have been trying to transfer some of that to me. Because I showed my honest vulnerability, he then showed me his stresses and strains. He felt horrible and wanted to know what he could do to make it up to me. Discussing mental health first aid can be a good way to alleviate a difficult situation.
Suddenly, he was the vulnerable person at the table. I’m not saying it was like magic… but, actually, it was. Truth and honesty prevailed. Once we’d both expressed ourselves, we could work together with a new understanding and trust. Leaders are not impervious to emotion. They’re not made of stone. A wise leader is brave enough to express their feelings to reclaim authority over them. To be human.