How to tell if your boss is a demanding leader or an actual bully

Devil Wears PradaBefore you label your boss a ‘Miranda Priestly,’ check to see that she’s not just a demanding leader.

Just because your boss asks you to make daily trips to Starbucks doesn’t mean she’s a Miranda Priestly.

Some bosses are just more demanding and like to challenge their employees.

That’s why Andrew Faas, a former senior executive with Canada’s two largest retail organisations who has dealt with bullying first hand, says it’s important to define what constitutes bullying in the workplace.

In his new book, “The Bully’s Trap,” Faas writes that he often gets push back from managers who think that raising public awareness of bullying will hinder them from being able to do their job properly out of fear of being labelled a bully.

“A lot of executives say, ‘Well this is my style and I’m very passionate and never mean to hurt someone,'” Faas tells Business Insider. “But my pushback on that is, ‘What if you are hurting someone?'”

To help determine where bullying is happening, Faas says he always looks for one telling sign: the intent to destroy.

On the other hand, aggressive or demanding managers set high expectations, hold people accountable, and follow up in a direct manner, all with the intent of helping that person improve or correcting a deficiency, not to destroy that person, Faas says. “A manager should not be afraid to do those things,” he explains.

To help make the distinction clearer, here are the eight subtle differences between a demanding manager and a bullying manager, according to Faas:

3. Coaching vs. humiliating


True coaching is helpful, but humiliation is just mean.

Faas writes that the distinction should be obvious: if your boss points out everything a certain employee does wrong in front of their coworkers without bringing up any of that employee's accomplishments or inserting any helpful tips or methods for improvement, then that's bullying.

'Even professional coaches can fall into this trap, heaping insult onto injury after a defeat,' he writes.

4. Healthy competition vs. unhealthy competition

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Healthy competition is motivated by wanting to do well on the task at hand and focuses on both sides having fun and learning skills along the way, Faas writes.

He says an example of positive competition in the office would be two teams working to find the best solution to a problem. 'Competitions like this can lead to startling innovation as teams share and learn from each other and lift each other up at the same time,' he says.

Unhealthy competition, on the other hand, is motivated by wanting to beat others and the focus is on winning, Faas writes.

An example of negative competition in the office would be two individuals or groups fighting for their boss's approval, he explains. The two sides typically become defensive and stoop to undermining the other side through sabotage, gossip, and innuendo.

5. Outlining consequences vs. making threats

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Outlining the good and bad consequences of an action is not bullying, it's being clear, Faas writes. For example, 'Breach of this policy could result in disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.'

But when explaining the consequences turns into threatening someone by throwing out comments like, 'If you don't do this, you will be fired' in a nasty tone, then it's bullying, he explains.

6. Joking vs. taunting


'I was just joking' is not an excuse for bullying.

Faas writes that poking fun at coworkers is fine until the offensive comments are used repeatedly to offend, demean, and ridicule.

A safer bet to lighten the mood? Poke fun at yourself instead, he advises. Or just tell an office-appropriate joke that everyone can enjoy.

7. Holding accountable vs. seeking revenge

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Being held accountable for your words and actions is healthy, but being threatened with retaliatory action for them is bullying, says Faas.

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