Managing the Talented but Abusive Boss

According to a recent blog by Nine to Thrive author Michelle Goodman, a new study from the University of Iowa confirms that “abusive bosses who are high performers get a pass” on bad behavior.  That is, if your boss produces, makes money for or improves the company’s (or public agency’s) reputation, he (or she) gets to be an abusive tyrant to the employees.

Many of us have long suspected that, and in conducting several hundred workplace investigations, I’ve certainly seen that.  I haven’t counted the number of times I’ve been called in because a harassment complaint has been filed against a manager to discover that that person has been behaving badly toward employees for years, and sometimes decades.  And why do we put up with that in spite of complaints and high staff turnover? Because the perpetrator brings in money or customers or contracts or has developed a positive reputation – outside the company (or agency) that makes the employer look good.

The problem is, that’s pretty short-sighted.  Turnover is very expensive (generally it’s thought to cost 1 ½ – 2 ½ times the annual salary of the employee to replace and train someone.)  And that doesn’t count the fact that the better employees leave (because they can find other employment) while the weaker, less capable ones are more likely to stay.

Advice to employers caught in this situation? Restructure the abusive boss’s job to remove them from supervision and allow them  to emphasize the technical and other work they do well.  It might take some effort, but it will be worth it in the long run!

Have you had a talented but abusive boss?  What did you do?  What did your employer do?  Let us know!  ~ DS

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