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The Bully and the Brand


Lest we think that the subject of bullying is monopolised by schoolchildren, the workplace doesn’t fail to deliver its share of bullies, says Kamal Dimachkie

October 17, 2012 11:41 by

This is not an argument that brand managers need to be saints. Indeed, Apple and, to some extent, even Virgin, owe their successes to driven people who are anything but humble. The catch, though, is that while they may be hard-nosed slave drivers, Jobs and Branson used their convictions to build empires and generate wealth by creating brands for the people – brands that are approachable, that listen and engage.

When the prerequisite of humility is satisfied, substance is a likely outcome. Bullies are notorious for being glib, shallow and superficial. They speak plenty of fine words with ample form, but often suffer from an acute substance deficit. The trouble here is that such a bully can possess an exceptional verbal facility, and may be capable of outmaneuvering most people in verbal interaction, particularly in times of conflict – but one will often find that they are unable to deliver substance or a proposition to help the brand. The best they can do is dazzle with polish that tends to be devoid of essence. I often shudder when I see work that masks flatness and hollowness with craft in execution, as if the latter is the desired end game.

One of the hallmarks of a bully is their natural ability to stifle the life and motivation of those around them. When those working on a brand are constantly trying to second-guess the mood of the bully in charge, chances are they are working in an environment of fear; they are worried about upsetting such a person, and they cringe whenever criticism is given because it is mostly gratuitously destructive- never mind the total absence of praise and constructive direction.

It is not surprising that in such an environment communication gets killed, particularly when people are consistently undermined, and any point of view different to the bully’s gets quashed. Bullies belittle, undermine, denigrate and discredit anyone who calls, or attempts to call them to account. Couple that with arrogance, haughtiness and a high-handed know-all attitude, wrap it all up with linguistic competence and a rich vocabulary and one gets plenty of monologue with zero conversation.

When you find that you cannot hold on to your people, that they spend more time being miserable, that you are mostly managing relationships and dedicating little time to building your brand, then consider that, much as you may have resisted the urge to face it; you are dealing with the reality of a bully in the system.

Bullies generate destructive forces in their environment. They push people around and repel them, and when they are not destroying brands, they are strangling their growth by denying them the very oxygen – the talent and environment– that they need to thrive.

So, as we explore the regional brand scene, perhaps we should take a look around and audit those in command. Perhaps we need fewer bullies and more capable brand and communication managers in the driving seat.

Kamal Dimachkie, executive regional managing director of Leo Burnett – UAE, Kuwait and Lower Gulf

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  1. Arti on October 22, 2012 12:08 pm

    Very interesting article… thought provoking indeed.

    Almost all organizations suffer from bullying and most fail to even recognize it.

  2. Daniel on November 1, 2012 11:24 am

    Being in the same profession, i completely agree. It is sad to note that some fellow professionals have this haughty, know it all attitude and do not seem to see beyond their self proclaimed ‘God status’.

    “It is said that it is far more difficult to hold and maintain leadership (liberty) than it is to attain it. Success is a ruthless competitor for it flatters and nourishes our weaknesses and lulls us into complacency. We bask in the sunshine of accomplishment and lose the spirit of humility which helps us visualize all the factors which have contributed to our success. We are apt to forget that we are only one of a team, that in unity there is strength and that we are strong only as long as each unit in our organization functions with precision”.
    — Samuel Tilden


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