Nine tips for surviving a toxic leader – and preventing bullying

Day-to-day bullies often effectively camouflage themselves from those who they are not targeting

Day-to-day bullies often effectively camouflage themselves from those who they are not targeting

Sarah asked me for help when she realised that her leader was a bully with serious interpersonal issues [back-story:]. Other people said he was a psychopath. However, Sarah wanted to know if that was likely and whether she could manage being bullied constructively.

It was not good news for Sarah. The bully seemed to show some degree of psychopathic behaviour. From Sarah’s story the traits shown were:

  • Superficial charm, but had a nasty temper
  • Inconsistent, unreliable, untrustworthy
  • Prepared to lie, even when faced with the undeniable
  • Made threats even in public, sometimes with grandstanding performance
  • Was cold and calculating
  • Enjoyed seeing others suffer when dishing out put-downs and making coercive demands
  • Seemed to have some personal habits that bordered on illegal (some people suspected drug taking)
  • Totally self centred and disinterested in other people’s lives

In general, a psychopathic leader tends to be bright and supremely manipulative – or – an intimidating bully.

In the cold light of day it can be hard to understand how someone with psychopathic characteristics survives at work. However, research shows that many are successful. On a day-to-day basis they effectively camouflage themselves by being articulate, with good social skills and by deploying charm. They typically create a positive impression on others, particularly those more senior to them. What makes a psychopath a misery to work for is the ruthless use of powerful manipulation skills with no compunction regarding the cost to others. No charm here! They have a ruthless drive to destroy others reputations by undermining their confidence and competence.

Advice for a bullied team member

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet, here is some of the advice I gave to Sarah to inform her journey []:

  1. Manage your boundaries: this person will use any information you give them about the organisation, other people and about yourself. So don’t provide gossip and salacious tales of organisational behavioural indiscretions
  2. Check out their version of events thoroughly with people you can trust and document discrepancies
  3. Keep a record of what you achieve and refer to it to help you maintain your confidence. Be ready to use it should you need to refute your leader’s manipulative negative performance assertions
  4. When you have the opportunity to interact with other leaders make sure they get the chance to note your performance
  5. Try to avoid one-on-one meetings
  6. Under-react to the emotional tone. Keep your emotions to yourself as much as possible
  7. Document every step you take. Do as Sarah did document everything from the electronic to conversations in a contemporaneous note (and don’t keep them at work)
  8. Get help from a psychologist make sure your management understand this situation
  9. If you make a complaint about the bully keep the above in mind, and don’t rely on confidentiality. At some point the bully will know and is very likely to escalate their behaviour

If you want a reminder of what Sarah did them click here: []

If you need help in dealing with bullying you can reach Marjorie Raymond on 07779 345 499, or by email:

Reach us at 07779 345 499,

Marjorie Raymond

Marjorie Raymond

T: 07779 345 499


We have experience in developing senior managers and their team members – both on an individual and team level – so they can develop practical approaches that encourage positive, constructive behaviour. This, in turn, leads to the development of positive beliefs and values. We are ready work with you, to help you get the best out of your people.

Here are some examples of approaches that can be used and tailored to your individual needs:

  • Support if you are being bullied, or have a member of your organisation who has made a bullying complaint
  • Mediation, to address workplace conflict
  • Personal development activities
  • Individual and group coaching…Coaching – a powerful way of developing people
  • Psychometric assessment, which can identify strengths as well as derailing behaviours and also include 360 degree feedback
  • Structured module for understanding the psychological contracts in your organisation, both at an individual or team level
  • Straight Talking: …Straight Talking create change through conversations
  • Special projects, secondments and assignments