Golden Business Ideas


   December 2004 > Golden Business Ideas



Block the Workplace Bullies
World War II General George Patton and football coach Vince Lombardi, while highly successful leaders, were out-and-out bullies, exercising a brutal form of willpower to achieve unconditional victory on the battlefield and football field. They both shared the same goals: Defeat the enemy at all costs.

But bullying in the workplace is a different story. Here the bully and the victims do not share goals, nor do they share personal needs.

While bullying can spring from fear of competition from a subordinate or the need for a scapegoat to cover incompetence, often it’s “a kind of low-grade sadism…. They’d start on one person and then move on to someone else,” Harvey A. Hornstein, a retired professor from Teachers College of Columbia University and author of Brutal Bosses and Their Prey, told the New York Times (June 22, 2004).

Surprisingly, victims of workplace bullying rarely file complaints against their bosses, which is one reason for the dearth of data on the subject.

Dr. Mark Levey, a psychotherapist and business consultant in Chicago, ascribes the low complaint rate to both fear—they know the high cost of going around a bully boss—and the fact that bullying stirs up childhood conflicts and triggers reflexive submission and explosive rage in the victim. “Once these defensive positions lock in,” Levey says, it’s as if victims are “transported to a different reality, can no longer see what’s actually happening to them and cannot adapt.”

Curiously, having a bully for a boss does not lower productivity. While the staff may loathe the manager, it seems to have little impact on performance—with one exception: Victims of bullies withhold the unpaid extras such as being courteous to clients and customers and helping coworkers.

When employees witness a boss dumping on a colleague, they often are relieved not to be the target, and some even may feel more competent by comparison. After all, worker ambition provides the bully’s greatest support.

What can the victims of a bully boss do? Grousing is a healthy outlet; in fact, with a close-knit group, it even may provide the courage for individuals or the group to file complaints against the boss.

Hornstein says one way to manage bullies is to watch for patterns. They may be bad on Mondays, a little better on Fridays or kinder before lunch than after. Also, staff should ignore the boss’s insulting tone and respond only to the substance of the complaint. “Stick with the substance, not the process,” he said, to keep things from escalating.

Fight Paperwork Waste
Encourage employees to ask, “Why do we need this report (or form)?” Too often old paperwork no longer serves a purpose. More times than not it continues to be provided because no one has taken the time to question it.

Sharpen Your Hiring Skills
When interviewing for a subordinate, be wary about favoring a candidate with personality and management skills that resemble your own. By engaging such a person, you lose the opportunity of gaining fresh perspectives and new skills.

Another risk: Not hiring a candidate who appears to be “too good”—one who may become your competitor.

STANLEY ZAROWIN, a former JofA senior editor, now is a contributing editor to the magazine. His e-mail address is .

An Invitation
The JofA publishes a monthly collection of Golden Business Ideas and invites readers to contribute their favorites (for attribution, if you like).

Send your ideas to contributing editor Stanley Zarowin via e-mail at or regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy , Harborside Financial Center, 201 Plaza Three, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.


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