Not included in leadership skills is bullying. I started a discussion on bullying in the About Leaders LinkedIn group to help a friend who is being bullied by her boss. As with many bullying bosses, my friend’s manager feels completely justified in her behavior and does not see anything wrong with her approach.

Little did I know that, through this discussion, I was going to end up closing a long, painful chapter of a bullying situation of my own. A situation in which I was the bully and felt justified for MY actions.

An apology accepted from someone I bullied in grade school over 30 years ago…

Sad, But True

When I was a kid, I was always popular. Good athlete, friends with the “in” crowd, and most definitely a bully.

A peaceful, quiet kid, whom I will call “Manny”, was my main victim.

Although Manny was always nice to me and wanted to be my friend, I would intimidate and scare him whenever I felt like it, just because I could. This bullying behavior made me feel strong, and his pain was never something I considered. It was as if my popularity made me feel entitled to bully him.

Going into the eighth grade, Manny told me he was leaving our school because he didn’t have any friends in our school. When I told him that he did have friends, he courageously explained that the way we treated him was not the way friends treat each other. I will never forget our short conversation.

With wisdom and courage, he taught me a lesson I was not ready to learn.

Not Part of the “In” Crowd

Over the years, I have never forgotten Manny and how badly I treated him. I left Puerto Rico the next year and never had a chance to apologize. I moved to New York, and for the first time in my life, I was an outsider. I was the new “Spanish” kid, a long haired surfer with a thick accent who others were mostly curious about.

The jocks and their girlfriends were nice and polite, but it was it was clear to me I was different enough NOT to be considered part of the “in” crowd.

While I was not bullied myself, I saw how some of the popular kids were bullying many of the kids that were becoming my friends. It broke my heart to see how mean they were and how they got away with it.

Just like me, they seemed to feel entitled to bully others. There were no consequences from their bullying actions and they kept doing it.

I felt remorse as I would remember what I had done to Manny. The picture of the him crying as I bullied him tortured me.

Forgiveness

Over 20 years later, when Facebook caught on, and I became interested in leadership development, I started looking for him via the social web because I desperately needed to apologize.

I asked many of my friends from Puerto Rico if they had heard from him, but had no luck.

A few weeks ago, his picture came up in my Facebook page as someone I may know! Although he looked older, I remembered him immediately. I quickly messaged him to verify he was the person I had been looking for after all these years. Within minutes, he replied and said, “yes”.

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Tears of remorse and embarrassment rolled down my face as I quickly asked for his forgiveness for all the bad things I had done to him. In his loving and nurturing way, he accepted my apology and explained that he didn’t remember me for the things I did.

After a few heartfelt messages, Manny and I became friends on Facebook and this experience has helped me understand my motivation and drive to help others lead better.

The Bully was Me! Twice!

As a kid, I was an overt and mean bully. As a manager, I learned ways of bullying covertly by hiding behind my rank. Although I may not have been as bad as other bosses, I was still a bully and very good at getting away with it.

In both situations, albeit years apart, I found ways to justify my behavior. I felt entitled to my actions. I was wrong both times and had to look in the mirror long and hard to face up to the fact that it was ME who needed to change.

It took courageous and caring feedback from a few trusted colleagues to help me realize what I was doing, but it also took my years of remorse to humble and remind me that I had bullied before and could definitely be bullying others again.

Leadership Skills, Unexpected

It is ironic that I started this discussion post to help a friend of mine who was being bullied at work. As it turned out, the post would be a way for me to remember my own wrongdoing and how difficult it is for us to accept that our behavior may be hurting others.

It is now clear to me that helping leaders to lead without bullying has been a mission of mine primarily because I know how easily it is to justify our actions when we hurt others. As a kid and as a manager, I easily fell into a trap of bullying, laid out in front of me by popularity and authority.

Not only do I know how easy it is to bully others, I also know firsthand how hard it is to admit it and change.

Now it’s Your Turn

  • Have you been bullied by a manager who may not know she or he is bullying you?
  • Is it possible that you may have bullied someone else and not be aware of it?
  • What are some signs managers can look for that can tell them they are using their authority to bully others?

How Can Leaders Deal With Bullying?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Al Gonzalez
Al has worked for 16 years helping others maximize the quality of their leadership at Motorola, CBS Sports, and Cornell University. He’s used these experiences to develop trust-based leadership tools for all levels of management.
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