They come in all shapes and size, all age ranges and professions. They often hold positions of authority, and more often than not they’re not liked much by others. Who are they? They’re the know-it-alls.
These are the people who have risen to their level of management not because of their style, but in spite of it. They are the ones who need to learn a few things about lubricating the gears of human interaction, but are too self-centered to see past their own ego.
Such people scoff their way through management training classes, viewing them as a waste of time. Yet at the same time, everyone else in the same class is sitting there hoping the know-it-all is listening and absorbing the truisms being presented.
Alas, such is not usually the case. Remember, know-it-alls think they have risen to their level of seniority because of their attitudes, not in spite of them.
The other day I received a phone call from the president of a large company. If I mentioned the company’s name, you’d recognize it. He told me he has a member of his leadership team who has become an obstacle to progress. He’s abrupt. He intimidates. He doesn’t listen to others. And he holds a Ph.D., so he thinks he knows more than those around him (even when they have advanced degrees, as well).
To make matters worse, he’s read just about every book on management, and he’s attended a boatload of seminars. The problem? He doesn’t practice any of it.
This dilemma is not uncommon. It’s what’s known as the 'abrasive' executive or manager. Of course they deny this label – they see themselves as someone who gets results. But the wrong way to approach these people is to tell them what they’re doing is ineffective. (They will point to their successes and attribute them to their style thus far.)
Instead, as in any other task of convincing someone to do something, it’s a sales job. And the number one most effective sales approach is to relate the benefits to the person’s own value system.
Abrasive managers and executives do not see the value in learning interpersonal skills because they think it will turn them into wusses and wimps. But since their quest is for results and power, they need to be shown that good people skills will make them more powerful than they already are. The idea of self-improvement has to be sold in terms of their interests and values.
At issue is perceived power versus real power. Gaining true respect from coworkers and subordinates through genuine interpersonal skills generates much more 'real' power than does the short-term perceived power created by fear and intimidation.
After they get a taste of that idea, hopefully they see a value in improving. If they see it, the next step is to show them the ripple-effect of their actions and attitudes. Since they’re usually so linear in their thinking and too self-focused on getting their way, they haven’t taken the time to see the bigger picture. They need to be shown the impact of their behavior on others, and start respecting their coworkers as team players, not obstacles to the abrasive manager’s greatness.
Only then will they be ready to learn new behaviors and positive change be realized.
PS. Let me state that once upon a time I believed that every abrasive manager could be 'rehabilitated', that everyone could improve with enough coaching and mentoring. But I don’t believe that any more. It does no good to teach someone who’s not ready to resonate with your message.
This aligns with what best-selling author Jim Collins says in his book "Good to Great": Sometimes people need to be asked to get off the bus. It’s just a brutal fact that sometimes we have to face.