Copy
Content:

Article: Abusive Leaders, Wounded Workers, James de Gaspé Bonar, Ph.D, CEE, ACC

What’s On James’ Mind: Increasingly, leaders are recognizing that there is a causal relationship between corporate consciousness and prosperity…

News from the Bonar Institute: Editorial Board

Our Effective and Practical Programs
Bonar Institute

Abusive Leaders, Wounded Workers
by
James de Gaspé Bonar, Ph.D., CEC, ACC
 
“I hate to have to speak to you about this Paul [all names have been changed]… but I feel I have to... I can’t go on like this… Sarah’s bullying is too much for me”.  Sarah reports to Paul and is his star performer. “She often humiliates me in team meetings: ‘You’re dropping the ball Jake! You’re letting us all down! Hell, you’re letting me down! Get a grip!’ Paul, it’s reached the point where I can’t sleep at night. I’m stressed out … It’s affecting my home life…”

This is one of the most distressful conversations an employee and executive can have. The extremely competitive work environment of Paul’s company produces executives and managers with high-pressure, often aggressive working-styles. Sarah’s was at the very high end of the spectrum and she alienated many of her co-workers.  Jake’s accusation of bullying was very serious, and Paul knew he had to act. The company has a robust workplace harassment policy and Paul immediately launched an investigation plan.  After a thorough investigation by HR, Sarah’s interpersonal behaviour was judged abusive and unacceptable.  Many of her co-workers were deeply wounded emotionally and psychologically. It would take time and support for them to heal. The company hired coaches to work with the working wounded.  I was engaged to coach Sarah.

Abusive leaders, such as Sarah, lack psychological insight into the emotional distress their aggressive behaviour causes co-workers and the disruption it brings upon the organization. They have blinders and are in denial.  They don’t realize that their behaviour is unacceptable or abnormal. Their organizations see them as being immune to change and often tolerate/enable their destructive behaviour.  For management, executive coaching often represents the last chance these employees have prior to dismissal.

When we look more deeply into their behaviours, we detect that abusive leaders are fundamentally fearful that perceived threats to their competence will jeopardize their professional survival. Their anxiety then escalates, leading to increasingly defensive and aggressive behaviour.

For these leaders, perceived threats include people who may challenge their points of view: bosses, colleagues, staff or outside stakeholders. They regard the perceived 'incompetence' of team members as undermining their own professional competence. Their anxiety leads typically to flight or fight responses. The flight response can manifest itself by withdrawal (e.g., lack of engagement in management meetings). The fight response is exhibited through aggressive behaviour – e.g., demeaning other people’s capabilities, public humiliation and intimidation. The fight behaviour can range from minor to severe. Sarah’s behaviour was at the severe end.

 My coaching of clients like Sarah is predicated on the following premise: Attempts at convincing such leaders to change their behaviour will typically fail.  Why?  Because they lack self-awareness and strongly deny the impact of their behaviours on others. Instead, I have found the following multi-phased approach to be very useful in addressing abusive behaviour.

In the first phase, I conduct a 360 assessment to collect valuable information that will help gauge the impact of the leaders’ negative behaviours on employees, colleagues and relevant stakeholders. This is supplemented by shadow coaching and by my own observations from working with them.  When I present these findings to the leaders, they are often unpleasantly surprised to learn that their aggressive behaviours, rather than their competencies and objectives are the main focus of other people. They now see clearly that the negative perceptions of their behaviours are overshadowing their technical competence, and threatening their professional survival. Their anxiety skyrockets.

In the second phase, I find that these leaders are now more open and willing to partner with me to:
  • Identify what behaviours generate people’s negative perceptions of them
  • Determine what can remove these negative perceptions, and prevent their return
  • Identify and stimulate more productive relationships
The last phase of the process requires them to adopt and integrate their new interpersonal patterns of behaviour.

Abusive leaders’ behaviours are a scourge to the wellbeing and productivity of organizations. The emotional distress they cause co-workers and the disruption they bring upon organizations can be truly devastating. Unfortunately, all too often, they are identified and acted upon only when much of the harm has already been done.

Generating effective, lasting change to abusive leaders’ behaviours is not easy, fast, nor assured. I have been quite successful in coaching a number of abusive leaders using the approach described above, but not all.
 
 
November 18th, 2018
 

To read more posts from the Bonar Institute, click here.
 
What’s on James’ Mind?

 

Increasingly, leaders are recognizing that there is a causal relationship between corporate consciousness and prosperity; and are looking to increase the former.
 
At the Bonar Institute, we are focussing on fostering corporate consciousness.

News From the
Bonar Institute

 

Our Editorial Board:

Devan Potter-Bonar, Director of Administration and Operations
Dominique Pepin, Translator
James de Gaspé Bonar, Founder & Principal
John D. Bonar, Board Member & Secretary, Retired Trade Commissioner
Paul Bisson, Associate, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of WinTerra Global Technologies (Innovating for People & the Planet)
 
What do you want to hear about next?
Suggest a Topic
ARE YOU AN ORGANIZATION WANTING TO OPTIMIZE PERFORMANCE?

ARE YOU AN INDIVIDUAL SEEKING PEAK PROFICIENCY?
 
WE CAN HELP!


The Bonar Institute is an Ottawa, Ontario, based professional services organization that is dedicated to promoting the highest standards of excellence in corporate leadership.  We specialize in providing guidance and advisory services to senior executives at the CEO, VP and Senior Director levels, and entrepreneurs, both nationally and internationally.

Our Programs
Executive Coaching
 
We have particular insight into the human dynamics underlying practical business situations; we assist leaders to see beyond the ordinary, to identify new possibilities, and to embrace the potential for the extraordinary.

Leadership Development & Training

This innovative and interactive program comprises five modules in a fast-paced, exciting three-day workshop. It is based on 30 years of research and development in biology, psychology and sociology. Training experts and consultants offer a custom-tailored learning experience in a safe, relaxed and confidential environment.


Business Strategies & Leadership Risk Mitigation

We have a successful track record of helping to strengthen and reposition organizations that are facing serious and complex issues ranging from the ongoing viability of their companies, to changing corporate culture, to successful succession planning and executive renewal. We also help companies prepare for a future that is largely unknown.

Interim Senior Management Assignments

Our Interim Senior Management Assignment program is complementary to the Bonar Institute's Leadership Risk Mitigation Programs, Leadership Development and Training, and our Executive Coaching offerings. 

Interested in learning more? Please contact us.
© 2018 Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership, All rights reserved.


Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership Inc.
operates as "Bonar Institute".

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp