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How do you manage someone that has an aggressive management style in your executive team?

Steven asks

How do you manage one person in your executive team that is aggressive with their direct reports? He does a great job, produce results, but use wrong tones with direct reports and other depts. How can you communicate it right to him?

Marten Mickos

This is a difficult situation to handle. On the one hand, we can argue that you hire executives for their strengths and then you try to work around their weaknesses. So you just have to help this person with this particular weakness. On the other hand, it is important to be true to your company values. If you are building an organizational culture that respects the individual, then you cannot allow an executive to deviate from the stated values.

Let’s here work on the first assumption: you have a great executive and you need to help them in one area of weakness.

You could try the generic way. You bring up the topic of communication and order-giving in one of your executive team meetings or discussions. If you have a strong team, they will discuss it and debate it eagerly, and the executive in question may start to pay attention to this topic. You can use such a discussion as an opportunity to state your expectation on all executives. You can state that you expect everyone to produce results but also to build a strong team and to make more leaders.

Your next step is to have a one-on-one discussion with the executive in question. You can talk about whatever you have on the agenda, and at some point you can say “Let’s talk about order-giving and communication.” You can then proceed to share with the executive your observations. Importantly, you must genuinely ask for and listen to the response. Oftentimes, these topics come as surprises. The executives don’t realize how they are perceived. And equally often, it is an area that the person is aware of and working on. You must let your executive talk to you about all of this.

Only thereafter can you start talking together about what to do about it. If you have an executive with self-awareness, they will ask you to point out in the coming days and weeks every time they are communicating in a harsh way. You may even agree on a secret signal that you can give in such situations. With this, you are already on a path to improvement.

It can of course happen that the person you are trying to coach is not coachable on this subject or not receptive to your input. If that’s the case, then you are back at thinking of whether such a person has a place in your organization at all. As the top leader, it is your duty to build an organization with a coherent and consistent culture, where all executives are good examples of that culture.

BTW, there is a third scenario as well. It could perhaps be that you are misreading the situation. Perhaps the executive in question has an unusually aggressive way of communication, but the people around are fine with it. It could be that under the surface of unpolished communication is the kindest and most respecting person.


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