Ray Tiller

Equipping Christian Schools is dedicated to assist Christian school boards, leaders and teachers to develop the Christian perspectives, values, and skills needed to pursue their mission of effective Christian education.


Would you like to take the “abrasive boss” test?

Home   >   Blog   >   Would you like to take the “abrasive boss” test?
We all recognise that the principal and senior leaders are the key players in setting the staff and school culture, and, as Christian leaders we all desire that our workplaces are both honouring to God and safe and pleasant places for our staff to pursue their mission.

Sometimes, however we find that we as leaders have produced some "toxic" effects among our staff by our attitudes and behaviours.  These attitudes and behaviours are usually long-term aspects of our personality and habits that have grown with us through life and our emergence into leadership. We are usually unaware of their characteristics and the extent of their effect on the people we lead.

Laura Crawshaw (1)  (nicknamed “the boss-whisperer”), in her book "Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace"(2) , discusses “ ... the emotional wounds sustained from direct interpersonal aggression experienced in day-to-day interaction with abrasive bosses ...”.  

I was fascinated to note that Crawshaw’s anecdotal descriptions of the way people feel about their “abrasive” bosses were similar to the things I regularly hear being said by some staff members in some Christian schools.   So I thought it might be helpful to put a list of them here for principals & leaders to reflect on.  As a leader you could:

1.    Ask yourself, for each statement, “to what extent could my staff feel this way about me?”

2.    Or, if you are game, you could ask members of your staff to respond and comment to the question “to what extent is this true of me as a leader?”.  

Here are Crawshaw’s descriptions:

  • “He’s always talking down to people, interrogating them – ‘Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that?’ – he makes people feel like idiots.”
  • “Everyone feels helpless, hopeless, out of control.”
  • “She does what’s best for her – she doesn’t stand up for us, never. If she’s questioned by management, she comes back and attacks without exploring the issue.”
  • “It leaves us feeling unimportant – like we’re not worth anything.”
  • “We’re all afraid of him; he walks around, see something that sets him off and starts yelling.  It gets so tense – to the point where no one wants to even talk.  It’s getting harder to come to work.”
  • “The best days at work are the days she isn’t here – that’s when we can breathe.”
  • “Working here reminds me of the time I was in an abusive relationship.  I find myself thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me?  What am I doing wrong? What can I do differently?’  I’ve never had that experience in my work life until this new manager turned up.”
  • “I used to enjoy coming to work, but since she’s been here, all I can think about is a way to get out.”
  • “He’s not a team player. It’s never ‘we’; it’s always ‘I want’, ‘I said’.”
  • “When he shows up, we shut up. We don’t tell him any more than we have to because you don’t want to bring up anything that will provoke him.”
  • “Her behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated.  We shouldn’t have to constantly walk on eggshells.”
  • “People get a sick stomach when he walks through the department.”
  • “It all boils down to respect – when you feel your efforts are appreciated; when you see some interest in what you’re doing, that’s respect.  I can’t deal with the contempt, the ugly mood swings, his refusal to treat his team with respect.”

If you are getting indicators that your leadership, or that of your senior leaders may have toxic elements, I urge you to take it seriously, but don’t panic – leaders can be helped to fix aspects of their leadership and move from “toxic” to “energising”.

There are lots of programs and materials out there to help in these areas, and Equipping Christian Schools offers the following services designed specifically for Christian schools and organizations:

1.    A thorough review of the effectiveness and effects leadership in your organization, and recommendations for improvement.  Click here for more info, or contact Ray Tiller on 0409646279 or ray@raytiller.com.au

2.    “The Genius of Jesus in Leadership” program is a series of 7 seminar/workshop sessions designed to help leaders develop a theory and practice that is consistent with Jesus’ “servant leadership” paradigm.  This program can be offered online in a series of 7 single-session “webinars”, as a  2-day intensive in Melbourne, or as a tailor-made program for your school/cluster.   Click here for more info, or contact Ray Tiller on 0409646279 or ray@raytiller.com.au


(1) Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D. is the Founder & President, Executive Insight Development Group, Inc.

(2) “Taming the Abrasive Manager – How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace” by Laura Crawshaw (Wiley, 2007).

​Ray Tiller answered the call in August 2007 to be the main speaker and leader in our inaugural Staff Retreat. Ray’s brief was to introduce the staff to a framework for Christian Worldview...

Continue Reading | Kerry Hutton, Principal, Ballarat Christian College