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Dana Beal, International Speaker, Author and Coach

Are You a Bully Boss?

By Danna Beal, M.Ed.
International Speaker
Author and Coach

See all this Month's Articles

Original Publish Date: November 7, 2023

Healthcare is an important field. Whether the services are provided in hospitals, clinics, primary care centers, nursing homes, or home healthcare, they are broadly assumed to be based on compassionate care.

Businesses, including healthcare, have followed a model of managing, measuring, and expanding financial capital as the method for increasing profitability. This model puts high pressure on the leaders which, in turn, pressures employees and destroys trust. High control and pressure that focuses primarily on the numbers limits and suppresses the full capacity of frontline service providers—doctors, nurses, therapists, administrative people, and everyone involved. And, unknowingly, treating people like numbers does not actually improve the companies’ profits. People under duress cannot perform well.

“When employees work in fear, innovation ceases and the main focus of workers' jobs becomes trying to avoid the boss's wrath," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an international employee placement and management training organization. “This causes a downturn in employee morale, loss of talent, and the potential for hostile litigation, all of which most certainly impact the finished product (or service), as well as the bottom line."


What are the signs that you might be a bully boss? Everyone seems to know what bullies act like, but can you recognize when you are a bully boss? I believe it can be helpful to understand enlightened leadership by recognizing what is not good leadership. These are what I call the ego-driven leadership styles:

The Dictator / Bully

This leader uses intimidation and fear to get people to do what their ego believes is needed to accomplish goals. The ego has a hidden motive as well, that is, validation that it is all-powerful. Bullying behavior is a result of insecurity and a false need to prove strength. Bullies are seen on the playground and can cause great damage to other children. Bullies in the workplace and government cause much more widespread harm.

This false leader cannot feel compassion for others. Their goal is to strengthen their small self-image, but it blocks their inner path to wisdom. All bullies have a disguised dread—the fear of being discovered they are not actually powerful.

Star-Of-The-Team Leader / Know-It-All Leader

This bully-ego wants to create the appearance of being the champion and the rescuer of those less capable. The know-it-all leader has to be right to maintain their ego’s sense of superiority, which they believe is necessary for leadership.

Ironically, knowing everything prevents this type of leader from learning anything new, which blocks all feedback from those in the organization. Their ego’s greatest fear is that one of the people under them may be an understudy waiting to replace them.

The Fault-Finding / Blaming Leader

The blaming technique employed by this ego-driven leader is an attempt to direct attention away from self so the actual fear and doubt will not be exposed. Blaming others and finding fault is a diversion. A leader of this mentality looks for a scapegoat, so no one will challenge them.

People who report to this boss are in a defensive posture because this type is always looking for mistakes in others and for what is wrong. This stifles any creativity and confidence in the people who might otherwise contribute. When people are afraid to make mistakes, they hold back.

The Discounting Leader

This type of leader renders employees impotent by pointing out their inferiority. Rather than acknowledge and praise their employees, the discounting leader uses the employees to elevate themselves and strengthen what they believe is a powerful position.

This ego-driven leader rarely gives others credit because it would threaten their position. The ego finds that the weak are less intimidating to its own fragile sense of power. Rather than validating others, the bully takes credit for any positive results or actions.

The Empire-Building Leader

Gaining territorial, political, financial, or competitive advantage over others is the method this leader uses to ensure the false image of authority. This tactic is actually a demonstration of a deep lack of worth. The deeper the sense of worthlessness, the larger the empire needed to demonstrate the false power.

This type is never satisfied and will continue to attempt to build a greater empire, which is an endless endeavor. Accumulation of things, titles, properties, money, or other acquisitions will never provide inner self-worth.

The Patronizing, Placating Leader

Coming from a desperate fear of not being admired or needed, this leader appears at first to be compassionate and caring. This leader seems to agree with subordinates’ ideas and provides positive communication. However, this leader tends to be a lapdog to their boss. This person placates their employees but doesn’t stand up for or have their back.

The patronizing leader unconsciously believes they have no power and, therefore, cannot step up. They instill no confidence, respect, or trust in employees. Employees know their leader will not take any action.

The Micro-Manager

This leader maintains all sense of identity and security by controlling the situation and others in it. To prevent anything from going wrong and the ego from being held accountable, this leader exerts a microscopic vigilance over people and the events of the day. This bully is really afraid of having to be responsible for any mistakes and, therefore, is highly controlling.

The people they lead feel like they are being held in a cage, allowed to move but only in a tiny arena. The micro-manager is in fear, although well disguised with control.

The Martyr/Self-righteous Leader

The martyr appears selfless and benevolent. This leader seems to have the best interests of everyone at heart, but they have a hidden, underlying motive or agenda. This person unconsciously makes apparent sacrifices while secretly keeping score. No one can keep up, so employees feel guilty and believe they have to exhibit this same workaholism to keep their jobs. And, sooner or later, the self-righteous leader uses this strategy to make others feel guilty, causing resentment and burnout.


The costs of bullying in your organization are employee turnover, internal competition, lack of teamwork, burnout, blame, and gossip, to name a few. It’s time that those at the top recognize this dysfunctional culture and do the self-reflection to become enlightened leaders. I call this process Personal Restoration.

When you have the courage to look within and recognize when and if you use any of these tactics, it will help not only you, but everyone you work with. A culture of compassion and respect will ultimately increase patient satisfaction, health outcomes, workplace culture, and even profitability. You can illuminate the workplace culture when you shine the light of love and compassion.

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”

- Kahil Gibran

Danna Beal, M.Ed., lives in the Seattle, WA area where she is an international speaker, author, retreat/workshop leader, and executive coach. Her new book, The Illuminated Workplace: Shining Light on Workplace Culture is now available on Amazon. She has spoken to thousands of businesses and conferences and has been on countless radio shows, podcasts, and webinars discussing “Enlightened Leadership” and “Workplace Culture. ”Her audiences and clients have included: Seattle Science Foundation--Spine Surgeons Grand Rounds, Swedish Hospital and Medical Groups, Kaiser Permanente Grand Rounds, Oakland, CA, AHRA, Orlando, FL, Federal Aviation Administration, Overlake Hospital Perioperative Conference, Radia, numerous physician practices and hospitals. Her website is