What do you think of when you hear the term “bully”? Perhaps the classic school days tyrant whose sole raison d'etre in life was to impart as much misery as possible on any unsuspecting underling who may have made eye contact with them? Over the years such juvenile delinquency has been immortalised in books and TV, whether it be the twisted cruelty of Norman "Gripper" Stebson in Grange Hill or the bumptious arrogance of Tom Brown’s arch nemesis Flashman.

Undoubtedly, such portrayals of short-trousered villainy have an almost pantomime quality to them. And even though many of us have fallen prey to such playground (and often classroom) persecution during our formative days or witnessed it being dished out, there is often something of the “other” about it all. An experience many of us go through, survive and, well, move on.

However, for Sandy Wilkie, the former head of NHS HR for Argyll and Bute's health and social care partnership, bullying was far more real and painful than anything suffered by Gripper’s favourite victim Roland Browning. He may not have had to endure Chinese burns or the humiliation of having his morning milk poured over his head, but Mr Wilkie’s ordeal was deemed so bad it resulted in him being awarded compensation – the first time this has happened.

Meanwhile former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini’s shocking report highlighting Police Scotland’s machismo "canteen culture" that has contributed to a "racist, misogynistic or emotionally damaging environment" proves feelings of injustice don’t vanish once you grow up and leave the school gates behind.

In those examples, the duty of a responsible employer to nurture a happy and healthy workplace has clearly gone awry. Perhaps the need for results has tipped the balance over wellbeing. But it is interesting to note that both are public sector entities, suggesting a level of institutional complacency that may well have been rooted out far sooner in the profit-driven private sector where any threats to productivity are quickly, and sometimes ruthlessly, expunged.

Nevertheless, there exists a thin tightrope that anyone in a position of responsibility and trust has to walk in order to avoid their authority being perceived as oppression. Much, of course, depends on the nature of the organisation.

Take, for example, celebrity TV chef Gordon Ramsay’s expletive-ridden rant against a member of staff for the heinous crime of wearing the wrong coloured Elastoplast (it was skin coloured, but should have been blue) – it is unlikely such conduct would have gone down well if he was in charge of a library or a nursery. However, despite his ripe language and scathing approach Ramsay commands the respect, indeed adulation, of many in the culinary world and aspiring chefs would give anything to work for him.

Similarly, would football legend Brian Clough have transformed a bunch of fairly ordinary players into European Cup-winning legends if he had chosen a more collegiate, friendly approach? As one of his Nottingham Forest players pointed out, he would never have dreamt of going for a convivial drink with the gaffer, he didn’t like him, but he would have run himself into the ground if it pleased him.

And as for those who work for the biggest of the big men, the Donald, one can only imagine the intimidating pall of silence that currently hangs over the White House. For those who cater for Trump’s every whim, the softest pair of Hush Puppies would have to be recommended as they walk on egg shells supported by another layer of egg shells underneath.

Personally, I’m fortunate enough not to have been the target of a bully’s pernicious roving eye. I was once told to f*** off by a senior staff member after I naively cracked a gentle joke that was deemed too close to the bone. Although shaken at the time after realising his venomous refrain lacked any hint of jocularity (he could give it out but not take it), I still wouldn’t class it as bullying. I took consolation in the fact that his abrasive approach was democratically distributed and spread far and wide to everyone, which ultimately contributed to his downfall. However I did admire his drive to improve standards and perfectionism, which was reflected in the quality of the newspaper.

But it begs the question, have I bullied or could I be perceived as a bully? Obviously, I like to think not. If I’m honest, I’m quite sure there have been times when in my desperation to meet a deadline I have been “a little too short” or “abrupt” with people. So, my sincerest apologies to anyone who has seen me at my worst. However, I don’t believe, in fact I know, I have never systematically targeted anyone with some form of malicious intent.

Sadly, it all reminds me of the day I was walking down the street with my late father and we passed the house of his former boss, who happened to be in his garden mowing his lawn. Although my father never spoke about it, I knew this man had been the bane of his life at work. No words were exchanged, just a nod of acknowledgement between them. But as we continued, I heard my father’s old manager shouting, swearing and kicking his lawnmower which had stopped working. At that point I realised that just like the broken lawnmower, it was the bully, and in this case not the victim, who was truly damaged.

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