Bully as Leader

The word, “bullying” takes me back to the childhood idiom, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Although a way to help children to not get bogged down by the hurtful comments of others, the lesson of that idiom never really seemed true. Bullying hurt as a child and it hurts even more as an adult. In a culture that is more connected than ever, bullying seems to be more prevalent than ever. Bullying could once be avoided simply by going home now is unavoidable because of the interconnectedness of social media. In their Resolution on Bullying Among Children and Youth, the American Psychological Association, summarizes bullying as, “commonly characterized as aggressive behavior that (a) is intended to cause distress or harm, (b) involves an imbalance of power or strength between the aggressor and the victim, and (c) commonly occurs repeatedly over time.” This short summarization reveals the root contradiction of a bully as a leader.

A bully is one who has power over the one being bullied. A bully uses his power in order to victimize others. A bully leverages his imbalance of power to force his will upon another. A leader is in a place of influence. A leader holds her place of influence as a steward, existing for the benefit of others. A leader recognizes that her agenda is accomplished through the willful participation and contribution of others. A leader knows that which is to be accomplished is for the benefit of all. The way a bully and a leader functions is almost directly opposite.

How a Bully Functions

   As already stated, a bully depends on his position of power in order to do harm and exert his will upon another. Sandra Harris and Garth F. Petrie write, “Not all bullying is obvious, as hitting or verbal teasing are. Sometimes bullying is subtle, such as consistently excluding victims from groups and activities. This type of bullying is particularly insidious, because often victims do not realize that they are being bullied.” A bully uses his position to accomplish his will and to exclude and victimize anyone in his way.

The power of a bully is also seen in his peer popularity. A bully knows how to work the crowd to garner their goodwill, this is how they often gain the approval and even endorsement of those with even more influence. A bully uses his place of influence, which itself is attracting, to garner the participation of others. Others attracted by the popularity of the bully, and not wanting to be victimized, only make the imbalance of power greater. Others become complicit in the actions of the bully before they even know it, and this demonstrates its “insidious” nature. The bully will subtly and at times not so subtly destroy another all in the watchful eye of onlookers. A bully uses others to make himself even more powerful.

How a Leader Functions

   A leader also has a position of power, but a leader recognizes that position as a stewardship. James MacGregor Burns writes, “Instead of exerting power over people, transforming leaders champion and inspire followers.” A leader recognizes the importance of the willful participation of others. A genuine leader does not view people as merely a commodity to accomplish his will but as someone of value who also will benefit from the better future achieved through their participation.

Leadership is accomplished not through viewing people as a commodity or a means to an end but is accomplished through relationship. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner write, “Success in leading will be wholly dependent upon the capacity to build and sustain their human relationships that enable people to get extraordinary things done on a regular basis.” Leadership comes through wielding the influence of inspiration for the benefit others not by the pressure of one. It is the ongoing depth in relationship that fuels the participation of others.

Leadership is carried out for the benefit of others. Kouzes and Posner write of a leader, “They connect others to what is most meaningful in a shared vision. They lift people to higher levels of motivation and morality, and continuously reinforce that they can make a difference in the world.” A leader does not subvert morality but rather works from morality and raises others to a higher level of morality. A leader doesn’t use people, but builds people for the benefit of all.


   Bullying and leadership could not be more different. The distinction between the two are essentially important in being a healthy leader, follower, and in having a healthy organization. Accomplishments can take place with a bully at the helm, but this is often at the detriment of others and ultimately the organization. Leadership requires time for relationships to be built and skill to help others benefit in moving together, but it is wroth the effort.


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