Different management skills are required to succeed in different situations.  The dilemma that creates for many successful entrepreneurs and managers is that the very qualities that made them successful eventually thwart further growth. Do you recognize someone who has reached their ceiling because they continue to rely on styles that have now become ineffective?

To read the rest of this article from the Washington Business Journal, see: Why entrepreneurial founders can founder later as company leaders http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2004/02/02/smallb2.html

Here are five examples of behaviors that help entrepreneurs succeed at first but thwart next steps of growth – See the original article for details.

  1. They won’t take “no” for an answer.  They insist that everything get done their way.
  2. They have to be the center of all activity.
  3. They insist on making all the rules ... as they go along.  Even when they’re wrong, they still won’t listen to advice.
  4. They act like fighter pilots - crisis management.
  5. Insisting on doing it their way drives away many competent, creative and responsible employees.

Like them or not, those methods are usually necessary for success when the entrepreneurs are founding their companies.  As long as founders have the energy to do everything and make the right decisions, their companies can stay small and afloat.  But they can’t rely on the same qualities to make the jump to the next level of organization or profit.

This illustrates a truism often ignored by management gurus.  No particular style guarantees success.  What’s effective in one situation is often problematic in another and vice versa.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Suppose your employees are grumbling about one of your senior managers, the director of a key department – he’s much too harsh and turnover is high.  What should you do? One option, the easy way out, is to ignore it.  This option may be especially appealing if productivity is decent, despite the grumbling.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Louisville, see: What to do when complaints are about a senior manager http://louisville.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2005/01/24/editorial2.html

But suppose you look deeper and the evidence is clear:  Your senior manager is a critical perfectionist.  He micro-manages with sarcastic criticism and put-downs, browbeats staff relentlessly, never gives compliments and hogs the credit and shovels the blame.  He harasses, bullies and abuses his staff.  Even long-term stars want out and productivity is merely OK.  Unhappiness has spread to other departments that have interacted with him.

You can still find easy explanations to avoid getting involved: You have other worries, there are no red flags on balance sheets, he treats you OK and he hasn’t thrown anything, hit anyone or blown up in public.  Employees always complain about hard-driving leaders and why open a can of worms?

Leaders who still gloss over these situations are merely conflict-avoidant.  They’ll ensure years of hard feelings, declining performance, scorn behind their backs and, eventually, increased costs to clean out a bigger cesspool.  Or maybe they think they’ll be long gone before it backs up to their door.

Another option is often chosen by leaders who think, “We’re all good people here. If we got together we’d agree on an effective compromise.”  They hope the politically correct approach of facilitated negotiation will manufacture a solution that works for everyone.

But in this situation that’s just a band-aid.  It won’t lead to long-term, productive change because the problem is a brutal manager, not a lack of understanding and acceptance of different styles within a reasonable range.

At this point, there’s little incentive for the senior manager to make consistent, lasting change.  During negotiations a lot of talk will happen, fingers will get pointed, people will get argumentative and defensive, hopes will get raised and dashed, and people will become even more polarized, antagonistic and litigious.  You’ve simply delayed a real solution and upped the pain and cost.

I recommend a third option: To give the problem manager a chance to turn things around and mend fences, give him an ultimatum - “change or else” - backed by short timelines, close monitoring, effective support for the changes you want him to make and repeated praise from you for any progress.

Get a coach-advisor the manager can respect, accept and trust.  He will need to learn a new managing style and new communication skills.  Expect stepwise progress as he learns whether his new approach can keep productivity, quality and kudos high.  Help him maintain leadership credibility by requiring training for the whole department hand having him participate.

How do you know when to quit dodging your responsibility and to use the third option? A truthful and global costing out is crucial.  See original article for details.

Take into account the effects of his behavior on:

  • Productivity.
  • Time spent by HR, staff and supervisors in all departments talking about incidents and dealing with complaints and hurt feelings.
  • Effects on inter-departmental interactions.
  • Transfer and turnover of good employees, especially outstanding young people who would be the next generation of leaders.
  • Monetary and emotional costs of facilitated negotiations that fail.
  • Costs for litigation, lawyers and buying silence from many employees.
  • Lost respect for you and lost passion for your mission and goals, which will infect the organization.

You may have heard the expression, “People don’t leave organizations; they leave bad supervisors.”  That’s much too simplistic.

Once you have competitive benefits, great people leave bad environments – including poor supervisors, peers and coworkers, and systems that thwart accomplishment.  The most effective way of keeping the best employees and managers is setting high standards and standing up for them.

Remember, your leadership is on trial also.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Football teams plan ahead for injuries to their players but usually not for the departure of their head coach.  One result: teams often have trouble succeeding even with great replacements. Many companies set themselves up to fail because they aren’t developing replacements for their top leaders.  You can’t start cultivating senior leaders at the last moment, just like you can’t start cultivating a garden the day before you want to harvest.

To read the rest of this article from the East Bay Business Times, see: Develop new leaders now or risk your company’s future http://eastbay.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2005/01/17/smallb5.html

RHR International, management psychologists who help leaders develop new leaders, surveyed more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and found that:

  • In the next five years there will be a huge exodus of senior talent.  Half the companies anticipated losing half their senior staff.
  • 57 Percent of companies have been developing high-potential talent for three years or less.
  • 75 Percent have low confidence in their ability to meet their growth needs through internal leadership develop.

The cost of putting off leadership development is huge.  Instead of a thorough program to find and develop the best people, frantic attempts to fill voids will require accelerated searches at premium prices.  Hasty replacement of senior leaders usually means fielding a team that isn’t adequately prepared to work together.  High failure rates cascade problems into every area of the company.

Inadequate succession planning can damage any company, big or small.  But my experience is that the problems are magnified at small and mid-sized companies because there’s usually less room for error.

Typical excuses of procrastinating leaders are:

  • Teenage Thinking: They’re invulnerable; don’t care about what happens after they move out; and are shortsighted - too busy and too cheap to spend money on tomorrow.
  • The Ostrich Philosophy: I’ll deal with it more easily later or it’ll take care of itself.  But, just like putting off health care, most people will pay dearly when it’s too late for preventative medicine to be effective.

The most important factor in successful programs is the personal involvement of leaders.  Other crucial factors are:

  1. Constantly scout for new talent.  Make your effort intentional and integral to your daily activities.  Find who sparked successful projects, rallied people and brought in fresh thinking. Ask other senior leaders, “How do we round them out and who’s going to work personally with whom?”
  2. Follow selection of high potential candidates with a systematic, individualized program to help them learn crucial leadership qualities you’ve identified.
  3. Act as a model, not merely a repository of information.  Technical skills, information and today’s correct answer are not enough to develop people capable of leading your enterprise.
  4. Be present and clear.  Brief potential leaders up front what you want them to demonstrate.  During development, include them in the inner circle of your thought processes; teach them how to ask the right questions; give them immediate, timely, specific feedback.  Debrief formally.
  5. Have pride in leaving a personal legacy.  Successful transitions are usually directed by leaders who want to be remembered for building a company that’s prepared to thrive without them, not for leaving their babies exposed to the elements. Plug-and-play, mobile CEOs usually don’t have the emotional investment required for intensive mentoring.

Spend a little now to build the next generation of senior leaders or you might lose the farm paying the bill later.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Two articles have been stimulated by the publishing of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.”  One is in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Tough, “Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race'” and the other is by Joe Nocera in the New York Times, “Reading, Math and Grit.” Both ask, “Which is more important to student success, character or cognitive skills, and what kind of interventions might help children succeed?

The whole idea behind this way of thinking is flawed.  Parents who follow it will jump on a new fad and, once again, be overwhelmed by anxiety.

I challenge some of the ideas behind both the old and the new ways of thinking such as that:

  1. One set of characteristics – either cognitive skills in math, language, science, etc. or personality/character traits like grit, persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism and ambition – are much more important than the other.
  2. We can figure out what all the factors are and assign percentages to each based on its contribution toward success.  These factors will be reliable determinants of success.
  3. We can improve the success rate of individuals by thinking and discussing ‘why” some children succeed while others don’t in terms of abstractions and generalizations such as “American parenting,” “affluent parents,” “parental anxiety,” “over-protective parents,” “permissive parents,” “character,” cognitive skills.”
  4. We must actively intervene to ensure that our children learn the most important attributes.  Based on the latest research, we can develop methods to teach these to all children so they’ll be successful.

When I think of what’s necessary for success, I think not of a list of factors with percentages of importance attached to each factor, but of a target with a bull’s eye in the center containing of all the abilities we want our children and ourselves to have.  Did anyone really think that mastering cognitive skills without developing grit would lead to success?  Or does anyone think the opposite now?  Both areas are necessary and the appropriate mixture of characteristics depends on the individual.

In general, grit matters no matter what you do, but what it takes to succeed as a lawyer can be very different from what it takes to succeed as a genius programmer or a fashion designer.  What it takes to succeed as a factory worker, a small business owner or a bus driver may be very different mixes.  What it takes to participate in team activities and in individual activities can be different.  What it takes to face harassment, bullying and abuse can be different depending on who’s doing it.

All these discussions are in the abstract and general.  What we can do something about is in the moment-to-moment reality of us and our families.

How many of us really tried to keep our kids from experiencing any failure and disappointment?  How many of us really covered up each of their mistakes and failures so that blame was never on the actions of our children?  Most of us try to teach the lessons of life to our children.

Each child is different.  Each child learns some particular lessons the hard way, while other kids get those same lessons immediately, but learn other lessons the hard way.  And some just never seem to learn, no matter how hard we try.  Most kids learn the universal lessons despite the times we mess up the opportunities to teach.

My conclusion about these ruminations is to stop thinking in abstractions and generalizations, stop trying to figure out the correct way that will guarantee success for an average person or a middle class person or an affluent person or a disadvantaged person.  Instead, focus on our individual kids and ourselves.

We know the obvious – both grit/character/personality and cognitive skills matter.  Which ones do we need to develop more?  Which ones does each individual kid need to develop more?  Which kids need to develop more grit?  Which kids need to learn when to stop beating their heads against which brick walls?

We also know that if we protect our children from hurt, pain, mistakes, failures and realistic estimations of their talents, we’ll promote arrogance, weakness, hesitation and defeatism.  Facing challenges is the only way we learn to face challenges and to overcome them and our weaknesses.

I’ve focused on middle and upper class parents and kids instead of disadvantaged kids because I think most of the people who read this blog fall into those categories.  But I’d say the same to everyone.

If you’re still protecting your children or if they think they know best or they’re entitled to do what they want, change your approach immediately.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even 

more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

Most self-help literature focuses on the last step of a sequence – on how to do something better.  That’s why self-help books and workshops have titles such as “How to …” or “Best practices for …” Knowing what to do and how to do it better are important.  But that’s usually not the problem.

To read the rest of this article from the East Bay Business Times, see: ‘How-to’ methods often miss out on crucial step http://www.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2005/07/18/smallb5.html

More often, the problem is the prior two steps before developing the skill: Developing the will to do something and then actually doing it.

I divide developing the will into two areas:

  • The mindset – Developing effective attitudes and beliefs to get started, and developing the will to treat all excuses and obstacles as just speed bumps.
  • The “heartset” – It means two things: Developing the determination, grit and tenacity to stick with it; and using the same emotional power we’ve utilized when we’ve relentlessly pursued something we’ve wanted, no matter how discouraging the voices, difficulties or obstacles.

The “how-to” steps for learning or improving skills usually are straightforward.  People often already know what to do before they read self-help books.

For example, learning to strike up a conversation with a stranger at a conference is a big fear for many people.  The how-to steps are well known: see the whole article for description.

Many people already know these steps – but just won’t put them into practice.  So they must develop their mindset and heartset in order to implement a potentially effective plan.

Most people have a litany of excuses for why they simply can’t get started or persevere.  Some of the most frequent excuses are: see the whole article for description.

People with these excuses aren’t stuck because of a lack of skill.  They haven’t gotten to the point of improving skills yet.  The real problem is that they’re stuck with poor mindsets and ineffective heartsets – stuck in past failures, being hypercritical of themselves, needing to be right, or feeling that each moment is life and death.  Sum that up as fear, perfectionism, laziness or inertia – real or imagined.

Particularly for managers, the proper mindset and heartset are crucial to overcoming poor time management, negating the fear of giving honest evaluations and not being overwhelmed by too much pressure.  Appropriate mindset and heartset are crucial in areas that can’t be squeezed into a how-to method any fool can follow – like leadership.

Appropriate mindsets and heartsets also are critical for people who want to lose weight and stay in shape.  Most people know exactly what they need to do: Eat less, eat better, work out.  But they have many good reasons why it’s too difficult.

Coaches can help you learn these skills and make you accountable for taking certain actions.  A good coach can also help you get past the mindsets and emotional blocks that have inhibited your resolve and perseverance.

Focus on the step that’s been an obstacle for you, and focus people you manage on the crucial step for them.  Until you develop appropriate and effective mindsets and heartsets, the how-to training won’t be effective.

To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Do you think it’s normal for tweens and teens to be sarcastic toward their parents?  You know: the non-verbal hostility and sarcasm of eye-rolling, snorting, laughing.  You know: the openly sarcastic remarks, put-downs and talking back directly to us or in front of us while they’re talking to their friends. I think it’s normal for people to try to discover what works easiest for themselves: to think their opinions matter, to think that they’re entitled to express themselves in any way they feel like at the moment, to try to assert themselves and to push boundaries in order to gain control and power.

What’s not normal is for parents to allow their children to treat them that way.

Some typical reasons why parents don’t insist on better treatment:

  • Parents complain that it’s hard to resist the bad influences of tween and teen television, movies and internet shows, and the bad influences of their friends.  Yes, that stuff is out there.  Yes, we have to put out more effort to counterbalance bad influences.  Don’t wallow in analysis of those factors.  So, it’s hard?  We can’t wait for society to make things easy for us.  Who said parenting would be easy?  We must act as soon as we can to teach our children to see what’s wrong with the media and the behavior of some of their peers.
  • Many parents are afraid their children won’t like them if they’re “strict.”  As if being liked is more important than setting boundaries and high standards.  We do know that our children will understand a lot better when they have teenagers of their own.  Of course, there’s a balance.  I’m not talking about beating or abusing our kids.
  • Many parents think that it’s very important to be best friends their kids.  As if their kids will reveal more secrets to them or that kids will be helped to adjust better when they’re friends with their parents.  I even saw an official name for that style of parenting, “Peerenting.”  What nonsense.  If your children know as much as you, you don’t know enough.  They may be technically more savvy, but they’re still kids and we’re still parents.  They don’t know more about what constitutes good character, attitudes and values.  They don’t know more about the effects sarcasm and nastiness will have on their careers or families when they grow up.  We must teach them.
  • Many parents do not believe in punishing their children.  They think their children will grow out of all bad behaviors by themselves.  As if denying children what they want or thwarting their self-expression will create psychological problems for them later.  As if, when they become 21 or get married or have children, those kids will suddenly become polite, civil and responsible citizens who love their permissive parents.
  • Many parents believe they shouldn’t set standards.  They believe that kids should determine their own standards as they grow up.  I think we are teachers.  We teach them a set of standards that we think is right.  When they grow up they can decide what parts of ours they want to keep and what other ideas they want to try out.

One of the most important lessons we can teach and model for our tweens and teens is that we determine what behavior we’ll allow in our personal space.  We must not allow harassment, bullying and abuse in our personal space.  Since tweens and teens are still dependent on living with us, we can’t simply remove them from our space, as we would any adult who attacks us, no matter what the relationship is.  Therefore we must require that they treat us well.  That’s the first price they pay for anything they want from us beyond food and shelter.

Do not show them that we give into bullies.  They’ll believe what we show them, not what we ask, beg, bribe, threaten and yell at them to do.

In addition to developing the will, determination, courage and strength to set standards of behavior, we need to learn skills.

Some effective parental responses to smart-mouthed kids, all delivered with good cheer and smiles and a matter-of-fact firmness, are:

  • Take charge of the TV and internet.  Allow them to watch only certain shows or internet sites.  Sometimes, watch with them.  Teach them to resist bad influences they see.
  • The kids will say, “All the other kids act that way.  I’m just trying to fit in”  We can say, “If the other kids told you to murder someone or commit suicide, would you?  We don’t do what jerks or losers do.  We’re better.  We (last name) set higher standards.
  • They’ll say, “You’re just forcing me; you’re just blackmailing me.”  Answer, “Yes.  Of course I am.  I’m showing you how much I care about teaching you good behavior and what behavior I allow in my personal space.  I’m showing you that good behavior is so important I’m willing to make you unhappy.  Usually I try to make you happy.  There’s a price you pay for getting what you want from me.”
  • They’ll say, “I can say what I want.  It’s free speech.”  Answer, “Actually, there’s a lot that we as a society have decided you cannot say, like joking about carrying a bomb on an airplane or insisting you can play ‘Words With Friends.’”  Answer, “What you’re really arguing is that there should be no consequences for your being nasty; that no one should get upset when you’re a jerk.  I’m saying that there are consequences for expressing yourself any way you want.  People might not like you; people might not want to do nice things for you.”
  • Some other ideas to share with them
  • Treat the people you’re closest to, the nicest.  You know you have to be polite with strangers, teachers and cops.  Be even nicer to your parents.
  • If kids are left to create their own society, without wise adult input, you get “Lord of the Flies.”  Read it.  Would you like to be the target of those tweens expressing the worst of themselves?
  • No matter what we do, our kids will grow up disliking something about the way we raised them.  So what?  Say, “Do differently when you’re a parent.  Be prepared to be shocked when your kids protest about you even though you think you’re a wonderful parent.”

Even if they’re better debaters, require the behavior you want.  You don’t have to convince them you’re right or to get their permission or acceptance for your standards before you demand compliance.

Signs that you have a real problem child. It's a bad sign when children fight to the death to resist reasonable rules of polite, civil behavior.  Civility requires some effort compared to selfish, spoiled behavior and childish temper tantrums to get their way.  Therefore, I expect kids to push back at first.  Tell them that this battle is a waste of their precious time.  Encourage them to put their energy into struggling to succeed in school, to develop good friends, to prepare themselves with skills for being effective adults living a wonderful life.  If they still focus on fighting us, they have a real problem

What if you get no support from a bullying spouse? Again, this simply adds to the degree of difficulty.  Two very bad situations are if your spouse actively encourages and participates in abusing you, or if, for example, your extended family culture supports male children in abusing females.  Stand strong and openly set high standards.  If they won’t change, you may have to get rid of them.

What if you’re just beginning to set standards now that they’re teens? Of course, it’s always easier to start when they’re young.  If you let them get away with mistreating you when they’re five, you’re setting yourself up for a very big problem when they’re fifteen.  If you’ve let an older child grow up to be a rotten teen, don’t hesitate to learn from your mistakes with the younger children.  You can be open and honest, “I was wrong when I allowed your older brother or sister to act rotten.  I’m sorry I let them grow up spoiled, selfish and arrogant.  But I’ve learned and I’m doing better for you.  I know it may seem harder on you, but you’ll be much better for it.”

Prepare your children for being adults in a world where bosses and spouses won’t be permissive and all-forgiving.  They will require high standards of behavior.  They won’t plead with you and negotiate forever and neither should will I.

If your children have already become teenagers who think they’re entitled to do what they want, set boundaries immediately, as long as they’re under your roof.  And then demand good behavior toward you when they move out on their own.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

If you think your company keeps you from advancing appropriately, you’re not alone.  But even if your organization’s leadership isn’t clear or doesn’t play fair, the responsibility for rising is yours. For example, at a particular company many managers often complained about the reasons their company hadn’t encouraged their promotion to leadership positions.

To read the rest of this article from the Business Journal of Jacksonville, see: To move up, be willing to take risks, responsibilities http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2005/12/26/smallb2.html

But all their explanations revolved around their fear and hesitancy.  They blamed eternal circumstances, they were waiting for someone else to make their paths simple and easy, and they took no individual responsibility.

But external conditions are not the problem.  Conditions may be difficult or easy, but the problem is always in the individual.

One of the managers, Dave, had an epiphany: He was the problem.  His boss had said the same thing during their mentoring sessions.  His boss had said that Dave had passed the first test – he was competent and the boss could trust his numbers.

Next, his boss wanted to know if Dave had enough ambition and courage to take the initiative for his next steps; to speak up professionally at meetings, to risk being corrected and to learn in public.

There was no clear and specific list of stepping-stones for promotion, like there was when Dave was learning technical skills and was told exactly what would be on each test and how the test would be given.

This was the real world.  Tests were frequent and came without warning.  People didn’t play fair and there were winners and losers.

Also, Dave would have to deal with the way things are, not how he wants them to be.  For example, if Dave had hurt feelings in a hostile interaction with his boss, Dave would have to rebuild the bridge between them.  His boss wouldn’t approach him to make Dave feel better.

His boss could help him, but the ultimate responsibility for success would lie with Dave.  Was he willing to struggle and learn to play the game?

The fact is that path to advancement is never risk-free.  You will get your wrists slapped in public.  But if you never take those risks, you won’t advance.

As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”  In order to advance, Dave would have to impose his ambition and will on himself in order to overcome his fear and hesitancy.

What happened to Dave?  You may be expecting me to say that Dave’s real name is Sam Walton or Bill Gates.

No, Dave is simply Dave.  But he succeeded in his first steps.  He’s ambitious: he got help and took the responsibility and risk, and he has been promoted.

Often, people need coaching to help them overcome their hesitancy and self-bullying, and to build the strength, courage, determination and skill needed to take the right risks in a way that increases their chances of success.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Nobody wants their children to be bullied.  We all want responsible school officials to stop bullying at their schools.  We all want other parents to teach their children not to be bullies.  We all want other kids to be witnesses and defenders when necessary. We all want the road smoothed for our children.

Of course we must do what we can to prepare the road with good enough laws and with clear requirements to hold school principals and district administrators accountable.

But since no amount of effort or number of laws against bullying in any of its forms – verbal, mental, emotional, physical, cyberbullying – will ever stop mean kids or their protective parents from bullying their targets, what can we do for our children?

Good parenting also requires us to prepare our children for the roads they’ll encounter.

Report to school officials but that’s only the second task. For example, Tom came home complaining that some other kids called him names, mocked his clothes, belittled his taste in music and even put down the way his parents looked and dressed.  His parents blew up and went to school the next day to have it out with the principal.  Since they ranted and raved and wanted the kids beaten in public or at least thrown out of school, they got no where.

Then they focused all their energy on the road – they wrote angry letters to the media, organized other parents and tried to get the principal fired.

Focus first on preparing the child. Tom asked, “Why do my friends call me retarded, gay, stupid, ugly?  Why don’t they like me?  What am I doing wrong?”  He was taking it personally; as if the other kids had the correct taste or accurate perceptions, and he was somehow being tested and failing. He thought there must be something wrong with him.  He was getting negative, uncertain and angry.  He was losing his confidence and self-esteem.

We rapidly found out however, that his friends at school weren’t saying these things.  The bullies were kids who really didn’t know Tom.

So we prepared Tom with his lessons for the real world.

  • There will be jerks who target you, but that doesn’t make you a victim.  Victims give in and give up.  Victims feel isolated and helpless.  Victims get depressed and commit suicide.
  • You’re okay; don’t take it personally.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  They don’t know you.  Test them – are they nice or are they jerks?  If they’re jerks, their opinion doesn’t tell you about you; it tells you about them.  Don’t ever let jerks control your feelings or emotions.
  • Choose to be upbeat – courageous, strong, determined.  Be happy while you learn how to stop themKeep a fire burning in your heart.
  • Stand up; speak up.  Use your talent and learn new skills.  Come back at them verbally.  Use humor; especially sarcastic humor.  Speak your piece.  Fight back if necessary.
  • Get your allies to act.  Tell your parents; tell your favorite, trustworthy teachers.  Get help.  Test your friends.  Are they real friends or are they just acquaintances or “friendlies” who hang out?  If they don’t care enough to get involved, they’re not friends.

Parents, be smart in how you prepare and fix the road. I’m all for fixing the road.  Just be smart about it.  The summer is the best time to prepare the road.  Work with principals, teachers and parents to develop clear and strong policies and programs.  Hit the ground running when school stats in fall.  Get the kids involved so they become witnesses and defenders.  Make it a whole community effort.

Prepare yourself so that when there’s an incident, like happened with Tom, you know what to do and can do it without being overwhelmed by your emotions.  Have a checklist.  Is it a one-time argument or on-going harassment, bullying and abuse?  What are the power dynamics?  What evidence can you get?  Does it happen to other kids?  Can you get witnesses?

Prepare the friends and their families. None of Tom’s friends defended him.  They wouldn’t even be witnesses until we talked with them and their parents.  Then they saw the power of choice and of standing together.

Parenting: Prepare the road or the child? Don’t make it an either-or choice.  Prepare both.  Prepare your children to teach your grandchildren.  Do you doubt they’ll also have to learn to stop bullies?

It can be tough to look one of your employees in the eye and tell them, “This isn’t working.  You don’t have the ability to do this job.”  It can be especially painful when the employee thinks they can. A particularly difficult situation can come when you’ve promoted a good worker to a supervisory role, but they haven’t been able to learn and demonstrate the necessary skills.

To read the rest of this article from the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, see: What to do when a good worker fails as supervisor http://sanjose.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2006/11/06/smallb5.html

It’s tempting to promote very competent workers.  After all, they have good skills, work ethic and know the job.  But the skills necessary to be a productive worker and to be an effective supervisor are different.

Take the case of Jane, a strong, task-oriented, problem solver – especially when she worked alone.

But as a supervisor, she’s a bust.  She doesn’t tell her staff what she needs and seems to delight in harassing them when they do things wrong.  She publicly criticizes anything she doesn’t agree with, loudly and relentlessly.  She blames and attacks others when she’s not successful, and casts suspicion and doubt on people who aren’t her favorites.  She ignores obvious legalities about confidentiality.  She’s negative, bullying and abusive.

Go back to the initial decision to promote her. What considerations went into it and how was the opportunity presented?  The overall perspective on a promotion should be that it’s a trial period.  Anyone moving from worker to supervisor has a lot to learn.  So be specific about your expectations of the employee in their new role and offer to help them make the transition.

Now comes your moment of truth. You have to face the music. Part of being a successful leader is making decisions for the betterment of the whole organization, even when you know your decisions are only best guesses and someone might disagree and have hurt feelings.

Jane needs to be demoted to become a worker again in her previous group or, more likely, demoted sideways so she doesn’t have to face her former co-workers after having been demoted.

The more you promote good workers without carefully examining the capabilities necessary to be a good supervisor, the more you’ll continue having heartache.  The more you avoid evaluation conversations, the poorer will be your results as a people manager.  The longer you allow Jane to victimize her staff; the longer you put off the conversation with Jane, the bigger the problem will grow.

And don’t chicken out by using email to avoid the conversation.

You probably don’t want an angry, confrontational, bullying boss.  But, do you want the other extreme – a conflict-avoidant boss? I vote, “No.”  Conflict-avoidant bosses create breeding grounds for passive-aggressive employees and self-appointed tyrants.

For example, Helen’s boss is nice and sweet.  And that’s her problem.

To read the rest of this article from the Austin Business Journal, see: Bosses who avoid conflict create a big mess http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2007/07/23/smallb3.html

Larry is always thoughtful and considerate.  He tries to agree with everyone.  Although he inspects each employee’s results and asks penetrating questions, he won’t tell them what they must do.  If two of his staff disagrees, he won’t intervene and make a decision, or force them to resolve the issue.

Helen has frequent and critical deadlines, but in order to do her job she needs information supplied by Lindsay, another employee in Larry’s department.  Lindsay says she’s too busy to give Helen the necessary information within the agreed-upon timelines.

Helen asks and asks but nothing seems to work.  She tries begging, twisting Lindsay’s arm and even explaining her predicament at team meetings.  She tries every communication and management technique her friends and human resource professionals suggest.  Lindsay simply goes on her merry way and stonewalls Helen.  She’s a sneaky bully.

In public, Lindsay always agrees to do that part of her job but then simply ignores the commitment.  In private she says Helen’s not important enough.  She doesn’t like Helen and she’s going to sabotage her.  In one-to-one meetings with Larry, she undercuts Helen’s needs, communication skills and performance.

Larry says he can’t do anythingIf he tried to force Lindsay, it’d create conflict – and he doesn’t want confrontationLarry is so sweet and nice.

Larry avoids conflict with Lindsay but creates conflict with Helen.  He’s upset with not getting what he needs from Helen but not upset enough to break the deadlock.  He’s more afraid of Lindsay than he is of Helen.  Lindsay knows she’s secure.  She has no pressure to serve Helen and no consequences for resisting.

There are numerous variations on this theme but they all lead to the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissisism, incompetence, laziness, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

Absentee bosses – whether they’re waiting for retirement, have distracting personal concerns, are mentally tuned out or are cowards – create sanctuaries for unprofessional behavior.  When there’s a vacuum of authority, the most aggressive, ruthless and controlling people are drawn in to fill it.  It’s like the worst behavior of children coming out when their teacher leaves them alone for the day.

Conflict-avoidant bosses don’t implement decisions necessary for overall productivity because they won’t face resistant people and get them to do what’s necessary.

If you avoid facing someone who’s unhappy, you’re abdicating your responsibility as a leader.  You’ll probably live to regret the pain caused by abandoning your duty.  Your good employees certainly will regret it.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

To be a successful administrator, basic operational savvy is necessary.  But to be a successful leader, you must also master human savvy. For example, Joe worked his way up through the financial ranks and had mastered three of the major skills of internal operational savvy:

  • Setting high performance standards.
  • Project management.
  • Financial soundness.

Joe’s teams met their goals within budget and deadlines.

But Joe was always passed over for promotions to leadership.  Why?  Basic operational savvy isn’t enough to make leaders even partially successful.

To read the rest of this article from the Memphis Business Journal, see: Leaders who ignore the human element will fail http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/stories/2007/10/01/smallb4.html

When I explained to Joe that he was missing the human savvy I’ll describe below, he said he couldn’t change.  He had strength of character and responded successfully to the ups and downs, and the challenges of business.  But he said he was an introvert.  He could achieve high performance in operational areas but it wasn’t his personality to excel in people areas.

Joe’s response is nonsense.  He doesn’t need to become an extrovert or develop the personality of an archetypal used-car salesman.  But if he wants to advance his career, he does need to master his innate human savvy—the universal human attributes for empathy and sympathy, for knowing what makes people tick, and for transmitting and enhancing passion and dedication.

Joe’s progress was halting when he was simply memorizing lists of how-to’s.  But his learning took off when he modeled himself after the subject of one of the best leadership books, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Joe saw himself as having a personality similar to Lincoln: a melancholy introvert who could come out of his shell to make human contact.  Lincoln’s human savvy was a crucial component of his success.  Joe resolved, “If Lincoln could do it, so can I.”  Joe drove himself to use Lincoln as his guide and to learn what Lincoln learned.

One of the important personal skills Joe learned was critical listening.  Instead of listening only to the dictionary definitions of words, he trained himself to hear “the message behind the message.”

That essential information taught him what concerns other people have and what they really want.  Joe used what he learned in order to connect with his team on an emotional level, so he could help them dedicate to their mission.

Lincoln said that the most important task of a leader, once he has finally decided on a course of action, is to educate people so they are inspired to proceed on that course.  Lincoln used insightful comparisons and memorable stories to transfuse people with his vision, dedication and perseverance.  Joe realized that appropriate stories have an emotional impact greater than the effects of logical arguments.

Like Lincoln did, Joe can now tell memorable stories of his team’s effort and progress.  His staff is now enthused to achieve team and personal goals in the face of challenges that demand their best.

Joe also sets high behavioral standards and holds his staff accountable for behavior that reflects good attitudes.  He’s stopped bullies and even had some success getting difficult messages across to abusive, toxic staffHis best workers are happier now that he’s weeded out the slackers and bad apples.

Now his superiors say:

Many people teach basic operational savvy as if it’s all that’s necessary for leadership success.  But good administrators aren’t necessarily good leaders.  Basic operational savvy is necessary, but it’s not enough. Leadership success is more all or none.  You can succeed only if you master human savvy.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to:

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

In a previous article, “Best Methods to Stop Bullying in Schools,” I came out strongly against principals, teachers and school programs that focused only on stopping bullies by understanding, education, compassion, forgiveness and therapy of bullies, without any effective effort to stop the bullying.  They had no strong and firm consequences for harassment, taunting, teasing or physical abuse; or for any of the forms of bullying – overt, covert, verbal, emotional, physical and cyberbullying. Some commentators challenged my views – they insisted that changing the attitudes of bullies should be the major goal of educators and they quoted the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Golden Rule.

These well-meaning commentators, using the parable of the Prodigal Son, said that our hearts should go out to the poor bullies.  They imagined these abusive predators as having horrible childhoods that caused them to turn to bullying to gain control and power, and to boost their confidence and self-esteem.  Just like the Prodigal Son, bullies don’t know any better.

These commentators seemed to think that, just like the Prodigal Son, saving the bully is more important than the feelings of the targets. They think the bully was more of a victim of his upbringing than the people he was victimizing.  They seemed to think that we had an either-or-choice: to focus on understanding, love and forgiveness in an effort to educate bullies or to punish them, make them feel bad and drive them further into anti-social ways of acting.

Therefore, they claimed that all efforts should be directed at educating and rehabilitating bullies.

I disagree.  The choice between educating bullies or protecting targets is a false choice.  I think we must use both approaches and in a specific sequence:

  1. Stop bullies in their tracks with swift, firm, strong consequences for bullying.
  2. With compassion; educate, therapeutize and rehabilitate bullies.

Then, we’ll see which bullies rapidly change their behavior and which will remain narcissistic bullies.

I do not think the one – the bully or Prodigal Son – is more important than the many – the targets of bullying and abuse. I prefer Mr. Spock’s judgment, from the original Star Trek, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake on the one.”  I’d rather protect the many targets of bullying so they’re not converted into victims.  I worry first about the many precious psyches of the targets before I worry about the few damaged psyches of the bullies.  First, create a safe environment for the targets.  Then rehabilitate the bullies, if possible.

Begging, appeasement and the Golden Rule do not stop relentless bullies.

The better analogy is the abusive husband and the battered wife – or vice versa. Would those commentators, who have such tremendous sympathy for bullies, tell battered women to:

We protect the targets.  We remove the bully.  We don’t let the target be subjected to repeated victimization while we get swayed by our sympathy for the abuse we think the batterer must have had when he was a child.

I think that, in general, the first step in changing the behavior of bullies is to have strong consequences.  Then education, compassion and therapy have a chance.  But at least, during that time targets are protected and safe.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns.  These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying. Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.

For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:

Too many women see the early warning signs of bullying and abuse, but ignore them.  They feel the jealousy, the control, the verbal and physical abuse, and the isolation.  They’re criticized, chastised, belittled and demeaned endlessly. Their money is taken away.  Their children are brutalized.  Often, the sons imitate their father’s behavior.  Often, the girls grow up to think that such harassment, bullying and abuse are normal, and they should be prepared to accept it when their turn comes.  And yet, these women stay and suffer in silence.  Often, they say they love the bullyThey don’t make the critical step of saying, “That’s enough.  I’m gone or you’re gone.”

Of course, women can inflict the same punishment and pain on their spouses.

At school, too many kids suffer in silence also. Often, kids are physically intimidated into silence. Often, kids are too ashamed to reveal their guilty secret or they don’t think their parents can or will help.  Often, they accurately see that principals, teachers, counselors and psychologists won’t help them.  Often, they think it’s their fault; they must be doing something wrong or they must be bad people in order to attract so much taunting, teasing, harassment and brutality.  Often, other kids pile on physically, verbally and by cyberbullying.

Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.

As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse.  Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids.  Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites.  Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers.  Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.

Do-nothing principals promote, collude and enable bullies to flourish in the dark.  Do-nothing principals and teachers are a major factor in student suicides

In all cases, we must not be passive; instead we must respond. Suffering in silence inevitable leads people to feel like victims; helpless and hopeless.

We already know that minimizing or ignoring relentless bullies doesn’t stop them.  We know that trying to understand, forgive, appease, beg, bribe, be nice or reason with real-world bullies doesn’t stop them. The Golden rule doesn’t stop these ignorant, insensitive or narcissistic predators.

I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence.  We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons.  If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?

What’s important is that whatever our reasons are, we already know we must overcome them.  We must act despite our feelings of reluctance.  Just like we wouldn’t be swayed by bullies’ excuses and justifications, we can’t give in to our self-bullying ones.

We must develop the will to stop bullying. I think of the will as the engine that gives us the power to go where we want to go.  The engine is the will to do whatever it takes to stop bullies – determination, courage, mental and emotional strength, perseverance, resilience, endurance, being relentless.  The old word, still perfectly good, was grit.

Of course, we need skills – learning how to steer.  But without an engine, all our skills, all our ability to steer, won’t matter.  Without an engine we won’t get anywhere.

Don’t suffer in silenceDon’t whine or complain; speak up.  Give yourself a chance.  Test the world: Who’ll help you and who won’t.  That tells you about them and whether you want to vote them off your island.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Some people think that fear and anger are always bad.  Some people think that fear and anger can’t help stop bullies. I disagree.

When used and directed appropriately, fear and anger can help us stop bullies in all areas of life – abusive, violent, demeaning spouses; sneaky, manipulative, toxic parents or adult children; taunting, teasing, harassing, predatory school bullies; dangerous and deadly gangs; bullying bosses or coworkers; or even our worry and anxiety about something general and more amorphous like a poor economy and no savings, no insurance and a huge mortgage payments for a house beyond our means.

Fear

  • Fear is a normal feeling we have in order to warn ourselves of danger.  It's our way of telling ourselves to get ready, mobilize ourselves and take precautions - there might be a saber-toothed tiger lurking down the trail.
  • In these situations, the purpose of fear is to alert and energize us to make our best and most thoughtful responses to the danger.
  • If we let fear grow so big that we’re panicked into fight, flight or freeze, or into our favorite childhood response, we won’t respond effectively.  We'll go overboard.  We'll start begging or we'll run and hide.  And then we’ll bully ourselves with negative self-talk, guilt, shame, perfectionism, remorse and recriminations because we over-reacted and made a mess of things.
  • Our childhood responses were useful when we were growing up.  After all, we did survive; we did live to become adults.  But those over-the-top responses are no longer effective enough; they’re the down-side of allowing our fear to overwhelm us before we respond.
  • The key to success is to act when our warning fear is small so we can engage our brain in planning how to respond.

Anger

  • Anger is simply our effort to mobilize ourselves, to get us in gear to respond, to give us enough strength and power to act effectively.  Most people need some amount of anger when they’re small children in order to get the big people to listen.  Anger is simply motivational energy.
  • But if we let anger build up too much we’ll blow up and kill someone.  Just like the case for fear, our childhood responses were useful when we were growing up.  After all, we did survive; we did live to become adults.  But those over-the-top responses are no longer effective enough; they’re the down-side of allowing our anger to overwhelm us before we respond.
  • The key to success is to act when our energizing anger is small so we can engage our brain in planning how to respond.
  • If we start acting when our anger is merely irritation or frustration, we can engage our brains to develop smart, effective action.  If we wait too long, we’ll make ourselves much too angry; we’ll turn to rage.  We’ll explode and create a bigger mess.  Or we’ll repress ourselves totally and live with those terrible consequences, such as depression and low confidence and self-esteem.

Maybe a good analogy is that if doing nothing is like going zero mph and blowing up is going 100 mph, we need to train ourselves to start acting at 10-40 mph, and to learn skills in that range so we can act effectively.  When we were children, most people didn’t get enough practice of how to act in that range.  As adults, many people still haven’t learned how to act effectively in that range.

Of course, if we respond early and effectively to our hesitation, irritation and frustration in stopping bullies, we can respond more effectively.  Fear and anger are simply warnings (like smoke detectors) and fuel for our engines so we can get to where we want to be.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with those signals or with that fuel.  As long as we act before we’re at their mercy.

Of course, our tactics will be different when we stop bullies in different situations.  But once our energy, courage, determination and power are hooked up to our brains, we have a much better chance of success than if we’re overcome by fear or anger.

We can even learn to respond effectively to the worry, fear and anger that are common at 2 AM when our “Monkey Minds” jump around uncontrollably.

What if our fear or anger seems to become overwhelming instantly and we feel out of control?  Actually, you’ll find it’s not instantaneous; it just seems that way because we’ve practiced soften. For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and anger, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.

 

Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

 

 

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All tactics are situational.  In addition to these guidelines, expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Everyone has moments that matter: moments when our life can go in either direction; moments when we can choose the strength to soar to heaven or the weakness to fall into hell.  You know, those moments in which everything gets absolutely quiet and the air seems to pulse and throb with the power and weight of a choice that will change our life.  What will we do?  Which path will we choose?  What will our life become? All bullies, all targets and all witnesses have those moments when the rest of their lives hang in the balance.  Will they stop bullying?  Will they stop being victims of bullies or of their own self-bullying?  Will they give up in defeat and despair or will they forge ahead, no matter the consequences?

These are the moments when, if we have the “Will,” we can will ourselves into wonderful futures.

Charles M. Blow reminded me of the moments of truth that I’ve seen in the lives of all the bullies and also all the targets I’ve known.  He wrote a wonderful, deep, heart-felt column in the New York Times, “The Bleakness of the Bullied.”

He describes his own experience when he was eight, the subject of “relentless teasing and bullying from all directions – classmates as well as extended family.”  In a pit of despair, he contemplated suicide, only to be heartened when a song, often sung by his mother, leapt to his mind, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

He knew he had “to be brave and patient, that this was not to be my last night.”

Notice the “Will.” Charles was not going to be a victim any more.  Somehow he’d resist, he’d grow, he’d survive and thrive.

Every target of bullying I’ve ever coached had a similar moment in their childhood or in our work together: A moment when they faced the bleakness of a future of continuing to be a victim or, alternatively, the brightness of standing up and fighting back in some way.  In that moment, they each responded to that choice with a great surge of Will, power and energy.  They fanned the spark in their heart into a fierce flame that warmed, strengthened and sustained them.

Once their Will took over their actions, despite a little anxiety, the rest was straightforward.

They would not give in to bullies, predators and abusers.  They would not give in to their self-bullying, negative self-talk, anxiety, stress, fear, panic and despair.  They would not succumb to self-doubt.  They would not let their self-confidence and self-esteem be eroded or destroyedThey would not be defeated.

They would keep that flame alive by daring to protect and defend themselves; by taking the risk of creating a brilliant and wonderful future for themselves, no matter the opinions of their oppressors or the cost to the old, destructive patterns they had been mired in or the people they were related to.

In “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site, you can read about the moment I had.

Their action plans were different depending on their circumstances but they had the same Will and they learned the same skills.

I’ve seen the same moment of truth with bullies.

One former bully told me of a moment when he was about nine and was the biggest, toughest angriest kid in his class.  He had thought he was simply doing what he had to do to make his place in the world.  Then, a principal hauled him into his office, sat him down and told him, in so many words, that he was a bully and he had to stop or he’d be thrown out of school.  He was too vicious, nasty and brutal to be allowed to continue harassing and tormenting the kids he was victimizing.

The boy was stunned.  He’d never thought of himself as a bully, as vicious and nasty.  And he certainly didn’t want to be thrown out of school.  In that moment his heart broke open and he vowed never to be a bully again, even if he was the biggest kid in the room.

That principal was great because he confronted the situation and acted firmly and effectively, even though the boy’s response might have been dangerous for his career.  He was not a cowardly, do-nothing principal.

Why was that bully seeing me?  He wanted to learn skills to negotiate his adult life without reverting to bullying in order to get his way.  He didn’t want to be a bullying spouse, co-worker or boss.   He didn’t want to be a bullying parent.

What has been your experience?

In all cases, success requires two things of us:

  1. The Will – determination, strength, courage and perseverance – grit.
  2. The skills to succeed.

Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

People often wonder if they’re being bullied, controlled or abused by their spouses.  They want experts to help them recognize the signs and give them an educated, experienced opinion so they’ll have a new weapon in the next round of the endless battle.  That’s a useful tactic but the major benefits are not what most people think. In addition to overt threats and violence, some criteria that we’re facing bullying, controlling or abusive husbands or wives are:

  1. After marriage or kids, they changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  We feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – our “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”  Their sense of humor is the right one.
  4. They isolate us.
  5. They control us with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.  They use the opinions other people who agree with them – their friends, their parents – to justify what they do.
  6. They don’t take our kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take our self-control as an invitation to bully us more.
  7. They’re willing to argue forever and never admit that they have to change.  Whenever we make a good point, they attack on a different subject.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps us along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than we are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Both lists are phrased as “They,” but really – we give in; we let them win.  We’re the ones who think good reasons or arguments, more understanding, begging, bribery, appeasement, forgiveness, unconditional love or the Golden Rule will work if we try hard enough.  We’re the ones who think we’re wrong if we give up on someone.

The major, but usually overlooked, benefit in recognizing and labeling the patterns of behavior as “bullying” and the person as a “bully” is that it’s a powerful label.

  1. Indeed, many men women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”
  2. But when we label what’s happening as “bullying,” the unknown terror no longer seems so overwhelming; it’s reduced in size as the light of a strong label shines on their behavior.  Our shame, guilt, doubt and hesitation decreaseOur self-bullying, negative self-talk decreases.
  3. Our spirit rises up; we feel energized and empowered to fight back.  Our will, determination and dedication are strengthened.  Our courage, perseverance, endurance and resolution are engaged.  We won’t quit any more and temporary defeats don’t defeat us for long.
  4. We take charge of our attitudes and feelings, and increase our self-confidence and self esteem.  In so doing, we take charge of our actions and our future.  We gain clarity about our goals and seek personalized coaching to develop a plan and carry it out.
  5. Once we know what we’re up against, we look for information, skills and help.  We feel more powerful when we re-enter the fight.

 

In the next article, we’ll talk about an even better tactic than taking the strength we gain from using the words “bullies” and “bullying” into battle as our shield and sword.

Many coaching clients call me saying, “Since he didn’t beat me physically, I didn’t realize I was being bullied and abused.  At least, not until I read your articles.  Is it too late for me?  Can you help me?”  Of course, since you’ve made it this far, it’s not too late, although it may take a lot of effort. But let’s look at what’s behind the idea that we don’t know if we’re being bullied and abused unless we’re being physically beaten.

Using some typical early warning signs, we might recognize controlling husbands or wives even if they don’t hit:

  1. He changed from charming to controlling, sometimes step by step.
  2. They make the rules; they control everything.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  3. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no.”
  4. They isolate you.
  5. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
  6. They don’t take your kindness, compassion and sympathy as a reason to stop.  They take your passivity as an invitation to bully you more.

It’s the same at work, at school and in romance.

Or we might recognize the seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists:

  1. They think they know best about everything.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.
  4. They’re more important than you are.
  5. They think their rules should rule.
  6. Everyone is a pawn in their game.
  7. They think their excuses should excuse them.

Indeed, many women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.”

The underlying problem for people who don’t know if they’re being bullied or abused is that when we use a definition or standard that’s on the outside of us the definition doesn’t include all situations or the standards aren’t relevant to us or we’re never certain if our judgment is accurate.  Using an arbitrary, external standard is like using a quick quiz of twenty questions in a magazine to see if we’re bullied, abused, in love, truly compatible, a good person, likely to succeed…or anything else.  External standards aren’t the right place to look.

The hidden assumptions behind that way of thinking are that:

  1. Outside standards and definitions are crucial.  We depend on other people, maybe so-called experts, to tell us what’s right and normal and true.
  2. We can’t act until we’re sure that we or they are in some category as defined by those external standards.  That is, unless we’re sure the other person is a bully we’re not allowed to act.  Or we can’t act until we’ve tried everything to help them change.  Or until we’re sure it’s not our fault, we don’t deserve the treatment, it’s his fault and we’re victims we shouldn’t act.

Both of those assumptions are wrong.  Yet both of those assumptions are why people allow themselves to stay in very painful situations year after year, even as their self-confidence and self-esteem diminish.

A better test To decide whether we should act or not, instead of the external standards and definitions, use an internal test.  We can simply ask ourselves, “Am I in pain?  Do I want to be treated this way?”

Notice that these questions are about us; about how much things hurt, about our desire to get away from the pain, about what we’ll allow in our personal space.  We don’t need some external standards of right or wrong, normal or abnormal.  We don’t need the self-doubt, self-questioning and negative self-talk that come from asking questions like, “Is it my fault?  What have I done wrong?  Do I deserve this?  Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”

Simply start by saying, “Ouch.  Cut it out.  Act better or you’re gone.  I don’t care what your reasons, justifications or excuses are; act nicer or I’m gone.”

Then, we become the standard.  If we’re being taunted, teased, harassed, bullied and abused verbally, mentally and emotionally, and we don’t like it, that’s more than enough reason to get away.  It’s that simple.  We create distance, not because of some external standards, but because we want to.  That’s more than enough reason.

Every one of the people who wrote or called for coaching was immediately able to answer the questions about how the treatment felt.  When they recognized and accepted their pain as important and sufficient, they wanted to resist.  They immediately were angry and determined to get away.  Their spirits rose.  They felt strong and courageous.  Good for them.

When they learned effective skills and techniques, they could resist successfully.  Since all tactics are situational and the abuse has usually gone on for a long time, you’ll probably need expert coaching.  We’ll have to go into the details of specific situations in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults in very difficult situations taking command of themselves and succeeding.  For personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t believe it? Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:

  • The abused wife who accepts her husband’s excuses and justifications that his verbal or physical beatings are her fault. She’s to blame for his failures; she’s never good enough.  If only she were adequate, he wouldn’t be so nasty, vicious and violent.  If she talks to herself with his voice, she’ll never leave.  If she accepts the guilt and shame she’ll keep trying to please him, but she’ll never succeed.  She convinces herself she’ll never make it on her own so she stays and endures more brutality.
  • The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied.  They give in to bullies.  If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
  • The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions.  If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die.  They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back.  They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
  • The kids who think the deck is stacked against them. Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them.  If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up.  They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids.  They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun.  They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.

Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already.  You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue.  They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.  Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection.  They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them.  Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot.  Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.

Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them.  They bite every hand that’s offered to them.  They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent.  They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging.  What a waste.

All the help offered them seems to bounce off.  They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.

They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They may go down the path to being victims for life.  Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.

Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity.  They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.

These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent.  They’ll make something wonderful of their lives.  They won’t give up.  They won’t be defeated by defeats.

Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors.  Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy.  They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort.  As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”

There is no formula to save kids who turn off their engines.  Even when you know every detail of their history, there is no formula.  There’s only the continued presenting to them of encouragement and opportunity.  Sometimes a mentor or coach is crucial, sometimes a small success that’s a surprise, sometimes an example of someone else’s life will catch their attention.

We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help.  No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help.  The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines.  Then they grab opportunities for themselves.  Then we can help them with their steering wheels.

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment