What if a High Performing Executive is Also a Bully?

One of my employees, Katie, recently approached me with complaints about her manager, Holly. Katie told me Holly is abrasive, curses at employees in public and has gone through five administrative staff members in the past seven months because she’s intimidating and disrespectful to her team. Holly is also a high revenue manager, so my boss is asking me to look the other way and ask Katie to resign if she is unhappy. I feel that if I do this I would be breaching my moral compass. What would you do?

To read my answer, click here: What if a High Performing Executive is Also a Bully?

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8 thoughts on “What if a High Performing Executive is Also a Bully?

  1. It is so interesting for me to see your immediate response and I must share I sincerely enjoy reading your articles and highly respect your opinion but it appears to be the HR culture, rightfully so, to ensure every employee is treated professionally. Does anyone extend that professionalism to the “manager” and take a compassionate look into why the manager is behaving as such – Is there an issue h/s is having. Is the pressure from senior management causing h/s to stress beyond belief, did h/s spouse walk out on them, are they the care giver to a dying family member. When does HR try to understand the manager? Why is it always the decision to let the manager go. Are managers excluded from the same rights as other employees. If one of the managers staff were acting inappropriately, they would be coached or supported. Given time off or a Leave. Each time I read another article it ialways to be same action of termination. Is there an unwritten rule managers must be perfect at all times, no excuses, no second takes. A lot of judging and not a lot of support and understanding. Everyone is human and entitled to the same HR coaching. It may not always be appropriate to just let them go! The Pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, now you are guilty and need to prove innocence. It is quite sad for the genuine dedicated manager who culturally cannot share their crisis without some probing and is overtly and unknowingly barking at ppl and is presumed guilty and terminated. Yikes! Great article about supporting employees during grief and loss by Lisa Rabasca Roep. What is happening to society?

    1. The reasons you list is no excuse for the Manager to behave like she does at all!!!

    2. You’re projecting quite a bit here.

      Retraining is certainly an option, but regardless of the reason, the bully’s behavior is not acceptable (or shouldn’t be). It’s costing the company money. HR will still need to address it. If the manager is having some sort of personal problem, they can refer her to the company’s employee assistance program.

      And some people are just jerks. This is just how they are. I’ve worked for a few bullies and they continue to behave this way because nobody calls them on it.

  2. You also must wonder if a company wants to keep a manager that they can’t control. I’ve experienced many managers that HR allowed to continue abusing their staff because the manager was in a top position. And when those managers committed fraud, HR covered that up as well. When there was blatant sexual harassment, HR covered it up. When you start the cover up, it’s hard to stop, and the abusive manager will be emboldened.
    It will eventually be exposed (I was in a position to see the FBI come in and take away such a manager) and then the HR person will also be held accountable for their part. It used to be that HR Personnel could remain anonymous, but those days are gone. If the OP speaks up and is denied, then they need to document everything to cover their own reputation. But if the abuse continues and something terrible happens, that documentation may look very shallow.

  3. My question to the letter writer is, why did you wait until an employee complained to consider taking action? Why didn’t the high turnover alert you to trouble?

    Dealing with issues early is always the way to go. Personnel problems rarely resolve themselves, regardless of our wishes and hopes.

  4. Most HR personnel don’t get involved with reprimanding these Type-A individuals as they are usually in a position whose hiring and firing are not HR concerns. HR can take the complaints and “file them” under designated files with no effect on these individuals. It would take a gross negligence suit for the company to reprimand and/or discipline their top performing management. What HR should do, if they are doing the hiring for the members of the specific team, they should be clear upfront to prospective employees that the job has a high-stress level need and the person looking to work this position should not be affected by this in fact, they should thrive and do well under these conditions. In other words, if you can’t stand being in the fire, don’t take the position.

    1. Susanne’s advice is still spot on. If I’m that HR rep and Holly is beyond my reach, the first thing I would do is start looking for a new job. Then I’d go to the company’s board with Holly’s file, and tell them she goes or I go.

      Because authority carries with it responsibility, whether the system agrees with that or not.

  5. There is not enough information to judge this objectively. I am wondering if anyone has spoken to “Holly” about the turnover. Were these long-term employees with a new manager, Holly? Possibly they are accustomed to a warm and fuzzy work environment? If they were hired by the company to work with Holly, did the screening process fail five times? Knowing Holly’s personality, she has to have a certain type of personality that can work with her. Public humiliation in the workplace (swearing, or calling someone out) should not be tolerated in any company. I would start with Holly.

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