Leadership Strength: How To Confront A “Bullish” Leader

Leadership Strength: How To Confront A “Bullish” Leader

You’ve probably met the type. You know, the person that is outspoken but doesn’t care to give others a chance to speak. The person who speaks first and with force as a way to shut down differing opinions. The person who uses words like “should” and “need” liberally when making their point. The person who frames everything in a way that you can’t possibly disagree with them. The person who no one wants to argue with because they become even more forceful.

Some leaders think they are being strong when they bull their way through to get what they want. They are the proverbial “bull in a china shop.”

These leaders boldly flail about in an attempt to get their way or show their leadership strength (or dominance) and they have little concern for the damage they cause around them.

Some of these leaders are bulls because they intuitively know that the majority of people avoid confrontation and therefore compromise quickly. These kinds of leaders often get their way, but only after leaving a wake of frustrated peers and employees.

They think it’s what leaders do. Strength of will is admirable, but not when it comes at a high cost to those around you. The bull leads not from strength of will, but force of will, and the long term results are less than desirable:

  • Loss of respect for the person being the bull.
  • Tense, strained, or broken relationships.
  • Any sense of teamwork is eroded or destroyed.
  • Employees dread coming to work and dealing with the bullish leader or coworker.
  • Valuable employees look for another job.

Don’t be a bull!

Sure there are times when a leader has to play their “boss” card or be forceful on occasion. But those should be exceptions to the norm and only when dealing with unusual situations.

Bulls get their way when teams avoid conflict. This creates a cycle that encourages bullish people to continue being, well, bullish. Patrick Lencioni points to “fear of conflict” as the second of five dysfunctions that make for ineffective teams.

“Contrary to popular wisdom and behavior, conflict is not a bad thing for a team. In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems.”
~ Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business

Grab the bull by the horns.

Dealing with conflict and confrontation is not easy or fun. But when we do not deal with issues head on, they will only persist. For the sake of the team and of the organization, leaders must be willing to tackle the difficulties that arise from bullish behavior.

3 Tips for dealing with a bull.

1. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground.

Many bulls know that people avoid tension and conflict. If they come on strong, many people back down without even speaking up. Don’t attack, but make sure your point of view and reasoning are heard. If one person stands, others are more likely to speak up in support and many bulls will soften once they see their perspective isn’t held by all.

2. Don’t play games.

Bulls like to face things head on…literally. They butt heads. It’s what they do. Trying to maneuver, build factions, or tattle to their boss is never a good way to deal with differences, but this is especially true with bulls. Many bulls I have worked with respect those who challenge them more than those who don’t. There may come a time to report bull-like behavior up the chain, but only after you have first addressed the bull directly.

3. You can confront a bull’s ideas in front of others, but if you must confront their personality, do it in private.

It’s fine to have an open debate about ideas in a meeting with others, but if you feel it necessary to make sure they are aware of how their personality is affecting others, do it one on one. If the bull is your peer, this is much easier. When it is your boss you’ll have to weigh the strength of your relationship with him/her against possible negative outcomes.

-What about you? Have you worked with a bull? How did you deal with the situation? What do you wish you had done differently?