Roy Williams, blogging for the International Coach Federation, writes about toxic, bullying leaders, their impact on organizations, and coaching as an intervention:
We are witnessing the rise of toxic leaders and workplaces. We tend to choose or follow a very different kind of leader. We hire and promote the psychopaths, the narcissists, the bullies and the autocrats dedicated to self-interest.
…In my last two decades as an executive coach, working mostly with senior executives and CEOs in both private and public organizations, I’ve seen a disproportionate share of toxic leaders who continue to do harm to their employees and their organizations, despite all our knowledge about what constitutes good leadership, particularly with reference to emotional intelligence, humility and compassion. Working with toxic leaders and those who work with them presents a real challenge to coaches—one that raises the bar for success.
Within the workplace anti-bullying community, opinions vary on the effectiveness of coaching for workplace aggressors. For what it’s worth, here is my nutshell sense of this question: Many abrasive leaders can be coached to be more respectful of their co-workers and more mindful of how their words and actions are being perceived. However, many abusive leaders — especially those presenting traits suggestive of psychopathy, sociopathy, or severe narcissism — will not change their ways with coaching. In fact, some may actually use coaching as a way of picking up “tips” on how to disguise and cloak their harmful intentions.
Of course, short of a thorough clinical diagnosis and behavioral assessment, it may be difficult to make such distinctions. Furthermore, especially when the alleged aggressor is a boss or high-level executive, HR or other internal stakeholders may be reluctant to suggest such an evaluation.
Can personal coaching help targets of workplace bullying? (2014) — “As I wrote last year, targets of workplace bullying may go through four stages in their journey to a better place: Recognition, response, recovery, and renewal. Mental health counseling may be especially helpful in helping targets recover from conditions such as depression and PTSD. But coaching can help targets in the other three stages, including identifying options and taking action in the non-clinical realm and serving as a source of encouragement and support.”
Words rarely heard: “Boss, I think you need to get some help” (2013) — “The hierarchical nature of our workplaces often means that managers, supervisors, and executives who engage in bullying and other aggressive behaviors will not be referred to counseling or mental health services, and their suffering co-workers will continue to pay the price. Let’s take a look at why this is so.”
Tough boss vs. workplace bully: Malice makes the difference (2009) — “Distinguishing between tough management styles and workplace bullying is a frequent topic of conversation among those who deal with employment relations. In the June issue of HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Teresa Daniel provides a summary of her doctoral research on workplace bullying that identifies malice as the linchpin factor….”
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