All bullies are ultimately cowards.

Bullies behave as bullies when they are in positions of strength, and as the latter in positions of weakness. This balance actually allows them to perpetuate as a species (Darwin removes those who attack, regardless of their positional strength, from the gene pool).

Nobody likes a bully. While many will fall under the sway of bullies, either out of fear or misguided admiration, it is not in response to any form of leadership. Leadership (and Management) is about creating something useful and beneficial from a collection of people. Bullying is all about taking, not creating. Another reason why it succeeds evolutionarily is that in most cases it is easier to take something than to make something. It is easier to take someone’s lunch, than to make a lunch.

The issue of bullying has come to the fore in the largest Leadership and Management decision facing the world this year when the Washington Post recently reported on Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney’s alleged practice of it as a youngster…

  • “Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s [a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality] hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors. The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.”

One can’t really write off these reports as a youthful indiscretion. For starters, Romney has not wholeheartedly disavowed such “hijinks”. Secondly, it was not ‘victimless’ (as a puff on a joint might be). But mostly, the story resonates because it seems to explain so much of Romney’s record since. His work at Bain Capital was pretty much holding down weakling companies and giving them a haircut. And as I assert at top, inside every bully is a coward. Such duality would explain Romney’s practically unprecedented recoil from his previous policies and positions as a Massachusetts governor and 2008 Presidential candidate when they put him in a position of weakness.

A future under Romney appears to hold more of the same embrace of the Bully. Despite America’s economic difficulties, it still has peerless military strength. It would seem that the ‘Romney Doctrine’ would be something along the lines of ‘bombing our way out of recession.’ Andrew Sullivan dissected the militant Romney in his Sunday Times column yesterday “Calling for war in a nation sick of it” (paywalled)…

  • Romney ended the primaries with a foreign policy that makes him look like the war candidate in a country sick of war. This is a vulnerability even Republican stalwarts such as the columnist Peggy Noonan worry about: ‘Are they under the impression America is hungry for another war? Really? After the past 11 years?’

In other words, Romney seems to think he can hold the world down with our military and give it a haircut.

So what would a non-bully do? The opposite of ‘Bully’ is ‘Courage’. Courageous Option 1 would be to fight from a position of weakness. Given the credibility of the reports confirming Romney’s behavior, he is certainly on the back foot. But a courageous (innocent) Romney would come out fighting to deny categorically that he was ever involved in such deplorable activity. Courageous Option 2 echoes the other theme of this blog…embrace failure. A courageous (guilty) Romney would come out and admit he was involved in such behaviour, but is now changed/matured and finds such activity deplorable and shameful. We’ll see if either of those options come to pass. So far, we have only gotten the classic politician’s cowering of ‘I can’t recall.’

Leaders need to avoid bullying in their pursuit of upside, and Managers need to avoid cowardice in their avoidance of risk. But true Bullies/Cowards are simply one in the same.

Today of all days, political leaders need to embrace the courage that all Americans celebrate.