Is there a connection between having a bully boss and having a bully parent?

7K0A0075Charming and often adored, the Kiss-Up/Kick-Down (KU/KD) person goes out of her way to praise those in higher positions. But if you have a lower ranking to her, watch out. You will be kicked down, or on the receiving end of negativity and blame.

In the blog post “Understanding the Psychology of the Kiss-Up/Kick Down Leader,” Dr. Terry Portis says that “the KU/KD person was likely raised by an authoritarian parent, thus molding how they interact with fellow people in authority, and those who are under their authority. Unfortunately, the KU/KD person also gravitates towards positions of authority, thus spreading their influence.”

In reading Portis’ personality symptoms of the KU/KD leader, a few stood out:

  • Power is based on fear rather than respect.
  • These leaders distort information.
  • They also blame problems on character flaws of the dependents.

“They do not allow anyone to challenge them, and they despise admitting mistakes. In fact, if you are questioning their decisions or behavior, they have already put a plan in motion to whisper about your own competency or value to the company or organization,” says Portis.

Sound familiar?
Power-hungry, manipulative, lacking accountability, and badmouthing. Sounds like a typical workplace bully, right? But is there more to it? How many of us have at least one parent who fits the mold of being raised by an authoritarian parent and who likes power, manipulates, lacks accountability, and badmouths? Is it possible that bully bosses might be our comfort zones?

While workplace bullying is in its infancy in terms of research, there may be more insights to be gained about workplace bullying by looking at our own family dynamics and understanding where bullying comes from, how bullies develop, and how many can simply accept bullying rather than question it.

In the meantime, it’s a no-brainer that we need a law protecting employees from workplace bullying that results in mental health issues. The Healthy Workplace Bill is about to go to the House floor in Massachusetts. Urge your State rep to support the Healthy Workplace Bill to make workplaces safe for everyone by Wednesday, November 11.



  1. Burke, Sheila \(EOL\)


    I totally agree with this because I always said, “If you see a child that is a bully most likely their parents are too.” Bullies are also “Cowards.” They need people around to boost their bullying. If more people were to stand up to them their behavior would stop. Maybe this should be renewed also.

    Thank you,

    Sheila Burke

    • Deb Falzoi

      Good point, Sheila. I was actually asking that if we have at least one bullying parent, are we more likely to accept a bully boss as our comfort zone? In other words, if power struggles, manipulation, lack of accountability, and badmouthing were the norm in your household growing up, are you more likely to see those characteristics in a boss? Or less? There may be a correlation.

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