Abusive Leader needs a personality transplant

Dear Joan,

A group of us are so irate that we had to write to get your reaction to this situation. Our branch (we work in a financial institution) recently had an all company training meeting at the branch, which was led by our branch manager. We were all required to attend.


During the meeting, the branch manager mentioned a new rule that went into affect that would affect us in our work.  My colleague, a professional level peer, leaned over to another colleague, and said, “Has our software been upgraded to reflect that change.” At this point our top level boss, saw her talking and said, “Jean, there may be something in this presentation you could learn from.” He used a very sarcastic tone and a condescending look.


She didn’t respond and was horribly embarrassed. My friend is not a trouble-maker and is a good worker. She was not talking or doing any other distracting things, other than making that work-related comment.


Afterwards, everyone came up to her and told her they felt so bad. They were totally sympathetic. This manager also enforces total silence in the office.  We can’t even discuss work unless we talk behind closed doors. He says that if we are talking we aren’t working! We are totally insulted.


We are professionals and he is treating us like children. Morale is at an all-time low and people are talking about quitting. I would hate to leave my job, since I really enjoy the work and my coworkers but this is just too much. This manager is abusive and he just gets worse and worse.  No one dares oppose him. Is my only answer to leave?



When I was in second grade, I attended a parochial elementary school, which was run by a strict order of nuns. I distinctly remember that we had to eat our lunch in complete silence and we could only speak once we were on the playground. Can you imagine the torture this caused an energetic group of seven-year-olds? Thankfully, this inhumane and unnatural practice vanished with the 50’s…until now.


Your manager is a throwback to unenlightened times. What can he be thinking? If someone is wasting time and chatting too much, even most bone-headed managers know enough to deal with the talker, instead of punishing everyone with a no talking rule. And what about teamwork? How can people solve problems, brainstorm, share ideas and information without talking? 


And embarrassing someone like that in front of the entire organization. Now there’s a smart move. Let me guess…when the speaker asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” at the end of his presentation, I’ll bet you could hear crickets in the corners.


During a group presentation, Rule #1, is never, ever embarrass anyone in front of the crowd. Even when an audience member is being disruptive, if you use your position to make that person feel stupid or embarrassed, the group will turn on you with hatred in their eyes.


A wise presenter will use a variety of techniques, designed to regain the attention of disruptive audience members (I’m not suggesting your friend was disruptive). For instance, if there is a lengthy side conversation, a slight pause will often be enough to regain their attention. If that fails, asking the group to discuss a topic in small groups or asking for questions will usually work. Asking someone a question near the pair will also do the trick. (When they hear the person speak, they will be startled into listening.) As a last resort, call a break and ask the pair in a good-natured way, “You two are deep in conversation. Am I leaving something out or do you have a question?”


The unspoken laws of group behavior are very predictable. If two people are talking while a presenter speaks, the group will be irritated with the twosome. But if the presenter embarrasses the talkers, the group will be upset with the presenter.


Unfortunately, I’m afraid all of this would probably be lost on your manager. He needs more than training on group dynamics. He needs Leadership 101… and a personality transplant.

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, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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