Is Your Team Lead a Successful Bully?

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

~Peter Druker


As a member of a project team, what is the leadership style of your team leader? Over the years, I've seen many different styles of team leadership. Sometimes it was fascinating watching leaders attempt to get the project complete - often with little success. In other cases, it was seeing pure poetry as the deliverables and the project is quietly achieved.

There are plenty of options for testing and figuring out the management style of your team lead. Here are five styles leadership styles and suggestions for handling the situation if you find yourself on their team. Which leader do you have?


These folks lead through fear and intimidation. They threaten and bully members in order to get work done.  I've found that being on this team is like being trapped on a boat that is slowly sinking. Wondering when the next outburst might occur is very stressful.

Some company cultures allow this frightening behavior. Perhaps there are folks that need threats and intimidation to focus on what they need to do. I've never met any. The team is miserable and results are often inadequate.

Tyrants have difficulty understanding why their techniques don't work for everyone. I've seen teams completely shut down and undermine the project just to prove to the lead who really has the power.

What to do?

In my case, I get off a team run by a tyrant as soon as possible. I've seen very few cases where tyrants change their style. I'm not willing to deal with the tirades and the stress. Your mileage may vary.

If your company allows this type of behavior to continue, my advice is to find another job as soon as possible.


I once worked with a Director that believed complete consensus was necessary before any decision was reached. Naturally, this meant that very few decisions were made, and the ones that were made were often inadequate or too late. This is the symptom of the classic over collaborator.

When companies hire people, they spend a great deal of time looking for qualifications and determining fit with the team. I agree that allowing the trusted folks should be asked their thoughts. If you didn't trust their expertise, why did you hire them?

That doesn't mean everyone must agree with the decision made.

Giving everyone a voice is good. Trying to get complete agreement from everyone is difficult and time-consuming. As a team leader, your job is to make the decision and keep the team moving forward.

Over-collaborators are often afraid of making the wrong decision, so they insist everyone agree or they make no decision at all.

What to do?

My response to being on a team like this used to be frustration and exasperation. With experience, I've learned to just let this go and tried to work around it.

If someone is afraid to make a decision, it's unlikely your influence can change their behavior. Get as much work done as possible while waiting for the decision to be made.

Do it all

This leader is the person who doesn't trust anyone on their team to do anything right. They are not good at delegating, or if they give you something to do they call you three times an hour to see how you're progressing.

It's nice that the team lead knows how to do the project tasks. On the upside, the team lead knows which questions to ask to understand progress. On the downside, pestering the team takes lots of time out of everyone's day. And most people do not like to be micro-managed, lowering productivity.

Sometimes this lead takes the most important tasks for themselves. Unfortunately, running a project team and also trying to do the critical tasks can be a recipe for disaster.

In my experience, the "do it all" leader, or micromanager has trust issues. They don't trust their teams and they don't trust their own judgment. Over time, upper management won't trust them either.

What to do?

When I'm on a team with a "do it all" lead, my first instinct is to offer to take tasks off their plate and complete them.  When this works, and trust is established, sometimes the micromanaging gets better. If the lead won't accept help, or only accepts help if you do everything their way by micromanaging the process, I look for another team.

Success is difficult to achieve when a 10-person project is basically being done by one person.


This lead is the opposite of the "do it all" manager. An absent team lead disappears during the project, being unavailable to the team and sometimes management.

For a team that is cohesive and has worked together before, an absent lead may not slow them down. Unfortunately, most teams have not worked together before and need some type of leadership to be sure to get the deliverables completed on time and on budget.

Is your team having regular status meetings? Do you see your team lead around the office, or hear from them at least once per week? If the silence from your lead is deafening and you can't get your questions answered, you've got an absent leader.

What to do?

If you're self-motivated, just get your work done based on your understanding of the task. If you have any questions, document the questions and your solution to your lead.

Then if you don't get a response, implement your solution.

If you have a question that won't wait, go the individual that is the designated back-up to the team lead.

Then, get on a different team.

Lead by example

Luckily, I've had a few of these team leads in my career. This leader shows up, takes charge, delegates tasks to the appropriate individuals and then lets them work. When a task or deliverable was late or at risk, they talk with the assigned members and worked out a solution to the problem.

This leader communicates with the team and upper management. The "lead by example" leader is available to the team members when an issue arises. As a team member, you know what you need to do and by when.

If you get assigned to this team lead, be thankful. Do your job, complete your deliverables on time and on budget. When this project is done, ask to be assigned to this team lead again.

The team lead is important

A project team lead is an important part of the overall project effort. When leaders bully team members, spend all their time trying to reach consensus, try to do everything themselves, or check out of the process the project suffers.  When your team lead treats the team like the professional individuals they are, success is much more likely.

More information on leadership styles

For more questions and information about leadership styles, check out the Harvard Business Review for a quick assessment.

What leadership styles have you experienced? Let us know in the comments below.


This post was originally published on 3/13/17.

Deb Schaffer, PMP has 20 years’ experience managing projects and teams in large software and manufacturing companies. She's an expert in time management, productivity, and just getting stuff done. She resides in the Denver, Colorado area, helping companies manage training and marketing projects, writing whitepapers, newsletters and blog posts, and mentoring staff. When she's not managing a project, find her traveling or on the golf course taking notes to update her new book, Play Golf, Colorado!

Find her on LinkedIn at DebSchafferPMP and at her blog,


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