Strategies for dealing with a controlling and vindictive manager

Dear Joan:

I am concerned about the behavior and personality of my Manager, which seems to change from nice and cordial and from beastly to vengeful. I feel compelled to share some of the events and comments from other employees in the department for your opinion.  

If a company is aware that a Manager has a problem in this area, is the company responsible for addressing it or not? If the company is not aware, should it be brought to their attention? To whom and how? Is this a mental health issue? 

"The King has no clothes", is one remark that is made of this Manager, referring to a story about a King that did not have any clothes, and as he addressed his subjects, everyone could see that the King had no clothes, but he was unaware, and no one would tell the King that he had no clothes for fear of reprisal. 

"I am disappointed about the vindictive nature", another whispered. But no one really speaks up, or if they do, they are put back in their place. If they disagree with the Manager, they then agree, because of the controlling nature of the Manager. Even if he’s wrong, the Manager does not admit it, but is always right. 

I understand that the Manager has worked at this company for over ten years, was recently recognized for achievement and has been able to manipulate the hirer ups, as VP's names are dropped during meetings. The Manager twists and distorts the truth when convenient.  

The employees hired are under-qualified for their positions and will not challenge his authority. All approvals must be from the Manager, who sets policies for this department, exclusive of company policy, makes up rules and changes them as needed.  

A retention bonus agreement was presented and signed with no VP's names binding the agreement. The Manager buys favors, by giving lunches, recognizing birthdays, and giving gifts through the company expense account. 

He insists on ironclad loyalty. Employees, who disobey, would get thirty lashes, if not forbidden by law. So instead, employees are chastised, tormented, ridiculed and threatened with termination and ultimately terminated, if not reassigned. It's the Manager’s way of getting rid of those not wanted. 

Individuals are hired for 40 hours per week and then were told, “This is not a 40-hour-a-week job." No matter how many meetings, or additional tasks take up your work time during the week, you are still expected to meet goals in a metric, that is not always possible to do within 40 hours. 

Mistakes that non-favored people make are admonished and threatened with termination, while actually trying to destroy their self confidence, about the way they perform the job, because it is not the way the Manager would go about it. 

The Manager seems to forget conversations, repeats the same things over and over, distorts the truth and communicates negative remarks about other managers and employees to other employees. Then he doesn’t remember certain details of recent conversations.  

I could go on and on and on, but I hope you get the picture. Short of leaving, and before forced out of my position, under the guise of performance, what do you suggest?  

Your comment about mental illness may not be so far fetched. His forgetfulness, paranoia and extreme control measures I have seen from people with serious personality disorders and from drug or alcohol abusers, so I wouldn’t rule that out. But I’ve also seen cases like this from managers who were so insecure and manipulative that they were dysfunctional and dangerous.

If you are not willing to lick the boots of the Emperor, you probably are on his hit list. If you don’t pledge complete loyalty, you will be punished in the self-esteem stockade. If that fails to teach you who’s the boss, you will be terminated like all the rest of his ungrateful servants. Even though some of his behavior may be innocent, such as taking people to lunch on the company expense account, you obviously see his actions through a cynical lens, which will make you a marked man. 

When I use the term “dangerous” I’m referring to the fact that he has recently won an achievement award from those above him. This indicates that he “faces up” quite differently than he faces downward. I have observed other highly manipulative, insecure people put on a good act—at least for a while. They can put a positive spin on a lop-sided turnip, if it makes them look good. 

It’s very sad that anyone would have to work for someone this controlling and cruel but realize that if you report him to Human Resources, or to his boss, you take a risk. If there are others who will stand with you and support you to senior management, you may have a chance of being heard. If you are the only one, he will likely try to discredit your story and then you will be vulnerable to his wrath. If you send an anonymous letter it may get their attention, but when a complaint isn’t signed, it is usually viewed with skepticism. 

If you are lucky enough to work for a good company, which takes these kinds of reports seriously, Human Resources will do an objective investigation. They will see his behavior as a risk to the company—even potential harassment. Unfortunately, it sounds as if he has successfully threatened most of his employees into silence, for fear of retribution. And because he appears to be seen favorably from those above him, you might be labeled a poor performer or trouble maker, who, he would be able to say, is the cause of the problem. 

If you do decide to report his behavior, do so with as many concrete examples as possible. Avoid getting caught up in an emotional tirade, since it will only weaken your evidence. 

Another strategy may be to find a different job and then give a very honest exit interview. I have been involved with several situations where a number of departing employees have given companies honest exit interviews and companies have a hard time looking the other way, once a pattern emerges.  

If you don’t want to leave the company, explore other internal opportunities and do it soon. Once you have a poor performance review, or you are on disciplinary action, you will have trouble transferring.  

In an ideal world, a number of you would be able to report this manager, he would be given strict performance expectations by his boss and HR, and if he didn’t uphold them he would be removed. Without knowing your specific circumstances, I recommend protecting yourself first and reporting him second. 

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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