We recently had a conversation with a client who was feeling disheartened at work.
He had a long history with his organization and had, for many years, loved working there. He was invested in their mission and wanted to contribute to business success. He had a great deal of respect for the leadership team and felt valued and appreciated for his contributions.
Then it all changed.
About six months ago the organization hired a new COO (who our client reported to directly). Shortly after this new COO arrived, the feeling in the office started to change.
Our client described a range of concerning behaviors of the COO including mocking team members who spoke up in meetings, insulting the work of others, and pitting colleagues against one another when decisions needed to be made.
He said that every time the COO was around, people in the office got silent and tried to avoid being the one to get insulted. Our client’s job went from something he loved to something he dreaded, and he was lost about what to do.
While we’d like to say that we gave him three easy steps and it all turned around – that’s not the way these things go. We did give him three steps though – to assess if he could stay in the organization or if he needed to start looking for a new job.
This is what we suggested to him and what we’d suggest to you if you find yourself in a similar situation:
- If you believe there is a chance that you can have some influence with this person, ask if he/she is open to some feedback.
- To increase the chance of a successful conversation, pause and think about your triggers and triggers they may have. Work to stay focused on the problem vs. the person. “I have seen you struggle to get alignment behind your ideas, perhaps if you . . . “ rather than “When you do this . . . “
- Try to stay open and non-defensive.
- If you don’t feel safe doing this, skip to #2.
- If that fails (or you don’t feel safe having the conversation), document the incidents and identify the patterns.
- Start by making a list of all the things the challenging individual is doing.
- Look for the 3 – 5 patterns that are most challenging and have the greatest negative impact on the organization.
- You’ll always have more power if you highlight the negative consequences to the organization vs. focusing on your pain or the pain of your peers.
- Identify and meet with 1 – 3 people in leadership who you believe will value your perspective on what’s going on. Consider your HR leader as well as others you’ve worked with successfully on the leadership team.
- Meet one-on-one and share your concerns about the potential damage to the organization and your uncertainty about how to proceed. Then ask for their guidance and support.
- Stay calm and clear as you share your perspective.
- Give one or two examples and let the person know similar kinds of things are happening to others.
- Stay focused on the potential for damage to the organization.
When the person you’re working for becomes a significant problem to the success of the organization, you’re walking a bit of a tightrope – you have to balance the fact that you need to respect your boss’s role even if you don’t respect his or her behavior.
It’s important that you take these steps slowly and you trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, don’t share your experiences. Trust your gut.
At the same time, you may want to put together a resume and start to share with friends and colleagues that you’re considering leaving.
Living through this kind of experience is painful, scary, and diminishing – make sure you are caring for yourself as you go through this.
We’re here for you!
– Linda, Stephanie, and Heather