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Do you have someone on your leadership team who dominates decisions through manipulation and intimidation of other team members too afraid to offer a challenge?

If you answered yes, then you just may have a bully in the boardroom (or on your team or in your meeting). Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to the creation of additional bullies, especially if other team members decide, through observation, that bullying is the way business gets done around here. However, as Robert Scher, a contributor to Forbes magazine and a recognized authority on boards said: “Even steady growth companies can be slowed down by a dysfunctional board.” And you don’t need more than one bully to make a board (or a team or committee meeting) dysfunctional.

By the time you finish reading this article, you will have three strategies to tame the bully on your team or on your board or committee.

So what do you do if you have a boardroom bully?

First, establish an agenda for your meeting with time frames for each topic. Circulate the agenda before the meeting to all board member and ask them to be leaders in supporting the agenda. Even if some wish to make minor modifications, you’re still setting yourself up to maintain a sense of fairness to all and, therefore, maintain control of the meeting. This is just part of being politically savvy, something all effective leaders get good at.

As the chair, you can open the meeting by announcing that the agenda has been accepted. It’s now your job to control the timing of each item which has been agreed to by the members. Should the bully get out of line by attempting to derail the agenda with an agenda of his or her own, remind the bully that the members had previously accepted the agenda and time frames. If the bully challenges this approach, you can ask the entire team to vote on the bully’s challenge to the agenda.

Be sure to make it clear that you’d like to hear from others, and then, with your eyes, seek out others who may wish to speak, calling on them by name for their input.

Another thing you can do to minimize the possible damage a bully can do is to meet with them prior to the meeting. Recognize the bully’s good points and solicit their cooperation. Point out that their conduct in previous meetings (be very specific regarding the exact behaviors) is paralyzing the team and having a negative impact on the results. [To learn how to wordsmith this specific conversation, check out Chapter 11 in my book, You CAN Teach a Pig to Sing]. Leave the door open for the bully to bring their concerns to you in private. This invitation will encourage the bully to feel that they can contribute to your objectives and the organization will be better for this type of communication. The bully needs to recognize the negative impact of their conduct, but also how they can become a positive force for the good.

Finally, don’t forget to establish norms and guidelines for meeting behaviors up front. Brainstorm, as a group, meeting rules, and take a vote to identify the most important ones your team wants to adopt and live by. Post this list in the meeting room prior to each meeting. This one action alone could make it legitimate for team members to be more proactive in keeping others on track.

Become your own best coach. Answer the following questions:

  • What kind of problem people do I have on my team?
  • What have I tried thus far to alleviate the problems they cause?  What has worked? What has not worked?
  • Of the three ideas above, what am I willing to try?

How have you successfully dealt with the problem of the bully? Got some ideas?  Please share with our readers by commenting.

© 2015  Mary Jane Mapes All rights reserved.


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