A well-meaning supervisor tried to manage her conflict situation by reasoning with the aggressor. However, this is exactly what does not work in conflict situations. Nor do threats and punishments. Aggressors respond to structure – clear roles, rules, expectations and consequences.
My strategy was to coach the supervisor to recognize how her supervisory style was enabling the abuser. Then I taught her new management methods that are known to work well with people who cause conflict.
As she changed her methods, the aggressor tested the limits of the new rules but began to comply and behave appropriately. The supervisor’s reputation for management and leadership soared and the company saved money because they did not have to fire the troublesome employee.
I consulted in a “mobbing” case wherein employees worked together to target one person for abuse until the person quit. The employer was losing excellent people and had no idea the cause, or what to do to fix it. Upon review, it was clear that employees who where instigators were unsupervised.
Threatened by each new employee, the mob bullied every new guy until he left. My training consisted of providing specialized strategies for supervising people embroiled in conflict. Then we broke up the mob. Some employees left the organization but new ones brought a strong work ethic and productivity is on the rise.
During a coaching session my client mentioned that her bully boss was putting the “squeeze” on a colleague and was seeking evidence of her loyalty to him. This was a tough position for my client because:
- She has had a long and successful business relationship with the target of the bullying
- She was depending upon this colleague and others to help her with her business
- Since the boss has a penchant for bullying anyone on any given day for any given reason, my client was a likely as anyone to be next and had come to depend upon the others for support when it was her ‘turn’.
- It is common for anyone using bullying behaviors to have a deep mistrust of others. Therefore, if my client were to gossip with him, he could conclude that she was equally capable of gossiping about him.
- My client wanted to honor her own values and not hurt others by word or deed.
Through my coaching my client was able to learn how to distract the boss from his bullying behavior by focusing on the work issues and ignoring his verbal attacks on the target. In other words, she was refraining from defending the target while avoiding colluding with the boss and making the target the “outsider”.
This seemed to be a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation, but taking the high road helped my client maintain her integrity, her colleagues and her position. As an unexpected bonus, my client reported that the rate of bullying she experienced declined. Perhaps her ability to remain neutral made her more “trustworthy” in the eyes of this bully.
A newly hired CEO was charged with developing a team of leaders best suited to the new goals of the company. There was strong resistance to change at the executive level and fear and doubt were influencing the CEO’s decisions. Each director fought for time and attention and insisted that their way was the only way.
The solution: Using Kathleen’s approach to coaching, she served as a shadow Chief of Staff while using an objective skills instrument (Kolbe Index) to identify the natural strengths of each director and chief. By using the Kolbe index, the CEO could use the directors’ and chief’s skills rather than personalities to determine who could carry out the new goals. After conducting individual interviews, reviewing the results of the Kolbe Index, Kathleen helped create the new team. Those who did not fit the new leadership plan were placed elsewhere in the company or in a new organization.
The evaluation and transition took approximately three months and resulted in salary savings, and a new leadership team with balanced skills and talents consistent with the new direction of the company. Because the people fit together so well, they were able to create an overall vision for success, establish goals and strategic activities to meet those goals, and inspire staff to embrace those goals. With goals clearly defined, the company achieved huge savings by only hiring only one employee where they previously thought the company needed three. The CEO said that using the Kolbe Index and Kathleen’s team building strategies helped him avoid costly hiring mistakes and that the team exceeded his highest expectations.
My client, COO of a major non-profit in Washington DC, called because their strategist, a key employee, had started bullying various employees, including the CEO and COO. This new bullying behavior was undermining the leadership team, thwarting expansion, and fracturing the culture of the organization.
My strategy resulted in uncovering the causes of the bullying behavior and ending it. This allowed the key employee to stay at the organization, stabilized the Company’s leadership, and repaired the culture, which re-activated the Company’s expansion.
COO said she was “amazed at how powerful my interventions were to stop the bullying behavior and allow them to keep the key employee and get back to work.”
My client, a newly hired director, was struggling to understand how to handle her boss’s inconsistent, unfocused, and abrasive behavior. She was hired to raise funds for emergency response programs, but her boss was unable to make quick decisions, which stymied her efforts, resulting in millions of dollars in losses.
My strategy resulted in her understanding the conflict between her entrepreneurial spirit and the culture of the organization. She learned new ways to work with her boss rather than struggling to change his behavior. She communicated with her funders and changed their expectations for quick responses.
It was obvious that the natural style of my client was antithetical to the culture of the organization, so while she was achieving new success with her boss and her fund-raising, we worked on her “exit strategy” from the organization.
She said, “I am tremendously relieved to realize that the problems I was experiencing were not caused by me or by my boss. Now I can look for other employment and make sure I find a good match between my style of work and the culture of the company.”
My client, CEO of a new merger, inherited a COO acquired from one of the merged companies, who seemed incapable of directing the operations and financial strategies of the combined Company. This had all the top management in an uproar.
Management brought me in to handle what they saw as a communication and conflict issue, but I quickly told them that the COO was not suited for the role.
My strategy resulted in a reasonable buy-out of this COO, immediate forward movement of the team, and renewed confidence in the CEO. After assisting in hiring a COO appropriate to the needs of the organization, new financial controls and accountability were established, with the result that the Company cut spending by 15% and stabilized income.
The CEO reported the Board of Directors was ‘thrilled’ with the new COO. The CFO stated he was ‘impressed that the COO quickly established projections for future growth and meet those projections’.
My client, the executive director of a large high-end retirement community, asked for help with a bullying situation by a long-term administrator with critical licensing credentials essential to the Company (and so, difficult to terminate). The administrator had begun a systematic campaign to undermine the credibility and authority of his new boss, the department director. This damaged her reputation with the executive team and among her peers, and infused dysfunctional drama into the Company.
The Executive Director called me in to coach the administrator, but I quickly determined that the most effective resolution would be in coaching the department director, as she had been conciliatory instead of authoritative with the bully.
The results of the coaching included the department director being able to analyze, respond to and stop the bullying behavior of the administrator. This ended his complaints to HR and the executive team. This reestablished her authority, improved relationships among her peers and the executive team, and refocused all employees back to their work, ending the drama created by the bully.
I received a call from a very powerful nonprofit in Washington DC. The COO contacted me because one of their senior managers, a highly valued and key employee, who was always a bit “rough around the edges” was suddenly behaving in ways that were aggressive, abusive, and frankly beyond acceptable.
His “rough around the edges” behavior was typically of an abrasive person – he would interrupt people, give orders that were confusing, but he knew his job and most of the time got along with everyone. He could set objectives, meet them, support and mentor his subordinates and get along. He delivered and he was respected.
However, his new behavior included screaming at his colleagues and subordinates, setting unrealistic deadlines on projects, countermanding other managers instructions, slamming doors, and gossiping about others. In short, he was behaving like a classic bully. He didn’t realize that his behavior was threatening his job. The COO and President were at the end of their tolerance for his conduct.
Given this radical change in his behavior, my first thought was “what has changed in the organization or in his private life?” As it turns out, the organization was facing major expansion and everyone’s responsibilities were in flux. It looked to me that while he was on board with the changes, he couldn’t handle the ambiguities brought about by the changes, and feared that the things he loved most about the organization would disappear. He was suffering from “fear of the unknown”. This is a temporary and curable problem.
By consulting with the COO, we tested my hypothesis. It turned out that I was correct: fear of the unknown was driving his behavior. Once we understood the underlying and unique causes of his fear, I worked with the COO to help this employee became aware of the extent of his behavior, the risks to the organization, and the consequences to him, if he continued. In addition we showed the impact of his fears on his behavior and upon the organization. Finally we gave him guidelines, new behavior strategies, and better ways to communicate with his colleagues.
By consulting with me, the company saved the huge costs of replacing this key employee as well as others affected by his behavior. He stopped undermining authority and complaining about change. As he stepped up to new and more powerful leadership role, his behavior became more positive, and cooperation among all top employees improved. He stopped complaining about change and undermining authority. With new guidelines and behavior strategies in place, his values and expertise were used much more effectively, and was no longer a problem.