What to do with high-performing bullies

Read our lips: “Forget the carrot, go directly to the stick!”


by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham, Xtraordinary Outcomes


Are you putting your company in Jeopardy?

A: The critically high performing bully
Q: What do you do with someone who gets great results that your company needs but is putting your company at risk?

Read our lips: “Forget the carrot, go directly to the stick.”

A critically high performing bully has you and your company over a barrel because:

  1. You know you need them.
  2. They know you need them
  3. They know that you know you need them

they are more driven by personal ego and personal ambition than
principle and your company’s mission, it’s only going to be a matter of
time before you will need to intervene with them.  And that usually
happens when either your HR head or employment lawyer tells you they are
putting your company at risk.


Don’t expect such people to
listen to reason which is often where your emotionally mature HR head or
employment lawyer or you come from.  What they may listen to is something that plays to their ambition and/or greed and fear.

Ambition and/or greed:

1. When they lose a big customer or client.
2. When they are passed over for a promotion or pay raise (although
they usually get those raises because they are based on results more
than personality).
3. When a compelling and convincing argument is
made to them of how they are leaving even much better results on the
table by their bullying behavior.


When the harassment or hostile workforce law suit your HR head and
employment lawyer have been warning you about begins to look like it
might happen and that suit will be much more damaging and costly to the
company than the results the bully gets.
5. When because of that law
suit or some other action that causes a principled CEO or Board of
Directors to say, “Enough already” and it is not a bluff and the bully’s
remaining at the company is dependent on their changing.


How to make it work and stick

There needs to be a 360 with stakeholders:

  1. Who positively influence others in the company.
  2. Who are more committed to the success of the bully than punishing them.
  3. Who will be candid and specific about observable behavior changes that the bully needs to make.
  4. Who will let go the past and give the bully a new chance if they change.
  5. Who will be committed to giving specific input and feedback to the bully as they move forward.
  6. Who will be committed to giving feedback on progress to a coach (see below) half way and at the end of a coaching engagement.
  7. Who will be willing to spread the positive word on the bully that they have actually changed.

There usually, but not always, needs to be an external coach:

  1. Who will manage the coaching assignment and elicit the candid 360 input from the stakeholoders.
  2. Who
    will distill from that input the target positive (start one) and
    negative (stop one) behaviors the bully commits to changing.
  3. Who
    with the bully will communicate to the stakeholders what the bully has
    committed to change doing after they have internalized the new behavior
    (so it is not just a superficial change to get people off their back).
  4. Who
    will gain commitment from the stakeholders to reassess and give
    specific input to the coach midway through the coaching assignment
    (either at 3 months for a 6 month assignment or at 6 months for a 12
    month assignment for a critically important and highly egregiously
    acting employee) regarding progress and recommendations for further
  5. Who will prescriptively provide tactics for the bully to continue get high results without resorting to their bullying behavior.

often than not CEO’s are conflict avoidant because their role is to
define vision and strategy than it is to get into confrontations with
negative and toxic people which they can’t stand.  CEO’s therefore often
assign these tasks to HR or COO’s.  Over time many CEO’s realize that
being able to quickly and effectively confront conflict in their company
is a leadership opportunity, because people’s respect often rises and
falls on whether their leader deals with conflict head on or avoids
dealing with it.  At that time many CEO’s will elect to have coaching
themselves on how to deal more effectively with conflict.

BTW at our company Xtraordinary Outcomes
even though executive clients are often referred to us for remedial
reasons after a first meeting, we make it clear to them and the company
that we won’t work with anyone unless they see this as an opportunity to
become better and even more high performing than they have ever been by
becoming inspiring rather than intimidating to everyone they interact


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About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit