September 16, 2013
When surrounded by immature behavior, sometimes it's best to be direct
Power struggles, undermining and backstabbing behaviors that negatively affect the achievement of company objectives is NOT OK. Management teams must act as role models for the behavior they want to see in all employees of a company. So when surrounded by insecure and immature executive behavior, sometimes the best route is the direct one.
Q: As the only female executive on the management team, I am surrounded by male "kingdom builders" with behaviors such as power struggles, undermining and backstabbing -- to the detriment of achieving our organizational objectives. The CEO, who is also female, is passive on these issues and avoids all conflict. How can I handle my peers with these unsavory behaviors so we can work as a team and achieve results? -- Jane (name changed)
A: The behaviors you describe are not gender-specific, but they do tend to occur more frequently in companies where the culture is highly competitive (often described as cutthroat), and where the CEO either acts this way himself/herself (thus deeming the bad behavior acceptable) or avoids the behavior (as in your situation).
Men and women who act the way you described are often highly insecure. Think about it. Intelligent, skilled people who have confidence in their abilities don't need to resort to such immature behavior.
You have three choices. 1) You can suffer through your peers' bad behavior and hope they eventually grow up. 2) You can find a job at another company (with a culture more compatible to your personal values). 3) You can do something about their bad behavior. If you choose to do this, here is my advice:
Draw the line on what you consider unacceptable behavior. Immediately approach co-workers who initiate (against you) any of the behaviors you described. Calmly and rationally point out their specific behavior and why you find it unacceptable. Explain the behavior you expect to see and why. These conversations should be held in private and need to occur directly after each incident because, just like with children, it helps to connect inappropriate behavior with immediate consequences.
Call it out in public. If that doesn't halt their unsavory behavior, try publicly pointing it out, such as during meetings. Professionally and unemotionally call attention to the inappropriateness and the detrimental effects it is having on the team (not achieving objectives). Then try to engage the group in a discussion on the need to change the company culture and climate.
Speak with the CEO and HR. Keep a log to document the incidents (who, what, when, where, etc.) to use as examples in a discussion with the CEO when you ask for her support to change the culture. Consider asking HR to conduct an assessment of the cultural situation and determine specific actions/tactics to change behaviors and attitudes for the better.
Readers: Has this situation ever happened to you? If so, please share how you handled it.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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