The rise and fall of the management bully


Paul Cooper looks at whether “macho” management behaviour produces the best results in our staff.

I have had a bee in my proverbial bonnet about this for some time, but thought I should probably just simmer about it, as it’s a personal view that I realise some others don’t share. However, as we have now got to know each other over the last couple of years at Call Centre Helper, I see you all as friends, so let’s get personal!

Macho management style

I am appalled, and always have been appalled, at the so-called “management style” of such celebrities as Alan Sugar and Gordon Ramsay. There we are – I’ve come out and said it, because I am worried that rising young executives will think that it is right, and normal.

The core of these programmes seems to be about being as rude as you possibly can to your staff, colleagues and management, and to develop, or have in the first place, such raw ambition that you would put down and “kill” fellow workers and other staff, whilst trying to impress the boss. And these are seen as virtues?!

This contrasts strongly with what has always been my view, backed up by research and other writers, that looking after one’s staff is THE key job of management, and it creates a direct link to improving customer service in any organisation. It covers feeling wanted, respected, being valued and the like.

So all a bit softy-touchy-feely then?!

So, who is right? Well, let me ask it another way. Which of the two “cultures” would be most likely to create great customer service and an excellent customer experience? I think you know, both instinctively and from your own experiences. As Tom Peters once said, the “problem” with staff is that they DO listen to what you say, not that they DON’T listen.

All this shouting, bullying and pseudo-macho stuff just doesn’t cut it – in life, with one’s family, in sport or especially in business. It creates timidity, fear, introspectiveness and unhappiness in some, and perpetuates and even trains conceit, rudeness and bullying in others, not to say actually demeaning the person doing it.

When one starts out on the working path, whether this is with a hoped-for high-flying career in mind, or just a very satisfying job as the goal, one is usually fairly confident, happy, willing and a little nervous.  How long does it take your organisation to knock that out of you?

Tests of a great organisation

That’s one of the many “tests” of a great organisation to work for. Others could include such things as whether you’d be happy getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go out and bust a gut for them, whether you really believe they care about you as an individual, or whether you’d actively get a friend or member of your family to work there.

What I’d be very confident of, though, is that when an organisation is really good, it would have a low turnover of staff and management and high employee satisfaction. And these are two of the major contributors in the service–profit chain to customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and profit.

I am asked frequently whether I believe that customer loyalty is declining as it is often given out as a reason for poor performance by organisations. My very firm, and usually loud, answer is NO. It is only declining with those organisations that don’t deserve it, who aren’t trying to maintain it, and who don’t realise how important it is.

The customer likes being loyal

We, the customer, actually like being loyal. There is hassle in change; there is comfort in building a relationship. We are happy to stay, and we like to see happiness oozing (metaphorically) out of the front-line customer service professionals with whom we deal.


Paul Cooper

Harley Davidson uses a phrase that sums it up for me – “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns, and have people be afraid of him.”

Now that’s an organisation with amazing customer loyalty, incredibly happy staff, and a wonderful culture. That is definitely one that you would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for, and any violence and bullying is purely in the joke approach to motivation.

Those that do it for real are the ones who are a joke, and we shouldn’t tolerate them.


Paul A Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 17th Apr 2013 - Last modified: 27th Jun 2017
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  • What a great article! I too am appalled at the antics of the likes of Alan Sugar. Your ideas are well in line with motivational principles advocated by modern psychology and neuroscience. The macho manager is always in danger of triggering an adverse emotional reaction in his or her subordinates. This emotional arousal immediately starts shutting down key mental and emotional faculties needed for high productivity and excellent customer service. These faculties include people’s empathy towards customers and colleagues’ problems, rational thinking, imagination, long-term memory, and the ability to listen and learn, to name a few. From my own research I would go as far as saying that macho management is a danger to the smooth functioning of any organisation and should not be tolerated let alone advocated. Thanks for this, it is good to hear someone write sound sense on this subject at long last.

    Jeremy Old 18 Apr at 20:37
  • The best managers I ever had were serving or former military officers, and they did not bully their staff. We all felt that they would be the first to back us up in a tricky situation and therefore, when push came to shove, we were prepared to do the same for them. To my mind, the trick to leadership and motivation is understanding the reality of the situation, for most people work is not a religion or a cult, it’s what they do to put food on the table and money in the bank. Smart managers, in my view, recognize this and motivate their staff by
    1. Looking after them when they have problems
    2. Making their requirements extremely clear
    3. Holding staff to account without making it personal
    4. Respecting the staff’s dignity as human beings
    5. being cheerful and maintaining their sense of humour

    Liam 19 Apr at 01:42
  • Paul Cooper concisely sums up the impact of a bullying culture. I’d only add that it can lead to considerable subjectivity in how both people and situations are read, pressure to “do something” and a lack of enquiry. Neither management nor sustainable leadership. I completely agree with Liam’s observations.

    max 19 Apr at 21:06