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What to do with a troublesome leader


Judith Germain advises on what to do when your general manager undergoes somewhat of a personality transformation.

The dilemma

The general manager of our organisation has five senior managers, and over the last year this general manager seems to have completely changed her personality to the point where none of the five senior managers trust her any longer and each manager has had several run-in situations with her over policy and the running of the business.
The latest incident happened this week where the HR Manager wrote an email to the general manager raising some concerns over how some members of staff have been treated over some training material that was perceived to be incorrect. (I do not think this is the issue).
The general manager called in the HR manager who is part of the senior team and declared the email was a rant and ripped it up in front of the HR manager and reduced her to tears.
Another member of the senior team read the email prior to it being sent to the general manager and it was clearly not a rant but a bullet pointed email raising concerns with solutions.
One other senior manager and an operational manager heard a lot of the conversation as the adjoining office has very thin walls.
I am also a member of the senior team and cannot believe what the senior team is having to put up with. This general manager used to support her team but now her people seem to mean nothing at all. Would this incident represent a form of bullying of the HR manager? I am also from an HR background. The HR manager reports to the head of HR in London and has a dotted line into the general manager. The general manager reports into the head of HR/education director in London.
We all feel we are walking on eggshells and waiting to find out who the next person will be to face the firing line.


Based solely on the information that you have provided, there are many things to consider before you decide what your best options are to resolve the situation that you are in. On examination it seems that the following points are relevant:
  1. A personality change of the general manager in the last year
  2. The general manager has had several run-ins with members of the senior manager team
  3. An apparent inappropriate response to an email from the HR manager
  4. Reduction of HR manager to tears
  5. Other managers heard the exchange between the general manager and the HR manager
There are two possible routes that you can take as a first step, an informal and a formal route. If you decide to take the informal route there are plenty of options available. For example the general manager may have a good relationship with someone in the organisation (preferably a manager) who is able to reach her. They may be able to influence her into making better choices and seeking help.
You could see if there is a reason for her sudden change of behaviour; it seems inconceivable that the change hasn't been prompted by something drastic. If the catalyst is not something in her professional life she may be reluctant to discuss it, although she may hint as to the cause of the change. By letting her know that there are people that care about her she may be encouraged to seek help for whatever it is that is disturbing her.
The formal route however cannot be ignored as the situation is affecting the organisation's ability to perform. I would be surprised if the head of HR doesn't have some inkling of the personality change of the general manager although they may not be aware of how bad the situation has become. The head of HR should be made formally aware of the situation preferably by the HR manager, if for some reason this is unlikely to happen someone from the senior team must raise it before a formal complaint is received from a member of the workforce.
The change of personality may well have been triggered by something in her personal life and therefore not deemed 'company business', but the way it has manifested itself at work has meant that it can no longer go unchallenged.
Points 2 – 5 can all be addressed together. The behaviour of the general manager is inappropriate especially as it can make the company liable for claims of bullying, harassment and bringing the company into disrepute. The company should consider whether disciplinary action against the general manager is appropriate and whether a suspension pending investigation is necessary. The company should also consider whether they should look into the company culture especially as the general manager was able to act in such a manner without the company being formally aware of the situation. Consideration should also be spent on how the company can rectify the situation with the entire management team.
The head of HR should also speak to the HR manager to find out why the situation has not been addressed yet and their reaction to the general manager.
In addition you may consider whether your best action is to contact:
  • The HR manager and make a formal complaint
  • The head of HR either formally or informally
  • The senior team to approach either the HR manager or head of HR as a delegation

Whatever you decide to do, my advice is that the situation should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Judith Germain is the founder & principal consultant of Dynamic Transitions Ltd, a company which enables organisations to significantly improve the leadership performance of the key individuals in the organisation, whether they are managers or individual team members. A particular specialism is working with mavericks or Troublesome Talent®.
Judith is a recognised speaker, trainer and writer on leadership and talent management issues.
She can be contacted at [email protected]. For further information please contact Dynamic Transitions Ltd

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