Completely absurd reasons why bullies get ahead


So you have a reputation of being a go-to person at work. One who gets things done and gets them done well. One who wants your organization to be great.

But suddenly you look around, and it’s the selfish, incompetent ones clawing their way to the top while you’re stuck reporting to them, making less money than them, and getting bullied by them.

So what’s the deal? How did this illogical power structure become so common?

  1. They’re great at maneuvering. They kiss up and kick down, so those who promote them either don’t see the damage they cause or don’t care about the damage they cause, but everyone else does.
  2. They’re entitled. When bullies simply take power and feel entitled to dictate, belittle, control, or manipulate targets by calling them “sensitive” or “emotional,” and others believe the dismissal of the targets rather than hold the bullies accountable, bullies get ahead. But it’s not just about believing bullies. It’s about seeing sensitivity as negative rather than human or that the bullies are insensitive, regardless of how their targets react.
  3. Incompetent people overrate themselves, and competent people underrate others. The phenomenon is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average…. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.” The result: the competent workers believe they’re average, while the incompetent workers believe they’re above average, and everyone believes both viewpoints, often positioning the incompetent workers at the top.
  4. Their bosses are the same way. Workplace cultures start at the top. If those at the top don’t tolerate bullying, it won’t happen. But when those at the top are bullies, they tend to hire other incompetent kiss ups who validate their own behaviors of getting by on ego rather than merit.

The good news: we don’t have to resign ourselves to the way so many workplaces run. We can educate others on these patterns so there’s a collective awareness of them and we begin to see them as negative and unacceptable.


  1. SDK

    If we look at bullying as a form of corruption and a corporate “agency problem” it all makes sense. Human resources is an arm of management and usually is involved in the (aimed) termination process of targets. Many of the things which bullies do are against policy. I also believe mobbing is more prevalent than we think and not so exceptional as “normal” bullying. Management defines culture. Bullying is bad culture allowed through bad management. To a degree, all bullying is mobbing. Bullies need organization support. Even though bullying places enterprise productivity and profit at risk, like any corruption, the guilty are enriched. Corrupt organizations seldom detect and expunge their corruption through internal governance. Like HR, compliance is an arm of top management. Whomever would direct blame and culpability toward top management is terminated. Whistle blowers are tormented and terminated through bullying practices. Look at Wells Fargo. We need to look at workplace bullying as fraud or other “white collar crime.”

  2. lou

    This epidemic is getting worse. I’ve been bullied my whole life and still am. I’ve only survived due to the real humans out there who are not. I feel for those like me and my kids. Bullies suck and deserve to be punished painfully.

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