Trying to better understand bullying, I was trawling through the myriad of articles written on the subject. While there are not so many articles on why people bully, one article about bullying in the workplace - by Seigne, Coyne, Tandall and Parker (2007) – caught my attention. Here are a few sentences from the abstract of that article.
…the findings indicated that bullies are aggressive, hostile, and extraverted and independent. Furthermore, bullies are egocentric, selfish, and show little concern for the opinions of others. High levels of aggressiveness, assertiveness, competitiveness and independence are traits that are also associated with leadership. (p118)
Type A Personalities
Seigne et al highlight the description of Type A personalities as ”hard-driven, competitive with aggressive tendencies and interpersonal hostility, and with a sense of time urgency.” (p119) If we translate “aggressive tendencies” to “assertiveness” and “interpersonal hostility” to “independence”, then we can see the positive possibilities of these characteristics.
Thinking about leaders I have known, and myself as a leader, I recognise the previously mentioned characteristics.
Driven – a passion and single-mindedness is often needed to get things done. Being goal-driven and focused is important to help by-pass all the difficulties that come with a group of individuals trying to work, live or play together as a team.
Competitiveness – It is sometimes interesting to see the “private side” of a leader. Competitiveness in sport or games often comes with the territory.
Assertiveness - Being able to make tough decisions, to be heard and to accept responsibility, requires this.
Independence – Being a leader requires independent thinking, creativity and an ability to act with confidence.
Time urgency – Having a sense of deadlines, and being able to work within these deadlines, is important to efficient leadership. Without this, a meeting can last for hours without any resolution. Without it, a project can be worked on indefinitely, a strategy never developed or a game become long and drawn-out.
The difference between leadership and bullying
The thing that separates a leader from a “bully” is the ability to listen to, empathise with and respect others. A leader may be independent, but a wise and successful leader is one who knows their role is one of facilitator rather than controller.
Bullying and Egocentrism
If you are driven, assertive, competitive, independent, have a sense of time urgency and egocentric then chances are you will become a bully.
Without an understanding of the people around you, their strengths and limitations, you are likely to drive others with harsh words and expectations. You are likely to push others beyond their capabilities and cause extreme stress.
If you don’t think about what may be going on for others, you are likely to act aggressively and impulsively as you feel others are not living up to expectations.
If you do not respect the differences of others, and have an understanding of their (and your own) strengths and limitations, then you are more likely to ridicule and use put-downs. Your competitiveness may also put you at risk of expecting too much of yourself, leading to a low sense of self-efficacy and frustration.
If you are independent and egocentric, then you are likely to make decisions that destroy relationships.
How is this relevant to children?
Recognising the above-mentioned personality traits in children helps us identify those who are at risk of becoming bullies. Leadership training and opportunities for these children can help them use these traits positively. Knowing that being egocentric as well as independent, driven and assertive is likely to lead to bullying tells us that respect and empathy are skills that should be built into any leadership training, no matter how young the child.
Seigne, E., Coyne, I., Randall, P. and Parker, J. (2007). Personality Traits of Bullies as a Contributory Factor in Workplace Bullying: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Organisation Theory and Behaviour, 10(1), pp118-132.