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Senior Manager – behaviour problems


We have a manager who is technically brilliant, but is seen as having major behavioral problems.
He is distrustful of others, critical of those he sees as less competent, low on emotional control and quite aggressive, even bullying in his approach.
Does anyone have experience, either direct or through use of external suppliers, of turning someone like this around? He may need a combination of some group feedback/interpersonal skills training and one-one coaching. Any thoughts or recommendations would be much appreciated.

Richard Rogers

15 Responses

  1. behavioural change

    Behavioural change in senior managers is something that I have been involved in on a number of occasions. every manager and situation is different, so only a fool would launch into recommendations here. However, I’d be happy to send you a copy of my paper about a behaviour based leadership development tool my business has pioneered. This tool, properly used, will give the manager a very clear picutre of what they need to consider changing, whilst reinforcing what they are particularly good at.

    In terms of practical application of executive change (1:1, or group based) I’d be happy to provide references

    If you’d like a copy of the paper – please give me a ring or send me your e-mail address.

  2. possible help
    I’d agree with simon that it would be foolhardy to begin a diagnosis here. However, this is a situation which is familiar. I’m currently engaged in a mentoring programme which addresses these issues amongst others. I’d be happy to see if we could help.


  3. attention seeking?
    Do you think he should be rewarded for his poor behaviour with additional attention and mentoring?

    Sorry, it’s a different perspective to the supportive one, but I think I might want to be very aware of what intervention might do to other, possibly less brilliant managers who do their job without causing mayhem among other staff. Additionally – does he have some other psychological issues that are the remit of medical practitioners, rather than coaches? Or is he simply a pain?

  4. He doesn’t sound technically brilliant to me
    In my experience, bullies are amongst the easiest to deal with – providing you have the company values behind you. One thing you can be sure of is that this person knows exactly what they are doing. Ask yourself if this behaviour is a mask, modelled on some other more senior manager(s) or just ‘the way he is’. Assuming you are not the only person to observe his behaviour, I wonder “what does HIS boss think?” If it is tolerated because ‘he is such a ‘technically brilliant’ manager (yea right – I’ve heard this many times – it’s called rationalising the issue) then the problem you have is with his boss – and those who shape the corporate values. It is good that you are considering action but you will need the support from the top to ensure everyone else feels secure enough to do or say something in the future. Finally, can I just add that in my book, the technical skills of a manager include motivating, leading, delegating, planning, empowering, training and coaching. All of these skills involve the interaction with people. Is this person simply ‘technically brilliant’ within a function? Perhaps he should not be a manager at all but use his technical brilliance in the laboratory, R&D office or a cupboard somewhere on the 18th floor.

  5. What has been done before?
    As pointed out by your previous correspondents there are many threads to this! How has (or indeed ‘has’!) his behaviour been tackled before now and what was the outcome? What is the general culture like in your company – does it support his behaviour? Do others in senior positions behave like this? How are managers at his level appraised and rewarded – on financials/goal/targets results achieved only or are there mechanisms in place that cover behaviour? Has he ever had 360 degree feedback and how was that facilitated?This manager can only continue to behave in this way if he is allowed to by his manager and/or the business! I would not recommend a course for this person as he may – from the description you provide of his character – be dismissive of the other delegates and will probably see it as something that he doesn’t need – I cannot imagine him airing his training needs (even if he agreed that he HAS training needs!)to others! Coaching one to one would be a better approach as it focuses purely on him and his behaviour. Good luck!

  6. Been there!
    Hi Richard,

    I’ve been asked to coach a couple of “Action Hero” managers; guys well known for getting the job done at ANY cost! In both cases they were not really aware of how their performance came across to athers.

    Can leopards change their spots? Maybe, but only until a tasty Gazelle sits down at the table!

    You may find you can effect some changes; how long they will last, and how long the colleagues will believe the changes, are two very different questions.

    I have found that, assuming the Manager accepts that he/she needs help, a good starting point is a Personal Preferences Profile, (such as LIFO® Strength Development). This leads to coaching interviews to try and get at underlying feelings & observations. One can also use the results as a way of asking the manager to “role play” operating from his/her less developed areas.

    Please contact me directly if I can offer you more specific answers.


  7. performance issues
    Either way you are looking at non performance. The management side of his job means he needs to support and manage people not just process. Therefore his bullying and general behaviour is below that expected of a manager.

    This is a poor performance issue and one also of allowing a bully in the workplace to go unchecked. This knock on effect will affect other’s performance and the employer has a duty to ensure that the effect is mitigated as soon as possible. These areas require direct action and he needs to know where his shortcomings are and be allowed to respond, ie formalise the process of his knowing about how he is viewed by others and how his behaviour impacts onto others.

    Does he want to change his behaviour? If so then mentoring one on one, before group training can help. This is not, as one writer said, a reward it is part of disciplining and retraining a manager who cannot achieve. Outcomes of the mentoring exercise need to be set out at the start and recorded as the process develops.

    If he denies it is his problem, and does not want to change then consider a job move.
    He has strengths and if these are really irreplaceable then perhaps side moving him into a job where he can deal only with technical issues rather than manage staff is an option.

    Don’t use soft training programmes for this, this requires measurable HR intervention. He needs to know he is out of order and be given time to move forward or face changes in his role or job. Showing a strong line on poor behaviour at this level will improve other areas in your business.

  8. Senior Manager – Behavioural Problems
    Does he know that his behaviour is unacceptable? Has his manager told him that his behaviour is unacceptable? How much more productive would his staff be if he stopped bullying?Inevitably when a manager behaves in an oppressive and bullying manner it is because he or she is allowed to by more senior managers. The individual may be a problem but the more serious problem is the lack of will amongst their seniors to confront their unacceptable behaviour.

    Mentoring and training are in effect rewards.

    My advice for what its worth is:
    1. Decide whether or not he will be dismissed if his behaviour does not improve dramatically. If your company isn’t willing to dismiss him for gross misconduct you are stymied and will have to fall back on the less effective soft skill options of mentoring and / or training.
    2. Tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable. Give examples if he plays dumb.
    3. Give him the opportunity to disclose any domestic problems that may be the root cause.
    4. If there are welfare problems explore these and agree a course of action.
    5. Tell him what behaviour is acceptable. This is vital, regardless of whether or not there are welfare problems.
    6. Give him written details of what has been discussed and be crystal clear about how he is expected to behave.

    In the end your company has to weigh up the damage done by his behaviour against the benefits of his technical brilliance.

    From personal experience there is only one effective way of dealing with a bully and thats to confront them.

    I know all this goes against the grain but its based upon 20 years experience of dealing with bullies as either their manager or as one of their staff. I appreciate the difficulties involved but the longer the problem remains untackled the worse it becomes.

    Hope this is of assistance.

    Alex Paterson.

  9. A direct approach
    Despite coming from a development background, by experience running a business has taught me that performance issues need to dealt with directly and assertively. It is so easy to let these things fester and become almost ‘the norm’. Once the bullet has been bitten, it is rarely as bad as imagined. If the words you use to describe this persons behaviour are fair and supportable with evidence, then he needs to hear it must change. His value in other respects does not mitigate his behaviour.

    Coaching will no doubt be needed, but I would establish an understanding that the situation must and will change, one way or another, first.

  10. Call in the experts
    I have experience of this type of person and behaviour and of its impact on their colleagues.

    I would highly recommend a life coach who specialises in ‘difficult’ behaviours (indeed she works in the area of mental health problems for much of her time) and would be happy to provide contact details if you would like to talk to her.

    Hope it gets sorted out for you.

    Kind regards.

  11. NLP and hypnosis reframe behaviour
    All the suggestions here are great – and send this manager to a really good NLPer/hypnotherapist as they can effect permanent reframing of attiudes by getting to roots of the problems in the emotions that need reframing.
    You will be surprised at the difference that can be made in just a few sessions – if he sees benefit of the change before he begins

    Beryl Comar

  12. Depends on the circumstances
    I hate when people say, “It depends…”, but actually it does. In the case of this ‘bullying” ineffective manager there are several issues to consider before deciding how best to handle the situation
    1 The person was promoted because of his technical expertise – a common scenario-was he provided any training, support or coaching in taking on the new position. If a person has not actually demonstrated leadership skills, the organisation must take some responsibility in promoting someone on one set of competencies which are not necessarily the key ones for the promoted position.People management should be targeted at ‘wannabe’ or potential managers so they at least have some knowledge and exposure to what is expected.
    2 If the above is the case, then the person should be given some opportunity to develop the requisite skills. That may be a training course, one on one coaching (preferably from his own manager or an internal source)The person needs to first be consciously aware of his inappropriate behaviour and its effect on his team.
    3 If the individual responds positively to the feedback, shows mature self awareness and shows a desire to improve it makes good HR and business sense to help this person succeed. I worked in a company that had a somewhat harsh yet honest phrase: “Salvage not scrap”
    4 If the person either can not or will not accept the feedback then no amount of training, coaching or mentoring will change his spots. In this case I would start whatever performance management process exists at your organisation. e.g. a development plan with time frame for demonstrated improvement with clear consequences for non compliance. These might include transfer to a non-management job or termination.

  13. discipline
    I am with Robert on this.
    This should start with action under the discipline procedure or at least an investigation to get at the facts to establish if it realy is bullying or just OTT assertion.
    I see a worrying trend amongst HRD professionals to train all problems rather than taking firm action to maintain standards of conduct. I often also see a reluctance to deal with poor conduct because the performance results appear to be good (whilst ignoring the collateral damage to morale ,labour turnover Tribunal claims etc.
    By all means help the man if he recognises the error of his ways and is willing to learn. If not use the discipline procedure for its other purpose

    Peter Stanway

  14. What is his approach to change
    Even if you have the world’s best training/development intervention it will prove ineffective if the manager does not see the need for and/or is unwilling to change.Without the ownership by the manager it will be cheaper, quicker, less frustrating to all parties and more effective if his skills are deployed in a more suitable post.

  15. 360 feedback and reward
    I’ve had experience of dealing with this issue and there were two things that had an influence, one positive and one negative. The positive influence was using 360 degree feedback to show the manager that his or her intention (brought out through self assessment) may have been one thing eg to keep standards high and challenge but the effect was another eg seen as wanting to keep power, manipulation or aggression. Also what helped during the 360 counselling/coaching session was to talk about the effect on the health of the manager. The thing that had a negative impact was that within the company people were rewarded and promoted for “running a tight ship” regardless of how that was achieved. So there was no incentive to change other than personal preference and the more collaborative, people manager route was seen as counter productive to reward and promotion


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