I work for a relatively small company (under 20 employees). The owner worked hard to build the business and the business has a very good reputation. He is good with people and is quick to take action when problems arise. However, he doesn’t really like coming to work; when he’s there he is usually working on personal stuff (boats, trips, farm).
The problem is that he has hired someone to run the place that is moody, rude and arrogant. This person is rude to everyone – employees and customers. Also, one of his jobs is in financing and he has a favorite sales person. He will delay submitting a contract if his favorite is already working on the same item or he will submit the contract to lenders that he knows will turn it down because of the credit situation.
He had a blowout with the secretary, which was heard by every one in the office including the boss. He ended it with “No wonder you’ve been married so many times, you’re nothing but a bitch.” She complained to the owner but nothing was done, not even an apology. Everyone (except his “favorite”) has complained. The owner makes excuses for him to everyone, including customers. Last week he got mad about something and walked out on a customer. The owner took care of the situation but there is no change in the employee’s people interaction.
We all know that having this employee around allows the owner to stay away from work. Why doesn’t he look for someone that isn’t ruining his reputation? No one can figure this out. Since he is apparently here to stay, what do we (the remaining employees) need to do?
The boss is a “Let’s see what we can get by with” type.
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Bewildered Cinderella,
Yes, you have inherited an evil step-brother (not step-sister) who is doing ugly things, is held with disdain by all in the family, and is still revered by the parent. In this case, the (step-mother) is not intentionally mean or evil but might as well be by allowing such disrespect, resentment, and reputation trashing to occur. Since the entire workforce are also playing the role of Cinderella (good people dumped on and abused, held in captivity), except for the other evil sister (the “favorite salesperson), (a) you can keep sweeping the dirty place while hoping for Price Charming to come to save the place or you can be more proactive.
Sane People Can Do Insane Things
It’s amazing how many companies allow themselves to be trashed by unethical bullies. It can stem from various dynamics, and the appropriate steps (not panaceas) depend upon the diagnosis:
(a) the owner is unaware of the problem;
(b) the owner is aware but in denial since accepting reality is too painful;
(c) the owner has a “loser script” like described in romance in books like Smart Women, Foolish Choices;
(d) the owner is addicted to his own self-defeating, destructive behavior, just like a drug addict can continue killing himself and his family
(e) the owner is in collusion due to some hidden agenda or reason (pay-off, threat, hidden benefits);
(f) the owner is unskilled in firing and re-hiring;
(g) the owner’s too lazy especially if he’s coasting to retirement.
So which is it? The reason points to a possible next step.
The Diagnosis Points to Action
So you and your colleagues must decide probable dynamics first. Does the boss have blind spots though being (a) unaware or in (b) denial? This requires actions like feedback or whistle-blowers. Often a tyrant gets away with abuse because they get results, until a promotion makes their abrasive abuse too visible. But for you, the tyrant’s results are negative and the behavior is apparent to the top management, so something else is operating.
A loser script points to skilled counseling required to become unstuck in negative choice patterns, so you may need to simply accept the scenario and make career choices.
If the owner is (d) addicted, like in drug or alcohol abuse, he won’t change until hitting rock bottom and being dragged into a “tough love intervention,” so is such a confrontation feasible with people he trusts? Probably not since he already has been told even by customers. Collusion for dark reasons doesn’t sound likely but do consider it and be clear matters won’t change. We assume he’s not a dim light bulb, and is probably unskilled and lazy based on your descriptors (e.g., minimalist work ethic, his passion is boating and vacationing, he adopts a “get by with” mentality).
Of course, all involved need to exercise extreme caution in any discussions to make sure that Mr. Congeniality does not learn of any conversations about strategies and tactics. All need to bleed their egos out of the situation as well as their emotions, to the extent possible, trying to derive some matter of fact perspective about what could be a case study for our next book! Once you make personal decisions about your own financial freedom to find greener pastures (Cinderella was trapped by her lack of means), then you really have four choices:
1) Leave and be at peace,
2) Leave and carry resentment forever (by not getting it off your chest or sharing in an exit interview, etc.),
3) Stay and Accept the Status Quo (use coping mechanisms, camaraderie, humor, other ways to find satisfaction and fulfillment, etc.)
4) Stay and Try to Affect Change.
Tackling the Issue
If you adopt the fourth option, it starts at the top, but remember the old adage about leading a horse to water but that does not mean he will drink. The boss can be influenced but not coerced. Influence means to get on his wavelength. Some ideas:
1) Careful. Decide whether to be anonymous or not, alone or in numbers.
2) Do Your Homework and Earn the Right. Make sure whomever goes public, if anyone does, has a large Political Bank Account with the boss. Use accomplishments, results, track record, favors, good will, testimonials, your network of people the boss respects, and other “chits” to trade in for a fair hearing and be willing to accept the negative consequences if things don’t work out.
3) Work His Fear, Appeal to what matters to the boss, which means to position the dangers to his ability to vacation, get away, have relaxation, etc. “Hit him where he lives,” when you position reasons for action. The BENEFIT to him using his reasons, not yours is vital (e.g., not to do the right thing, but to protect himself from incredible liability exposure given the harassment suit that could result from the one statement alone you quoted, or by painting a picture of what lost customers could mean in real terms.
4) Get on His Wavelength.Talk his language by using boating terms, stories, analogies, and metaphors? Read our chapter on Ethical Lobbying from Survival of the Savvy and learn about the boss’ political style, communication style, and other “hooks” that will help you analyze how to approach this all-important stakeholder.
5) Do the Work For Him. It seems that his biggest “stuckness” is the fear of change and struggle to find a qualified person as a replacement. He figures that halitosis is better than no breath at all, the vacuum of no replacement or so much work to act. So save him the time, energy, and worry by bringing him several candidates from outside the company. This means work for yourself and others, but we’ve known teams who have done just that. Spoon-feeding at least information on how to connect with a super search firm might ease the giant step he may feel he’d have to take.
You have our best wishes for a “happily ever after,” but not all tales end that way. Let us know how the story unfolds! Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.
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