Job Doc

I am a leader at my company. Recently, one of my senior employees has been receiving some complaints from their direct reports. What can I do to help this situation? Elaine Varelas provides guidance

As a leader, receiving feedback about your employees can be beneficial. However, when that feedback becomes complaints about behaviors or other issues, it is important to address those problems quickly. Elaine Varelas provides guidance on how to address these behaviors and what you can do to correct them.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: I’m the leader of an organization and one of my senior employees has had a lot of complaints from their direct reports lately. Is there anything I can do?

A: Being attuned to the feedback direct reports are providing is important in terms of understanding what’s going on at your organization. Is this behavior new, or has this been ongoing? As a senior leader, one of the most challenging areas you can have is identifying which behaviors are acceptable in your culture and which are not. There was a time when bad behavior by high performers was tolerated and thankfully, much of that has changed. If this behavior is new, you need to address it immediately and find out if there are some personal challenges that are impacting your senior employee that you can offer support for. Support could include time off, suggesting a meeting with an employee assistance program (EAP), or some other kind of counseling. If this behavior has been an ongoing issue and the direct reports find they can no longer tolerate this hostile environment, they may be pushing you to take action. That action does not need to be separating the person from the organization. Instead, you may want to offer this person remedial executive coaching.


Remedial executive coaching can provide enhanced self-awareness. This leader may not be aware how their behavior is affecting others or in the worst-case scenario, they may not care. However, their unacceptable behavior can be costly to the organization because his or her direct reports may decide to find employment elsewhere, increasing your company’s turnover rate. So, take action quickly and have this conversation as soon as possible. And while these talks may be uncomfortable, they are critical for providing the right level of support to remedy the situation, and this person’s direct reports will thank you. In the end, you will need to make a final determination if this individual can remain a senior leader based on your assessment of what’s happening.

There’s a range of behaviors that these complaints may be addressing. If it’s bad behavior that needs an HR investigation, make that happen immediately. If it’s behavior that’s putting too much pressure on a goal, your input as to what’s reasonable for the organization to achieve could be vital. If it’s a lack of self-management (like yelling at employees or belittling people), this individual may not know or may not have the skills to deal with the stress in their personal and professional lives. Coaching can absolutely make a positive impact on this.


Your initial conversation should be in questioning mode. Ask questions, such as: “Is everything ok? Your behavior has been significantly different, and people have commented that it has been negative lately. Are you under more stress than normal?” Your approach needs to be done in a supportive way and getting the individual to describe the situation will help you determine what kind of support they need. If you think remedial executive coaching is the right course of action, you need to let this leader know you will be providing them support. And that support will come in the framework of an executive coach who can help them find better ways to manage their behavior.


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