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Dr Laura Crawshaw and Taming The Bully Boss

We talk to The Dr. Laura Crawshaw on our upcoming In The Spirit of Things. Known as “The Boss Whisperer,” Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., BCC specializes in researching and coaching abrasive leaders, serving an international clientele of organizations over the past forty years, including over 40 Fortune 500 companies and United Nations and NASA. She founded the Executive Insight Development Group, Inc. in 1994, and the Boss Whispering Institute (dedicated to research and training in the speciality practice of coaching abrasive leaders) in 2009.

Dr Crawshaw speaks internationally, holding degrees in clinical social work and organizational systems.

She has been a member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations, the American Psychological Association, the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, the International Association on Bullying and Harassment at Work, and the International Coach Federation. She is also a Founding Fellow of Harvard's Institute of Coaching.

Dr. Crawshaw trademarked “Boss Whispering” after a client coined the term. She helped him gain insight about why he became aggressive when his team didn’t meet deadlines or achieve workforce objectives. During her career, she’s coached more than 500 professionals from Iceland to Tasmania to adopt less aggressive management strategies.

Relieve workplace suffering caused by abrasive leaders

“As a child, I had hyper-developed empathy for people or animals and wanted to relieve their suffering,” said Crawshaw.

During her career, she encountered suffering in the workplace caused by abrasive leaders and developed a passion to address and reduce it. Crawshaw began her career working in Alaska managing employee assistance programs, where she learned the language of emotion and feeling. When she later became an insurance executive, she learned the cold hard facts of business, and became fluent in both languages. The seeds of her interest were sown: why would a boss demean employees and why would a company allow it to continue? She found answers to both.

Crawshaw doesn’t use the term “bully,” as it implies intent. She learned that the vast majority of abrasive bosses didn’t intend to do harm, and in fact, many of them were shocked when she provided this feedback.

“These bosses were my greatest teachers,” she said. Crawshaw’s research revealed that their aggression stemmed from underlying insecurity – abrasive bosses felt threatened. She developed training for these employers, who after all are responsible for providing employees both physically and psychologically safe working environments.

Taming the abrasive manager

In 2007, Crawshaw wrote the book, Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace (Jossey-Bass Management Series).

She took four months to write the straightforward book that identifies and describes abrasive behavior and offers strategies on how employers, peers and subordinates can deal with an abrasive boss by learning how to elicit desired behavior through positive means. Most abrasive managers share two characteristics, says Crawshaw: they’re blind to and don’t see the abrasiveness they inflict, and they lack insight and empathy.

“Most leaders expect employees to be just like them, and see them as threats to achieving their goals or workforce objectives.”

She gave the example of a brilliant CEO who couldn’t understand why his management team never responded to his requests for input. When Crawshaw asked him for reasons why he thought his team was unresponsive, he hypothesized that they were either “lazy or stupid.” She posed a few questions, then upon reflection, he said, “I can be critical.” She offered helpful strategies on how to solicit input without intimidating the team.

Empathy leads to insight

Empathy, which Crawshaw defines as the ability to read and accurately interpret another person’s behaviour, is a trait often lacking in the abrasive manager. “Empathy leads to insight.”

She also cautions employers, as well as peers and subordinates, not to get into fact battles with an abrasive manager, as it often elicits defensive behavior.

She lists five common traits of abrasive managers as: overreacting, over-controlling, making threats, public humiliation and condescension. The common purpose of these abrasive bosses is to motivate people to get their job done.

Abrasive leaders know no better way to achieve their objectives, and according to Crawshaw, they need help with that.

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