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04 October 2016

Managing an Aggressive, Disrespectful Employee

Question from about a situation every manager eventually faces:

How can I be a strong leader of a company?

I’m the managing director of a company in a national competition. I appointed ‘Billy’, as we’ll call him, as deputy managing director. However he’s trying to take charge and criticising me as a public speaker, which I am actually very good at. How can I be strong and prove that I’m in charge?

Manage or Lead?

Mr. Asker is right to focus on leadership. A good manager guides the business whereas a good leader guides people. Success comes when you do both. 

One responder correctly stated that firing "Billy" is an option. However, since Mr. Asker saw value and ability in Billy, it’s probably better to help him grow, so firing him would be the last option. A manager would fire Billy first; a leader would fire him last. 

That having been said, let's consider some options. Everybody has a unique personality, motivations, and needs, so we no single response fits everybody. However, we can identify some common, general methods. 

Rise above the challenge

Mr. Asker should not focus on proving anything, although, after settling the problem, he may need to take steps to restore his stakeholders’ confidence in him. The following excellent advice is offered by Kim Bunting:
Prove that you’re in charge by taking charge.  The first thing about being in charge is to not get caught up in the emotion of the situation.
Criticism is only as impactful as you let it become.  Make sure you hear what he’s saying and look (without emotion) at it to make sure it isn’t feedback that might help you improve your already good presentation skills.  If it’s not, say “thanks for the feedback” and keep going.  If it is, work on changing.  A leader takes feedback and isn’t injured by people offering it.
If he’s trying to take charge of things you are doing, say “thanks for the help, I’ve got this” and move on.  Assign him something else to focus on, such as saying “rather than both of us spending time on this task I’m doing, we can get more done if you get the spreadsheet finished. Let me know when you’re done.” (or whatever)
The most powerful thing you can do to someone who is trying to upstage you or discredit your authority is to NOT react to them as if your authority could be taken away.

Confront the challenge

Containing the situation limits the damage to your reputation, to company morale, to business, and to Billy’s reputation, too. Jesus stated a rule about escalating an issue (Matthew 18:15-17). You start one-on-one, then bring in witnesses if you must, and then bring in the broadest authority; sanctions are the last resort. Some companies have Human Resources professionals who specialize in managing interpersonal conflicts, so involving them may be one of the routes for escalation.  Needless to say, the best option benefits everybody.

I recommend a two-pronged approach. One step is urgent while the other is important.

Feedback is urgent.

Billy needs immediate, private feedback. I suggest using the feedback model taught at (You can join to access their content or you can search their website or the iTunes store for their free podcasts on the feedback model.) The script goes something like this, and it should only take a minute or two:
  1. Describe what Billy did. Focus strictly on one event, not on personalities or general behaviors.
  2. Explain the result of what Billy did. Remember, this is about what’s good for the business. It’s not about judging Billy or defending yourself. However, you can describe the perceptions that his behavior causes and the feelings it triggers as they impact business. 
  3. Explain your standards for profitable business behavior.
  4. Ask Billy whether he can support those standards, and ask him what he will do to meet those standards. 
  5. Thank Billy for his time and for the improvements you expect to see.
  6. Move on. Don’t mention it again unless another feedback session is needed. 
Notice two things about the model: First, the model identifies the problem and its costs and then conveys a vision, a to condition, before seeking change. 

Second, if Billy agrees to take steps to correct his behavior, Mr. Asker now has a standard against which to hold him accountable. If Mr. Asker keeps thorough records, he now has a basis for future actions such as rewards for improvement, withholding rewards for failing to improve, or sanctions such as demotion or termination.

Treating the cause is vital.

Feedback is urgent, but identifying the root cause is important. Knowing root causes enables making a plan for how to will deal with the problem, just like a manager would make a plan for dealing with any other business problem. 

Toward that end, Mr. Asker should work on his relationship with Billy. He could take him to lunch. He could establish weekly one-on-ones (learn about those in the Manager-Tools podcasts, too). Determining what drives Billy him and his goals will help determine how to direct his energies and help him grow as a human being.

Manager-Tools’ also has a coaching model. Mr. Asker can also help Billy by assigning research or reading that would help correct his behaviors. Sometimes a bad behavior expresses some other frustration. Dealing with the root cause may mean helping Billy learn some technical skill rather than teaching him the social skill.

Leaders are learners. They prepare by collecting tools for dealing with issues and problems and by investigating to learn the root causes. Their plans for how to deal with issues may include a variety of approaches, and they may change approaches. Finally, the leader works for the benefit of everyone, including the offende

Copyright 2016, Richard Wheeler

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