5 Keys To Guide Your Abrasive Top-Performer To Positive Transformation

Did you know that every day you play a key role every day in helping your employees transform abrasive behaviors into emotional intelligence skills?

Did you know that by addressing behaviors that distract from a healthy work culture, you serve as a guide for these same employees to become the hero of their professional story? 

Recently I had the privilege of working with the executive leaders of an organization who did just that.   

After receiving several complaints about one of their top performing employees consistently making abrasive, inappropriate comments to co-workers, they knew something had to be done. 

Two employees had recently left the organization and the behavior of this top performer was a leading contributor to their exit.

In addition, the healthy work culture they were striving to maintain was at stake.

At the same time, they knew that the stakes for intervening were high — the top performer might leave, costing the company his expertise and revenue generation. They also knew that not addressing the glaring problem meant risking losing other valuable employees, and their credibility as leaders of the organization.

According to Donald Miller, author of Hero on a Mission, there are four main characters in every change or transformation story:  

The Victim. The Villain. The Hero. The Guide.

  • The victim is the character who feels they have no way out.
  • The villain is the character who makes others small.
  • The hero is the character who faces their challenges and transforms.
  • The guide is the character who helps the hero.

Let’s look at how to apply these roles when intervening with an abrasive top performer.

The victims are your employees who see no way out of being treated disrespectfully.

The villain is your abrasive top-performer who makes others feel small.

The hero is the abrasive top-performer when he/she faces what’s driving their abrasive behavior and decides to transform.

 The guide – is you, the leader (manager, executive, business owner, or non-profit board president) who has the authority to invite your abrasive top-performer to change.

 5 Keys to guide your abrasive top-performing employee to positive transformation

 Even though you are in a position of authority, you don’t have the power to change anyone. I know I’m stating the obvious. After all, even if change happens temporarily, lasting change is ultimately an individual decision that comes from a deep desire within.

Your role as guide creates the conditions that increase the likelihood of a successful and lasting transformation of your abrasive top-performers. 

 Here are five keys that the executive leaders in this story used to create the conditions for their abrasive top-performer to change.

1.     Care about your employees as people 

 From the moment I met with the executive leaders, I knew they cared deeply about their abrasive employee as a person. They genuinely appreciated the contribution their employee makes to the organization and wanted to help him to continue to succeed.

 It was clear the leaders saw his strengths,­ and with some help, what he would be capable of. 

 At the same time, it was also clear that the leaders cared about all of their employees. They wanted a culture where everyone could come to work everyday ready to give their best, rather than be on guard of when the next off-handed, condescending comment might occur.

2.     Set clear expectations of changed behavior

After several conversations addressing the abrasive behavior and chances given to improve on his own, the executive leaders drew a boundary of clear expectations of changed behavior — that treating employees/co-workers disrespectfully going forward wouldn’t be allowed. If the employee didn’t turn around his behavior, his current role in the company would be in jeopardy.

 3.     Embrace a pertinacity mindset

The word pertinacity is the combination of persistence and tenacity. It means sticking with what’s difficult with courage and conviction.

 The executive leaders embraced a pertinacity mindset by having the courage to address their employee’s abrasive behavior, even when it was uncomfortable.

They had the conviction that having difficult conversations and setting boundaries is necessary in order to have a healthy work culture.

 Many executive leaders avoid addressing abrasive behavior for a myriad of reasons. From wishful thinking that the behavior will magically improve after a stressful project is over to avoiding the discomfort of difficult conversations.

 Taking on the role of the guide, the executive leaders put pertinacity into action by holding the employee accountable for lasting change.

 4.     Accountability for lasting change

Just like in parenting, setting a boundary and sticking with it when kids attempt to cross the line is the way kids learn character skills and healthy behaviors.

In the same way, these executive leaders continued to hold their abrasive employee accountable for lasting behavior change. They understood that heroic transformation could only occur when the employee took responsibility for his behavior and actions.

Anything short of accountability would compromise the abrasive employee’s ability to see that there is a better way to behave and still get results.

5.     Stay in your own skin

One of the hallmarks of healthy executive leaders is the ability to stay grounded and calm when people disagree with you. It’s modeling the self-awareness and self-management you want in your employees.

Initially, the abrasive employee was defensive and focused on others as the problem instead of looking at his own behavior.

Instead of reacting defensively themselves, frustrated that the employee didn’t see how his behavior negatively impacted those around him, the executive leaders held firm and steady to the boundary of expected behavior change.

Further, the executive leaders stayed calm, “in their own skin” by leaving the choice to change up to the employee.

If the employee had chosen at any point to revert back to old behaviors, they were committed to following through with consequences.

Positive Outcome

The once abrasive employee worked diligently to transform behaviors that were working against him and creating negative perceptions with his employees and co-workers.

A key change was gaining self-awareness of the impact of his words and actions on others.

For example, by becoming more aware of recognizing emotional “triggers”, he was intentional about putting himself in the right frame of mind before saying or doing something inappropriate. This led to improvements in how he now interacts with both his team and his family. He reports how changing his behavior at work has also changed his behavior at home and has created a positive improvement in his relationship with his wife and children.

Another sign of change was how he developed a sincere regret of how his behavior had harmed co-workers which motivated him to make conscious efforts to repair work relationships.

The benefits of serving as the Guide to your employee’s behavior transformation leader

While it was the abrasive employee who did the work to transform, the executive leadership team played a key role in increasing the likelihood of his behavior transformation.

When you embrace your role as the Guide, you create the conditions for several benefits throughout your organization:

 • Your abrasive employee becomes the hero who has the courage to change

• Your other employees are no longer victims suffering from being treated disrespectfully and being made to feel small.

• You get your team and organization back on track

• Your credibility as an executive leader sky-rockets because you took action to stop abrasive behavior from destroying the culture of your organization.

If you’re ready to become the Guide for an abrasive leader in your organization, but you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, book an Intervention Consultation with me

By the end of the consultation, you are equipped to deliver clear behavior expectations and consequences if the abrasive behavior continues, defuse defensive comments by the leader without losing your, and offer guidance on how to turn around abrasive behaviors

Book Intervention Consultation

Embrace your role as the Guide to your employee’s heroic journey, and your influence will multiply, your results will improve, and your employees won’t want to leave.

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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