Bosses, Are You A Mentor Or A Bully?

As you rush to respond to the dual pressures of year-end deadlines and the many expectations inherent in the holiday season, I urge you to take a few minutes to reflect on ways you can be a better boss and can help foster the best management practices within your organization.

Poor Bob Cratchit. Did you ever wonder why he kept working for Ebenezer Scrooge? In my experience, people don’t just change jobs for a better salary; they also leave for what they expect to be better working conditions, including someone who is a better boss. Tailoring one’s management style to fit the employee could be a good way to keep and motivate valued staff members, particularly during tough times. While easier said than done, it still has got to be easier than coming up with unbudgeted dollars for salaries and bonuses.

One question I typically ask when interviewing prospective employees is, “Tell me about your best boss — not the person’s name or where you worked, but about the qualities that made him or her a good boss.” This helps me determine whether my management style will work if we hire the person.

What are the qualities of best bosses? I asked several MFM members and other people whose opinions I trust to answer that question.

One of the people I talked with remembered an early boss as a mentor who “did a lot to make me better at what I did” and “offered suggestions for career enhancement.”

Someone else said, “[He] was friendly and sociable, but he wasn’t really our ‘friend.’ He was our boss, and we knew it.” The source also commented that the boss “didn’t give me enough rope to hang myself. When he saw I was in danger of doing that, he would step in and guide me off the gallows.”

Interestingly enough, this last comment is in direct contrast with something I heard from another person, who believes that a good boss gives you “a long rope to make your own decisions and to learn from mistakes.This is a great way to develop people who take responsibility.”


Clearly management isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. The person who made the “gallows” remark summed this up pretty well by saying, “[He] was a great boss for me because he left me alone to get the job done, but he was there as a sounding board when I needed help. That isn’t a style that works for everyone. And apparently he realized that, because he spent a lot more time with other people on our team than he spent with me.”

It wasn’t until years later that my source understood that the boss focused more attention on the others because they needed more supervision, not because he preferred their company.

That insight dovetails nicely with a comment from someone else who suggested that bosses must be accessible no matter how busy they are. It impacts their employees’ sense of self worth.

Your staff members also can feel they are a burden if they need some guidance but you’re difficult to approach. As a result, you may not find out about a troublesome issue until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The people I surveyed have been in business for a while and don’t require the supervision they once did. Now, they want to know that their expertise is valued. For people at this career stage, best bosses are willing to listen — really listen — to what their staff has to say about an issue and then make a decision.

Two other best boss qualities mentioned by everyone I talked to are someone who deals fairly with subordinates and someone with a sense of humor. These really hit home with for me because I originally asked about them when we were preparing the current — November/December — issue of The Financial Manager magazine.

This issue includes an article entitled “Taking the Bully by the Horns,” written by Ann Carlsen, founder and CEO of Carlsen Resources, a provider of executive search and consulting services for media and telecommunications businesses. In it, she describes behaviors that constitute workplace bullying and outlines their potential negative financial impact on the workplace. 

Bullying is the opposite of dealing fairly with others. Carlsen says it may be defined as “repeated acts or comments that are not constructive and hurt or isolate a person in the workplace.”

Unfortunately, according to Carlsen, this potentially cancerous form of employee behavior is not only rampant, it is increasing. Worse still, her research shows that reported abuses “continue to be swept under the carpet by companies, large and small.”

As she explains, bullying behavior, which many psychologists refer to as psychological violence, cannot be dismissed as “good old-fashioned iron-fisted management.”  Among her examples is that of research conducted by the University of Manitoba in Canada that found victims of workplace bullying displayed significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than found among victims of sexual harassment.

Interestingly, unlike those on the playground, targets of workplace bullying are traditionally not introverted loners but bright, well-liked and highly skilled employees. Carlsen says the reason their abusers often pick these individuals is because they themselves lack those same traits.

But unlike victims of sexual harassment, who have legal recourse, there are no laws to protect victims of workplace bullying, unless the bully is behaving in a discriminatory manner — based on race, color, national origin, religious beliefs, sex or disability

Carlsen goes on to outline the financial incentives for companies that enact their own policies to root bullying behavior. One study found that 70% of all bullied employees soon leave their companies. This finding certainly corroborates my sense that good bosses are the reason many employees choose to stay at a company, thereby reduces the costs associated with hiring and training their replacements.

Another study Carlsen cited reported recently that Australia’s economy lost about $US13 billion in one year to bullying, which was reflected in employee sick days, lower productivity, increased insurance premiums, court costs, legal judgments and out-of-court settlements.

As she observes, managers are morally responsible for ensuring that bullying behavior will not be tolerated and their efforts should be supported by clearly written corporate policies addressing the issue. 

My father-in-law once said that his employees were his biggest expense. Even if that isn’t completely true for every business, employees are still a big part of the budget and typically represent an organization’s most valuable assets. Why should we knowingly put those assets at risk?

As you rush to respond to the dual pressures of year-end deadlines and the many expectations inherent in the holiday season, I urge you to take a few minutes to reflect on ways you can be a better boss and can help foster the best management practices within your organization. 

Ebenezer Scrooge knew the value of money; what he needed to understand was the value of those who worked with him to create that value.  Fortunately none of us needs the ghostly apparitions experienced by Ebenezer Scrooge in order to embrace what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.”

On behalf of the staff and members of MFM, I wish you the very best for a joyous holiday season.

Mary M. Collins is president & CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.

Comments (3)

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Frederik Fleck says:

December 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Mary, you are spot on. The sad commentary is this column was applicable 34 years ago when I was a rookie in TV news. My first boss was a “bully” boss, who took delight in employees discovering the book “Winning Through Intimidation” on the front seat of his staff car. Nine reporters revolved out of that newsroom in the 15 months I worked for him. On the other hand, in my second news director’s job, I worked for the king of bosses, George Diab in Wilmington, N.C. George was a mentor, father figure, leader by example and respected stationwide. Our station did not pay as well as some in similarly-sized markets. However, people stayed far longer at WWAY for two reasons: one, Wilmington and its beaches were an attractive locale…..and, two, the way George treated his people. He was the trademark Golden Rule company president and he enjoyed success and profits in so doing. In today’s corporate beancounting structure, George Diabs no longer exist. Any wonder why the broadcast business has extraordinarily low morale today?

Lisa Zorn says:

December 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Wish it were that simple. Most manager are a work in process….even GM’s. One size fills all does not work with every station employee. Each employee is an individual and is motivated by different needs. get to know your emloyees and you will know how to manage,,,motivate,,,,disapline…or reword them. It take skill and experience to manage. One size does not fit all!!

Lisa Zorn says:

December 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I have an interesting story to convey:

I was the new GM at a small TV station and decided to get the staff together for a general meeting to our outline the asperations of management and ownership…. I wanted to bring the employees together to share the hope and desires for the stations future. After buying the station we did not fire any employees…. reduce budgets…. cut expenses or make pervious managers scapegoats for their lack of success.

After speaking to the employees from my heart one of the photogs raised his hand and asked me ” what was I going to do about the low employee morale”. I told him I was hired to set a new course for the future of the station.. I was expected to make our investement in new equipment and resources make us competative…. I was there to give the station a chance to grow and succeed. Then I said to him ” If you are not happy here and don’t believe this station has a future come to my office right after this meeting and I will help you get your resume in order and help you find a new job”. I was not hired to make you feel good about your job here at the station…. that comes from within”.

I got a standing ovation from my new employees.
The station went on to become a factor within two years, and the young man I spoke of brought a gun to work one day and was fired.

Morle of the story…. good employees don’t need to have thier hands held…they want recogination for their work and fairness in the workplace… the rest should leave and get a government job.