Q. The owner of our business is an absolute perfectionist with no tolerance for mistakes. Although “Pete’s” high standards for excellence and integrity are admirable, he acts like the sky is falling whenever anything goes wrong. As the human resources manager, I hear from many staff members upset by these outbursts.
Pete’s leadership philosophy seems to include openly criticizing people in meetings and yelling at anyone who makes an error. I cringe every time I hear him scolding an employee in public. Since Pete’s temper is taking a toll on the staff, I would like to gently give him some suggestions for handling frustration more productively. How should I approach this?
A. Hot-tempered owners are like spoiled brats. Because they don’t report to anyone, they have complete freedom to act on every impulse and express every negative emotion. The smart ones eventually realize that this self-indulgent behavior is bad for business, but the immature ones never seem to learn.
If Pete falls into the former category, talking with him might be useful. Appeals to kindness and humanity seldom work with top executives, so keep the focus on business outcomes. Pete needs to understand how this volatility could stifle creativity, keep him from hearing bad news and cause valuable employees to leave.
But if changing Pete seems hopeless, try tackling this problem from the other end. As the HR manager, you can also help the staff by coaching them on how to handle their short-tempered boss.
Q. One of our vendors is refusing to communicate with me. This small firm has worked with our company for many years, but my relationship with the owner, “George,” has been somewhat strained ever since I took this job several months ago. Although I have been cordial, friendly and professional, I have made my expectations very clear.
Now George has begun communicating directly with my boss and won’t return my calls or emails. I would like to recommend trying a different vendor, but I don’t want my manager to think I can’t handle the situation. What should I say to her?
A. Because George has been talking to your boss, she undoubtedly knows the relationship is in trouble. And judging by his ability to contact her, long tenure may have given him a fair amount of leverage. Otherwise, she would simply direct him back to you. Therefore, you must tread carefully.
If George has significant influence, advocating his dismissal would be a politically stupid move. So before taking that risky step, evaluate the situation by asking your manager’s opinion of the recent communication blackout.
For example: “George has completely stopped responding to my calls and emails. I have no idea why, so I’m hoping you can shed some light on the problem. Do you know what’s going on with him?”
Although you say you were “cordial, friendly and professional,” George may have described you quite differently. So if your manager offers feedback about your own communication style, you need to be receptive. But if she expresses concern about George’s performance or attitude, she may be open to considering alternative vendors.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”