What makes a boss a bully?

Jun 22 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Psychologists in the United States are turning their attention to the scourge of bullying bosses, according to a story in the New York Times.

According to one researcher, many managers bully subordinates for the sheer pleasure of exercising power Ė a kind of low-grade sadism that starts with one victim and moves on to someone else.

Bullying bosses, studies find, differ in significant ways from the Blutos of childhood. In the schoolyard, particularly among elementary school boys, bullies tend to pick on smaller or weaker children, often to assert control in an uncertain social environment in which they feel vulnerable.

But adult bullies in positions of power are already dominant, and they are just as likely to pick on a strong subordinate as a weak one, said Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, an advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash. Women, Dr. Namie said, are at least as likely as men to be the aggressors, and they are more likely to be targets.

New York Times | Fear in the Workplace: The Bullying Boss

Older Comments

My boss has no control at home and is in a very long and bad relationship. The only place she can have control over anyone is at work. she is very verbally abusive because we cannot respond back to her (I guess we could but are afraid of loosing our jobs.


My boss also happens to be in an unhappy relationship. She is a verbal bully and obsessed with power and status. Staff are treated like servants with no respect. Her redcords for keeping and developing people is very poor, yet her own manager will not do anythign about the situation so she continues to get away with it.

Heidi Robinson

My boss will never say yes to my proposals that will be used later after she instructed others to carry them out at her credit. I strongly agree that bullying boss will take on the competent subordinates who have shown quality attributes for getting things done in the right ways. Unfortunately, my boss is able to show her boss who tends to believe what she says and does even the growth is not there.


I unfortunately work for a Critical Bully, who never gives credit where it is due and then engages in a put-down artist routine. Fueled by insecurity, malice, venom and hositillity, she has a VERY high turnover rate of staff. What is distressing is that senior management has not opened their eyes to her destructive behavior.

Elizabeth Bennet NYC

I am a 69 year old retiree, having worked as an office worker (administrative assistant) and a d public school music teacher. I am educated in every job I undertook. While I have nothing but positive reference letters which I kept through the years, I am also disabled, primarily as the result of working for three bosses sequentially, all of whom were bi-polar. This disease was not well recognized until the past 15 years or so, but I spent almost 15 years being yelled at loudly, and generally abused. One instance took place the first week I worked for a vice-president of a medical products company. He yelled out and told me to set up what essentially amounted to 500 meetings for the year. He did this without checking with any of the other people involved. Not 5 minutes after these were posted, the first change came. After changing the whole calendar to his liking, it amounted to over 2000 meetings being posted, most of which still ended up being changed. When I developed carpel tunnel he ignored it and ordered me to type old meeting minutes, a total of 7 hours on end. The other two bosses were so screaming and hyper, my husband finally called one of them. She finally quieted down when she realized that others were watching. Nonetheless, I retired when she ordered me not to go into any room where a certain student might be. This student could turn on the rage without provocation, and the said principal never questioned me about what had gone. Eventually she apologized, brushing the tears.

Anyway, I now suffer from severe fibromalgia, osteoarthritis, asthma and depression which I attribute 100% to terrors in the work place. I planned to sue the first boss mentioned, but after calling all attorneys in town, the last one informed me it would never work. The company had hired all of the town's attorneys because they lost 2 cases filed by abused workers.

Judith Paulson Racine, Wisconsin

I wanted to add how much I appreciated reading the posts I found here. They have reinforced what I was sure was at the core of the situation. Presently I work for two bosses, one the President and Managing Partner and the other the Chief Operating Officer. I work in the medical products field for a company that is family owned...which means, three brothers. My bos is the oldest brother and the head of the company. I was expecting that he was bi-polar and it was just confirmed yesterday. The second brother is also a President and yet under my boss. There is a VP who is also a brother and the only sane one of the family. My other boss, the COO is a good guy but an admitted major, major control freak. Then, I have a coworker who I can't even stomach to talk to anymore due to her strange behaviour, flirting with the President, very needy for attention and completely incapable yet wants my job big time as I am also at the top of the heap. The situation is that the President is bi-polar, his one brother has some form is mental incapability/attention deficit...the two brother absolutely hate each other and fight in front of me on a regular basis...yelling, swearing and so on. It is horrid. My young coworker is full of ego and believes she could run the office and is doing everything she can to try to intimidate me and gain my bosses confidence by flirting and giving him excessive attention and he eats it up on a daily basis. It is such an insult for professional women and to have to witness this first hand is unsettling. So, now we add the next round of problems, the coworker has a borderline personality disorder and....the human resources manager is bi-polar. Unfortunately, this is all fact. I sit in the middle of four disfunctional people. How the company stays afloat and successful is because of the COO. Although he is a control freak, he is outstanding but on the down side, he just turns his head to all that is going on. I had hoped to retire in 8 years from this position but I recently found out that no one has lasted more than two years. The behaviour of the President is disgraceful and although he really liked me when I came there, it seems once I showed my capability, he now tries to put me down, criticize me, favour the young girl blatently in front of me, brushing me off whenever I try to talk to him and he won't look at me in the eye. I have begun to think that he just wants to break me down by overpowering me in the office any way he can. As much as the COO wants me to stay, this is not a healthy workplace by anyone's standard. Job searching will help but I am paid well and the income is very hard to find for a single woman and home owner.

Marlene Ontario