Many of us have had the distinct displeasure of working with, or for, an abrasive leader. You know the type — prone to emotional outbursts, overcontrol, threats, public humiliation and condescension, and general misuse of their power and authority. They have a reputation for getting the job done and may therefore be seen as indispensable to the organization, yet they wreak havoc along the way in the forms of damaged relationships, demoralized subordinates, and contaminated organizational culture.
Abrasive leaders are not really bullies, in that they typically do NOT have malicious intent, nor do they have a specified target. If you ask them, they’d say they’re just doing what it takes to get the job done. They are intense and driven, and used to being successful. They usually see themselves as top performers, yet they lack basic self-awareness of the real impact of their corrosive behavior.
So what do you do with these folks? Now here I am going to speak to HR professionals, and to the peers and superiors of abrasive leaders, because without your help, the others in your organization have little choice than to suck it up and take the abuse, or find a new job.
Lynn Harrison and Ross Martin of Black Tusk Leadership recommend the following steps:
- Clearly describe the negative impact of the abrasive leader’s behavior – on culture, morale, productivity, and retention
- Declare that their behavior is inconsistent with organizational values and will not be tolerated – And then you have to not tolerate it.
- Offer help, and be proactively involved
- Look at organizational practices that may be contributing to the problem (for example, valuing results regardless of how they are achieved)
- Assess whether the individual really wants to change
- And then initiate coaching, internally or externally, with meaningful accountability
If your organization is dealing with an abrasive leader, we can help by working directly with that individual, and/or by guiding your other key leaders and human resource professionals toward healthier means of addressing the bad behavior. Some, but not all of these abrasive leaders can be salvaged. If you have an abrasive leader that you think is worth keeping, you owe it to the rest of your people to do something about it.