The Sharpening Stone – Know an Abrasive Leader?

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.

About the Author: Rob Skacel, Ph.D.

Rob is a licensed psychologist with senior executive experience. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Rob began his career in the field of clinical psychology, splitting his time between patient care and management responsibilities. Within a few years, he began the transition to business psychology specialization. He has since held senior leadership positions in sizeable for-profit and non-profit organizations, where his responsibilities focused on performance improvement and organizational development.

Rob founded True Edge Performance Solutions in 2000, and maintained it as a part-time venture for a number of years as he continued to accrue executive experience. By 2006, True Edge had grown to the point where it required Rob’s full-time attention. Over the years, Rob has provided services to dozens of leaders and their organizations, in a variety of industry sectors such as manufacturing, professional services, health care, agribusiness, construction, education, non-profit, and trade associations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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