Leadership: The Bully Within

Bullies are people who are fearful, frightened, and frightening:

  • They are scared of not being perfect.
  • They are scared of disappointing.
  • They are scared of letting others down.
  • They are scared they don’t have all the answers.
  • They are scared they bring no value.
  • They are scared they are not good enough.

Most bullies don’t even know how to express their emotions, but they want others to respect their emotions.

Most bullies expect others to know what they are feeling and to be sympathetic, but they don’t want to discuss their feelings.

When their emotional needs are not met, bullies become hurt, frustrated, and angry – and the rage begins.

Does rage get bullies what they want? No.

Is bullying a lose- lose situation? Yes.

No one is born a bully. Bullying develops as a behavior like any other behavior.

For a very few people, bullying is at the core of their “leadership” style, although actual leadership and bullying are miles apart.

For most of us, bullying is only a response in certain situations, with certain people, or at certain times. All the things we’re scared of flare up and we respond by bullying someone.

Leadership suffers when bullying occurs, so even if the bully within us makes only rare appearances, we need to be aware of our own insecurities and confront them in a way that shuts down any tendency we may have to bully others.

Whether you have a serious problem with bullying or just an occasional lapse, here are some techniques to help eliminate bullying:

Stop denying; admit there is a problem . Denial is a defense mechanism that many bullies embrace so not to take ownership. Admitting the issue puts you one step closer to solving the issue.

Know that you want to do better. When you catch yourself in a bullying response, think about your behavior and make a promise to yourself to do better next time.

Fill the void. There will be a void in any situation that you once addressed through bullying. What will you fill it with?

Work on new behavior. Once you become aware of bullying and the negative affect it has on you and your leadership, start working on a new behavior. This new behavior will only work when you make it a habit.

There will be good days and bad days, but at least you are working on transforming.

Know that with every attempt towards positive behavior is an attempt to make yourself a better human.

Be ready with constructive thoughts and proactive plans, be equipped with new language and new skills, and be engaged with your emotional makeup and embrace your leadership resilience.

Learn to stop the bully within you, however large or small it may be.

Lead From Within: Remember that others are just as important as you – their desires, their feelings, their brilliance. Be compassionate to yourself and emphatic to others and stop the bully within.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Dan

    09. Oct, 2012

    Beautiful article on a tough subject, Lolly. I especially like your “fill the void” advice. Filling the void means we can move toward something we want in our lives, like love, trust, self-worth, or a more ethical nature. By focusing on our development rather than our craving for control and our frustrations we fill the void with the power to get our own needs met rather than demanding others fill that void for us.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Gaurang

    09. Oct, 2012

    Fantastic read….

    Reply to this comment
  3. Laura

    09. Oct, 2012

    Great insight and valuable for so many who are facing rapid change and increased uncertainty in their work and personal lives. It helps to focus on what you can control (yourself) and work on that, then increase you ability to inflluence others by maintaining a positive and proactive attitude. Leadership is indeed, an activity that can only start from within. Brava!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Wayne McEvilly

    09. Oct, 2012

    I have never looked forward so to a twitterchat as much as I am looking forward to tonight’s #LeadFromWithin! I feel like a fan of some rock group who is waiting outside of the theatre, tickets in hand, for something which I know in advance is going to be very meaningful and rich in promise for the future.
    The subject of self-deception is vast and its hold on us is so subtle at times that most of us do not even know it is visiting or has come to take up permanent residence.
    And the subject of self-bullying is at the heart of this insidious silent guest who often steers our rig without our knowing it. Ever since you posted the title my mind has been actively involved with musings on the many dimensions of the subject.
    I am recalling having first read Sartre’s big book on “Being And Nothingness” back in 1967 where he examines the phenomenology of “mauvaise foi” – bad faith – rendered into English as “self-deception” –
    Your post is rich in detail, and to keep this brief (my comment is already longer than my typical blogpost LOL) I am centering on this:
    “even if the bully within us makes only rare appearances, we need to be aware of our own insecurities and confront them in a way that shuts down any tendency we may have to bully others.”
    These insecurities most often have their roots in our deepest childhood impressions – we grow up expecting the negative patterns our tribal ancestors (i.e. family) to continue-if we have been raised with much disapproval we continue to expect disapproval, no matter what we are proposing or to whom we propose it.
    One hour and forty-five minutes ’til showtime. Your star shines bright in the evening sky.
    See you there.

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  5. Simon Harvey

    09. Oct, 2012

    It is sad that we still have to deal with bullying in society, one would have hoped that we would have evolved past such behavior by now, but alas it seems that it is still alive and well.

    As you so rightly point out, being a bully is a lose- lose situation. Unfortunately what the bully loses out on are the important points that would awaken them to this lose- lose situation, and so they continue to look for answers from bullying.

    Why do we bully, for the most part I have seen it as a voice from the ego, a false self that wants to be recognized and acknowledged.

    But if we develop within and see our own strengths and abilities, become at ease with them, we negates the need to be recognized or acknowledged. Our life becomes acknowledgement enough.

    For sure we have probably all been down this path at some point. The corporate world in particular can be a rocky path with its titles, roles and extrinsic rewards systems. Since some companies still reward for pure results rather than effort and results there are plenty of places where bullying can appear to bring quick rewards in the short term. (Obviously life is a lot more than work).

    But bullying is a short cut to nowhere, and nowhere is the middle of the railway tracks where eventually you will be run down, either by a bigger bully, or, by the masses simply crossing the tracks on a normal day, unaware that you were even there.

    Can a bully stop being a bully on their own ?

    Without guidance and help, I think it’s hard. But if we go out and show a better way, lead in the right direction (from within) by example, we can shine a brighter light in the right direction.

    As Dan points out, development is such a key to being self aware and being able to hear and see the messages that are within.

    Crave for power and power you will get, but it is raw and simply powers the ego and desire, the addictive elements of bullying. Seductive and slippery bullying leads to a trap of low performance and expectations.

    The harder road is one of humility and integrity, love and compassion, here there is learning and understanding.

    Leading from within is a must in eradicating bullying, it shines the light that allows us our errors in our path, and so we can learn and adjust.

    An awesome subject and article Lolly, I thank you for the light you shine.

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  6. Erin Tarr

    09. Oct, 2012

    Being bullied by a mentor/boss for a number of years, I recognize now how many of her traits I internalized. I have to reprogram daily and remember to be the boss I would want to work for. Thanks for the great reminder!

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  7. Jesse Stoner

    09. Oct, 2012

    As always, you tackle a tough subject head on. Thank you for another brilliant post, Lolly.

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  8. Cynthia

    10. Oct, 2012

    How about some advice for those who have a boss or “leader” who is a serial bully, but selects specific targets. I have personally been affected by this in the workplace in the past. This was nearly impossible to deal with because, even though others were aware this was happening, they were punished by this leader when they attempted to defend me or validate my complaints. Eventually, everyone who she threatened withdrew from confrontation with her and left me alone with no defenses. I ultimately had to leave the job I liked due to her behavior. The bully seldom recognizes their behavior, and as you have pointed put lacks self awareness. So what is the best way to address workplace bullying when the bully is unaware of their behavior or just don’t care?

    Thanks for posting on this, Lolly. It’s a very timely and underestimated workplace productivity destroyer and destroys people’s lives outside of work as well.

    Reply to this comment
  9. ThinkCEO

    18. Oct, 2012

    Lolly, I love that you offer solutions here – that are fairly easy to apply – as well as outlining some of the reasoning. Great article. Thanks for posting it.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Ed F

    29. Oct, 2012

    Lolly…I just learnt today I am a bully. Thank you for enlightening my life. My therapist and I talked about the fears in my life.. Oh I am such a bully!…LOL
    I been reading you lately a lot. Thanks for your wisdom and knowledge.
    God bless you.


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  11. Darleena Cozzo

    08. Jun, 2016

    Bullying in leadership is seen in almost a daily basis. It wreaks so much havoc on the whole team. I have seen many of my colleagues have there self esteem and belief in their ability to grow and achieve because the bully. Which is usually there boss or supervisor. Is intimidated by them wants to keep them in there place so they do all the work. While the bully takes all the praise and glory. It’s so sad. The question is how do we change this dynamic. It takes a team. But the whole team feels powerless, because to speak up cpuld cause them.to lose there job. So no one does a thing and the cycle continues. The power of the work place bully is in many times the power of the dollar. And no one can risk losing there jobs when they have families to provide for. The bully knows this and this is why so many bulls are in leadership. They know you need your job. So basically they can treat you however they want too. That’s my thoughts on it from my experience and perception.

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  12. Sarnaz Khan

    10. Jul, 2016

    I agree with Darleena, Bully is born when employee is weak enough to resist the bully. I’m sure Bully may climb the ladder of success (so called) but from within he is broken to the bone.Being a Bully dog can fetch you a bone which one can’t eat. Let’s walk the tight rope and give our subordinates a breathing space. Thank you Lolly Daskal .

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  13. Mithila Urs

    28. Jul, 2016

    Thank you for this awesome read, Lolly !

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  14. Liziwe Ndalana

    14. Nov, 2016

    This is insightful even though I’m not in a leadership position. I, however, have a question. How do you deal with this type of a leader/boss who never expresses what they want and get frustrated when the desired isn’t met due to lack of communication? And in turn, make you feel inadequate and incompetent?

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  15. Steve

    26. Nov, 2017

    Bullying is a multifaceted trait of genetics, epigenetics and then living in ways where overt and covert bullying provides his or HER, the prime kill organ meats of money, power, control and elite status…We must look to history, in all forms, in order to stop future bullies from receiving any type of rewards for their malice…Otherwise we will continue to suffer at the hands of relational, social and elected bullies / skilled predators, for another century, at which point it really won’t matter who is in power, as the world will have little to truly offer anyone…

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  16. Rebecca

    09. May, 2018

    Great article. And what a fantastic photo 🙂

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  17. Alan Quarry

    10. Jun, 2018

    excellent post, thank you for sharing.

    The bully within me has a name. Pete DeFeat. By personalizing that toxic inner voice i can self talk him out of the equations. Most of the time now. ” Take a flying leep, Pete. “

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