Earning respect from a lone-wolf manager

Dear Joan:

I have a situation where a co-worker is trying to poison my direct reports behind my back. The same person has tried to bad mouth me to his own direct reports, HR and even top management. What works in my favor is that every time he has done that the top management, my direct report and HR have themselves told me about it and reinstated the fact that they don’t believe a thing of what he said.  

His direct reports, for obvious reasons, have limited their communication with me while they used to have a great relationship with me earlier. Since I am in a support role to his group, this definitely has an impact on my work. 

Why is he doing it? Well, our organization used to be a very people-friendly organization and this new manager’s focus is business. He joined the organization much later than me, made decisions where the business was higher but the trust within teams went down the hill. He feels threatened for my focus to people and getting business through it. We did business earlier too, though I must admit, the growth rate for sales are much better now.  

The problem is the entire work culture has changed and people are scared to communicate openly. He has great authority over his people and they dare not do what he doesn’t approve. 

The top management realizes what’s happening since other support groups have also expressed their frustrations about him. Nevertheless, the business is good and the top management seems to be comfortable being diplomatic about it. They praise us when we approach them and probably praise him for the business he gets! 

My current problem is that I am going to hire new direct reports and the management has expressed apprehensions that this manager would try to influence them negatively as well. I want your advice on how should I approach not letting my new hires getting influenced by him or his direct reports. 


He is getting improved sales results and that has more influence with senior management than your complaints about his treatment of you and other support departments. It sounds as if this new manager is very results oriented and wants tight controls to accomplish his goals. And it appears that senior management is willing to stay out of his way. 

At the risk of generalizing, a lone-wolf manager typically wants to be left alone to get results. If lone-wolf leaders leave blood on the floor in the process, they see that as an unfortunate—but necessary-- price to pay. Often, they view support departments as interference, not value-added helpers. They will ignore HR procedures, for example, or go through the motions, just to comply and keep HR off their back.  

Unfortunately, by not embracing support departments, such as Marketing, Finance, Quality Assurance, and others, he is spurning valuable resources as well as wasting time and energy fighting needless battles. It also sounds as if his take-no-prisoners management style is creating a fear-based culture. 

I’m reading between the lines here, so I can only guess that he is bad mouthing you and other support departments because he feels you don’t add value. He may think your methods of focusing on the people side of things didn’t bear fruit, so he is trying to discredit you and keep you at a distance. It’s encouraging that senior management is praising your efforts but they aren’t doing anything to support you. 

And since the bottom line is looking better, senior leaders don’t want to take him on and make him play nicely with others. Unfortunately, they are setting a precedent that will be hard to change later. Lone-wolves end up holding the organization hostage: let me ignore the rules and I’ll get you results. Over time, this creates serious problems with poor morale, high turnover, inconsistent standards and even potential legal and regulatory risks.  

In my experience, the best way to establish your credibility (and that of your new employees) is to acknowledge that he is getting good results but to offer value-added help with his business problems, so that he sees you as a help, rather than overhead expense.  

He probably respects people with a strong spine and a results orientation, so hire new people who fit the bill. Invite him or others on his team, to interview your final candidates. Get the new hires involved with managers below this leader, to help them with their issues. Don’t bad mouth the leader or paint a negative picture of him with any of your employees. He is your internal customer and it is up to you to find ways to partner with him. Keep upper management informed as you execute this proactive plan; this will earn the respect of senior management far more than complaining about him. 

Rather than criticizing or nagging him to follow the rules, find a business problem you know is getting in his way, and then propose a practical way to overcome it. Roll up your sleeves and help resolve the issue. There is no better way to earn respect from a lone wolf, than to jump into the fight for an improved bottom line. Over time, as he begins to see that you offer some value, he may invite you in to do more meaningful work, and senior management may lend you more support. But in the meantime, you will have to earn his respect a day at a time.

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 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.