Early in my career I made the mistake of working for a bully. I ignored red flags about that boss and although it was a blunder, that choice has helped me ever since.
It was early in my career and I was naïve and optimistic. As I was considering what I thought was a hot new position, news about my prospective boss raised serious warning signs. I learned he was a bully and prone to outbursts but if you were one of his favorites, you never saw that behavior.
My detective work uncovered that he was dismissive and borderline abusive to executive assistants and the people who were on the lower ladders in the organization chart, and he managed up well with a smile, so senior managers were blind to his behavior.
I learned all of that, and I took the job anyway. I ignored my own due diligence because I was blinded by the promotion the new position represented and the glitzy brand of the new company. It was a mistake. Everything I learned was true. He was a bully and I, like others, suffered.
BUT, within three months of my arrival, he was walked out of the building and fired for sexual harassment. Bullies do get the just reward, it's just a matter of when.
I made the mistake of not paying attention to my diligence. I made the mistake of not following my instincts. I made the mistake of not recognizing the importance of my supervisor in the decision-making process. So why was taking this job one of the best mistakes I ever made?
Because I learned some valuable lessons that I still apply. Here they are:
1. When contemplating a job move, never underestimate the importance of your new boss. Your supervisor will have the biggest impact on whether or not you will like your job. It is among the most crucial variables in any career decision. Move past the recruitment dinner.
2. Bullies don't win. When one is around, everyone knows it and it's only a matter of time before he or she will meet an unhappy end. However, never underestimate how miserable one can make you while waiting for the bully to be fired. (Unfortunately, there are very rare exceptions to this rule.)
3. You don't need to tolerate bully behavior. Talk to those who can make changes.
4. Don't be a bully. It is possible to be an effective leader and get desired results without leaving wounded people along the way.
5. Remain calm. Bullies feed on fear and intimidation. This isn't easy, but if possible keep your cool while standing up for yourself.
My own experience in the workplace confirms the conclusions in the research.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle noted "A 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce reported being bullied at work. Other studies have reported that 1 in 4 people have experienced some form of bullying at work."
New research by IDG Connect places the figure even higher. A survey of more than 650 IT professionals around the world reports that 75% of them claim to have been bullied at work, with 85% of them saying they witnessed bullying of others.
Workplace lessons come from all different directions, situations, experiences and people. The lessons are not always from the paragons of success and leadership. The lessons can come from the dark side, too. For me, once burned, twice shy - I can now smell a bully from a mile away. Life is too short to work for or with bullies. Although a dying breed, they are still around. Just remember, they do get theirs in the end.