Can A Bull Manage A China Shop?

My answer is “not well.” Yet corporations often put Bulls in managerial positions, expecting them to deliver great things. For a time, results may look good. But if you dig deeper, you will find eroding employee engagement, which leads to expensive turnover and sub-optimal business performance.

Consider this example

Roger, a Bull manager, always “tells,” rarely “asks.” He knows what he wants, demands it, and pushes everyone to adapt to his schedule and expectations. He believes that every second counts and does not view relationship-building as time well spent or a necessary activity for getting great work done.

He is not empathetic or understanding. He rarely changes his mind, even with new information. He operates solely on his own agenda, showing little or no interest in his employees’ opinions. He rejects suggestions quickly, as he knows others’ ideas won't work. He easily confronts people, often using words that are harsh, strong, or judgmental. He can be arrogant, as if to say he has all the answers. He doesn't trust his employees to do a good job, so he hovers and corrects them.

Roger doesn't include others before making decisions. While he thinks he coaches his employees, his “coaching” comes across as demands. No one would call him nurturing or encouraging. His language and tone exude frustration and anger. He is extremely unpleasant to work for.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Roger is quite smart and excelled at his previous jobs as an individual contributor. But he doesn't understand people, so he places his full focus on tasks and objectives, not realizing that the people doing these tasks have needs, too.

The most effective managers use two skill sets well:

  • Relating, which includes relationship-building activities such as asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging.
  • Requiring, which encompasses results-oriented activities such as setting expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, establishing appropriate controls, confronting performance issues, and asserting your views.

Roger is an Over-Requiring, Under-Relating manager, and his behavior pushes employees away.

Coaching the Bull

Of all management styles, I find Bulls are the hardest managers to coach. They typically don’t listen well. They often think they have the answers already. Over the years, I’ve tried the following messages, with limited success:

  1. "You are a results-oriented manager. But you would get far better results by asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging your people more often, and lowering the volume on how you demand and require of your people."
  2. "You were an excellent, hard-working individual achiever. But now your success is measured by how well you let others achieve. This takes a different set of skills. Unless you develop these skills, you cannot be effective as a manager."
  3. "Your goal is do a lot of excellent work and meet productivity objectives. But the manner you use to get results is damaging our business and sabotaging your career."
  4. “Our top employees will not work for an over-Requiring, under-Relating manager very long. They will seek a more reasonable manager and leave or transfer. That will require you to start over with new people, lowering your productivity. Over time, the company will not want to give you any new people.”
  5. "You have taught your people to give you exactly what you want, but they no longer give you new ideas or suggestions for how to do things better. You have demotivated them, which is why you see them lacking.”
  6. "I know you don't need to be liked. But you do need people to appreciate and respect being managed by you. You are not on track to get that respect."

Though all the arguments above are true, none will likely prompt the Bull to change. In my experience, Bulls believe that any negative impact they are having on their employees is necessary for getting good work accomplished.

The only way I’ve been able to get a Bull’s attention is to say, “You are failing as a manager” or “You will be fired if this over-Requiring, under-Relating behavior continues.” Then, if he believes you, you may have an opportunity to discuss what the Bull needs to change in order to manage his china shop effectively.

Have you had any success in changing a Bull? What messages have you used to get a Bull’s attention?

(Want to see how Bullish you are? There’s a free assessment at 


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