Abrasive bosses aren’t evil – they’re afraid…they are driven by their unconscious fears of incompetence, their terror of being perceived to be inadequate – a failure.
Laura Crawshaw, Founder of the Boss Whispering Institute

Abrasive employee behaviours in your workplace are your call to action. They are your warning sign that you have a possible workplace bullying claim coming. In some cases, that bullying claim may have already occurred. Once it has become a bullying claim, the workplace damage has already been done and your time and resources on solving the problem, both direct and indirect, become excessive.

Yet what is the difference between an abrasive, or workplace bullying, and a non-abrasive or adequate leader?

What is an abrasive leader?

An abrasive leader…

  • views perceived incompetence and actual incompetence as the same thing
  • relies on swiftly applied aggression and intimidation to survive both professionally and psychologically.
  • they are personally threatened by coworker incompetence and, therefore, pounce on anything that suggests the slightest hint of incompetence (they see incompetence and attack incompetence).
  • overreacts leaping to assumptions and jumps instantly into conclusions.
  • already knows the cause of incompetence that being that coworkers are stupid, lazy or stubborn.
  • they know the incompetence is caused by a flawed employee character (it’s their fault) and it’s up to them to fix it.
  • bear no responsibility for the incompetence.
  • they believe that, for coworkers to become competent, they can achieve this through intimidation.
  • demoralise coworkers and cause competent employees to believe they are incompetent and doubt their abilities, therefore having a negative impact on workplace culture and productivity.

What is an adequate leader?

In comparison, adequate leaders…

  • don’t experience employee incompetence as a psychological threat, instead experiencing it as a problem to be solved.
  • when confronted with suggested incompetence, they shift into a diagnostic process, asking first is this actual incompetence.
  • research and take the time to investigate the reasons for incompetence.
  • don’t leap to conclusions and they ask questions to determine the cause of the incompetence.
  • treat the causes of incompetence.
  • accommodate individual need within reason, but not to the point of compromising the company’s ability to function effectively.
  • use disciplinary process, where appropriate, in an objective and respectful manner.

It should be noted, that an adequate leader, understands that employees perform incompetently because they can’t (they are unable) or won’t (they are unwilling) to do their work. They look for the cause of incompetency in employees, which could relate to:

  • a lack of physical or mental ability.
  • that they don’t know what to do due to unclear expectations.
  • that they don’t know how to do it, which may indicate a training gap.
  • a lack of the necessary resources (time, money or people) to get the job done.

An adequate leader knows they have a responsibility to address the causes of incompetency, often related to workplace processes and systems.

Can an abrasive leaders become an adequate leader?

A common myth is that an abrasive or bullying leader cannot change. However, my experience through Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching is that this is an inaccurate myth and that many can change.

Your first step, which often links to your values, is that you make the decision that you want to offer support to that employee. If they choose to take up that offer, sometimes with the encouragement of you setting limits on their behaviour and consequences, sometimes not depending on their individual motivation, they can make the change to become an employee who helps build on your company’s productivity rather than detracting from it.