Good firms work to find out truth about bad managers

Dear Joan:
I’ve been working for a medium-sized manufacturing company in a non-sales related job for the past 20 years. I’m not in sales, but interact with sales people on a daily basis. Over the past year or so, I have noticed the sales force has been frustrated. After numerous conversations with not only the sales force, but also other people in all aspects of the company, I have realized that the poison is coming from one person: the Sales Manager (let’s call him "Mike").

Mike has been with the company for over 10 years and has successfully maneuvered his way to the position of Sales Manager. All of his promotions were given to him because of his own self-promotion. He has an enormous ego. His tactic of bulldog management, double standards and out right lying is driving his sales force out and is frustrating people all over the company.

He is disliked, even hated, by almost everyone in the company. Amazingly, Mike doesn’t realize what people think of him. I believe the owners tolerate Mike’s behavior because he has produced decent sales over the years. This year sales are substantially down. I believe the company is going to start losing good sales people because of Mike.

Here’s why: Nobody will confront him because if they do, he threatens them or makes them do some ridiculous assignment. All conversations with Mike are one-sided. If you bring up a concern that involves him, he will change the subject and dismiss you. It’s like he is afraid of the truth. He is dishonest and essentially a loose cannon. I believe the owners know they but they continue to let him act this way. I believe Mike will never leave because he knows he could never get away with the things he does anywhere else. My concern is that if the owners don’t fix the "Mike problem" they will start to lose good sales people. Any advice?

Many of us know "Mike." He (or she) seems to have two faces: one senior management sees and the one his or her employees see. In almost every case, Mike has interpersonal skills that are used for personal gain at the expense of others. Mike climbs the organizational ladder by working the political game to his advantage. Corporate Mikes seem to have a gift for positioning themselves with the right people. And as long as their results are good and the troops are intimidated into silence, their personal empires continue to grow. Many make it into senior management.

The shortage of labor doesn’t seem to be hurting people like Mike. In fact, it may be just the environment in which ruthless managers can survive. The current poll on our website seems to support this theory. We ask, "In which of the following skills does your manager need the most improvement?" One of the top responses is, "Addresses poor performance/ Holds employees accountable for their responsibilities." With jobs difficult to fill, maybe management isn’t as willing to confront problem performers. Until the results tank or the troops defect, they may be hoping it isn’t that bad. The problem is they are kidding themselves. The market for disgruntled employees is ripe and it won’t be long before Mike’s best sales people start getting plucked by the competition.

When I am brought in to work on a Mike situation, I often find that the owners, or senior executives realize that Mike has some problems but they seldom realize how much damage the cancer has caused. Unfortunately, the call for assistance comes late, after the company loses great people (like you, a 20-year employee) or results go into a tailspin.

As a 20-year employee, you may have some leverage with the owners and be able to tactfully steer them to a possible solution. But taking this cause up on your own is likely to result in a battle…one I believe you would lose. Here are some suggestions:

One approach is for the organization to bring in a qualified third party to do an organizational assessment. Healthy, proactive companies often do this as a way to identify internal strengths and weaknesses, assess employee perceptions and do quality checks on management. This is often done through one-on-one interviews and/or instruments. It can be done in one department or the whole organization.

360-degree feedback instruments are another way to prevent Mikes from hiding in the weeds (as well as helping good managers get even better). Paper and pencil or electronic surveys are given to each manager’s boss, peers and employees, to gather input on competencies and leader behaviors. This data is then compiled (without names) and given to each manager along with help in developing an action plan for personal growth.  Typically, I would recommend following up either of these assessments with having the manager work directly with a coach. 

 I’ve seen many managers change behavior as a result of this process. Some get a wake up call they wouldn’t have otherwise received.   The coach will provide specific help to Mike and will probably facilitate some meetings to repair damage and give Mike a chance to get back on course. When I have been brought in on cases like this, the outcome depended on several things: Mike’s willingness to change, the leadership skills of Mike’s boss, and the extent of the damage that must be repaired.

In any event, it appears the fuse has been lit. Do what you can to resolve the situation, but protect yourself in case the situation explodes.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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