A Boss’s Ripple Effect on Business Culture

Cheryl and her boss Dan were in a conversation about a project that needed to be accomplished. As the conversation was about to wrap up, Cheryl made a comment with an edgy tone that didn’t directly address what she was upset about. Without skipping a beat, Dan calmly stood up, closed the door, and sat back down.

“Okay, let’s talk about what you just said. Talk to me.”

Cheryl was stunned by Dan addressing her comment calmly and directly instead of his usual angry outburst.

The Backstory

This scenario is such a big deal because Dan has a history of abrasive behaviors in his leadership approach. For example, the tendency to interact with employees with abrupt, condescending comments that quickly escalate into an angry tone.  In the past year, through leadership coaching specifically addressing how Dan can turn around his abrasive behavior, he’s made significant efforts to change. In particular, to be less reactive and listen more for employee ideas. This interaction with Cheryl is an example of Dan’s change in his leadership style.

Careful What You Ask For, You May Get It

Since joining the company, Cheryl wanted a boss who was open to her ideas instead of micromanaging every task. She wanted a boss who would control his anger without taking it out on her or other staff members. Now that Dan has changed his behavior, this scenario brought to light how Cheryl has an opportunity to gain self-awareness about her own behavior. When Dan’s behavior is no longer focused on as the problem, employees like Cheryl have opportunity to grow in their own emotional intelligence skills, just as Dan has.

A System’s Perspective

Just like a family, an organization is a system consisting of several individual parts of how people interact with each other. Over time, the interactions become patterns of relating, such as the attitude of how work gets done, how conflict is addressed, and how people communicate with each other. The interactive patterns are established by the senior leadership team and impact how employees relate to one another, to clients, and vendors.

Changing The Pattern

When Dan immediately addressed Cheryl’s comment calmly, directly, and privately, he demonstrated a significant change in his behavior pattern as a leader. When even one person in the system changes their behavior pattern for the good, whether it’s how they communicate, honor commitments, or address conflict, it can create a positive ripple effect throughout the system and work culture.

Changed behavior patterns invite everyone to step up to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent in how they interact with co-workers. For Cheryl, when Dan changed, she realized her tendency to avoid conflict and the opportunity to speak directly about whatever she’s upset about.

If you have an employee with expert knowledge and a high performer, but exhibits abrasive behaviors like Dan, change is possible. As Dan’s boss, by intervening and offering your employee help, you’re not only helping the Dan’s of your organization, you’re also helping employees like Cheryl.

Send us an email or give us a call. It is never too late to take steps toward positive change, for you and your staff.


Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.

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