3 Reasons Executive Leaders Avoid Addressing Abrasive Behavior and Why

Barb is a go-getter and a “make-things-happen” kind of leader.  She is determined to be efficient and get things done in order to move on to the next project.  She has high expectations for herself and for those who work for her.  As a result, she has received several promotions and has made the company lots of money.  

While Barb is a top performer, she appears to have little awareness of the negative perceptions  her employees have of working with her.  

Whether it’s a project that doesn’t get completed according to her timeline or employees asking questions she thinks they should know the answer to, her knee-jerk reaction is often derogatory comments, yelling, and even public humiliation of employees during team meetings.  She is known for her abrupt, abrasive tone and angry outbursts when her team doesn’t meet her expectations.  

Ignore or Intervene?

As the executive manager of Barb, you are receiving more and more complaints about how she interacts with her employees.  Your staff are telling you that they’re being spoken down to in a condescending and demeaning manner. You’ve even been told that she’s been swearing and calling employees names. The complaints are based on concrete examples from conscientious, dedicated employees.  

You are torn as to what to do.  Barb is extremely competent and a star performer with the organization, yet due to the volume of complaints, you can’t ignore the fact that her behavior has become a real problem impacting the culture of your organization.  

You know you need to intervene, but you anticipate that Barb will be defensive and blow up at you.  

What do you do? 

Three common reasons executive leaders avoid addressing abrasive behavior, and why

There are a myriad of reasons why executive leaders avoid addressing abrasive behavior, the following are the three most common I’ve seen in my coaching practice.  

1. There is wishful thinking that the abrasive coworker will improve on their own

Leaders who exhibit abrasive behavior aren’t bad people. They lack self-awareness of the impact of their words and actions. Unless the abrasive behavior is directly addressed, along with a plan and accountability to support changed behavior, employees like Barb aren’t likely to improve on their own. 

2. Fear of losing the abrasive coworker’s expertise and revenue generation

Because leaders like Barb are often extremely competent, have industry expertise, and are high revenue generators, it’s common for executive leaders to avoid addressing the abrasive behavior for fear of losing the value they bring to the organization. 

If you relate to this, you have to decide whether allowing abrasive behaviors to continue is the kind of culture you want your company brand to be known for. In addition, by not  intervening you are sending the message to your other employees that it’s okay for them to be treated in disrespectful ways that cause emotional suffering. 

3. Exhibit abrasive behaviors without realizing it

Many organizations create a cultural norm for leaders to interact with employees with abrasive behaviors in order to get results. The pressure is felt from above and trickles down to everyone.

If you relate to this, you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance. Meaning, you’re torn between being trained to treat employees harshly in order to get results, and at the same time, you feel stressed about treating employees in a way that’s not who you are as a person. 

Looking in the mirror and recognizing leaders like Barb are only emulating what you are modeling could be preventing you from addressing Barb’s abrasive behaviors.   

Take Action to Intervene

When leaders of an organization confront the reality of behaviors in the organization, change is possible.  In this blog, we addressed the importance of your own self-awareness of how the abrasive employee is affecting you in order for you to intervene most effectively.  Secondly, the importance of your own clarity about what behaviors you want to define your culture.

If abrasive behavior in the form of yelling, public humiliation, or demeaning comments is not what you want for your culture, take action to intervene and set clear expectations these are unacceptable ways to treat any and all employees. 

When you are clear about the behaviors that define the culture of your organization, and willing to intervene when abrasive behaviors show up, your organization will not only be healthy, it will thrive. 

Ready to create change? 

Do you have high-performing leaders who make your company a lot of money, yet their angry outbursts, condescending comments, and micromanaging are prompting your valued employees to head for the door?

The talent drain is very real. Leaders who exhibit abrasive behaviors are only adding fuel to the fire that’s costing companies big time in productivity, morale, turnover, and the risk of a PR disaster.

Ready to skyrocket your organizational health?

Make the Conscious Choice to replace unhelpful behaviors with boundaries and regulation techniques, and you will elevate your leadership credibility.

Are you curious to understand how your family upbringing shapes your approach to conflict?  

Take my complimentary Workplace Family Factor® Assessment and learn how self-awareness of your family upbringing will equip you to improve how you handle conflict at work. 

Take the Workplace Family Factor® Assessment

About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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