When a CXO acts difficult

We talk about dealing with difficult employees, but what about rowdy leaders?


Employees at every level fall within a band. Arun Saxena (name changed), one of the CXO members in a manufacturing company, was unhappy with the band he was under. Being a conglomerate, the company had various CXOs at different levels. Arun demanded the company place him on a higher band. The CXO was very powerful, so the CHRO had to take some action. Despite the CHRO’s efforts, the review committee was neither convinced nor ready to review this CXO’s demand. A furious Saxena assumed that the CHRO was deliberately playing tricks or being manipulative to prevent him from getting the band he wanted. In a vengeful mode, he started troubling the CHRO in many ways.

Clearly, people at the top also have their own egos and reservations. We often talk about handling difficult employees and their tantrums, but handling CXOs can be a different ball game altogether? How does the HR deal with those in positions of authority, especially if they are all equally powerful or each one is more powerful than the other?

“Leaders with no people sensitivity are no leaders for me” 

Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami

The CHROs HRKatha spoke to, admit that such situations are common in organisations and they have all had to deal with such powerful people with big egos, who are so full of themselves that they make life difficult for others.

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries, shares that in one of the companies he worked for, there was a CXO member, who was quite rough with his reportees. Even senior leaders started to complain about the said leader, who was quite task oriented and micromanaged people. “At his level, micromanaging does not work,” points out Sharma.

Soon, attrition at the senior leadership level started to increase. The management had no option but to take some action. Other management leaders, including Sharma, continuously talked and chatted with the leader. “As complaints about the leader’s misbehaviour started pouring in, we had a conversation with him. We told him to change his style of working and leading teams. Fortunately, he was willing to change for the better, and accordingly, we organised some coaching and behavioural change interventions for him,” recalls Sharma.

The remedial action worked. Not only did the CXO member begin to show signs of positive change, his subordinates’ complaints reduced too, and so did the attrition level.

Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami, also shares an instance from one of the MNCs he worked for, where there was an issue with a CXO member. The person concerned was the chief technology officer, who also happened to lead the manufacturing operations. This very demanding gentleman set very unrealistic deadlines for the tasks to be completed. Those who failed to deliver were given a mouthful. “Many cases of rude behaviour and public shaming of team members came to light, followed by formal complaints,” says Biswas.

“One needs to have that muscle to deal with such CXO”

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries

At first, it was even difficult for Biswas to handle the said CTO. However, Biswas knew that something had to be done. He took other management leaders into confidence, and they together tried to talk with the person. Initially, the leader remained adamant claiming that he was only trying to get the work done. After much argument, the leader agreed to change his ways of working. However, Biswas does admit that in certain situations it may be difficult for such people to control their behaviour or reactions. “Tense situations brought out his real self,” Biswas mentions.

Many a time, HR leaders can only try to change people. Their attempts may succeed partially or may even fail altogether. The way Biswas handled the situation, the person was acknowledged the problem, but he couldn’t change completely.

There is also the difference in cultures between multinationals and family-owned businesses. In India, most conglomerates are run by powerful families. Manoj Rajimwale, an HR consultant, has worked in such family-run companies in his career. According to him, in such businesses, a rowdy CXO can get away with his behaviour because these businesses rarely care for people management. “In 90 per cent of such cases, the HR leader in a family-owned company may take no action,” states Rajimwale. However, “In an MNC culture, action is definitely taken against the person, irrespective of the person being a CXO or a junior employee,” he adds.

Rajimwale also shares many instances where CXOs have wrongfully played political games to harass people and sometimes even acted unethically. “Everyone knows who is doing it and where the instructions are coming from, but no action can be taken,’ Rajimwale says. Since the person is powerful, some of the influential owners of the family-run company may also support the culprit, which makes it impossible for any strict action to be taken against him/her.

“In 90 per cent of such cases, the HR leader may take no action”

Manoj Rajimwale, HR consultant

In such companies, culture never develops and people are treated as replaceable commodities.

Why do CXOs generally show a tendency to become rude and brutal?

The HR leaders HRKatha spoke to believe that in many companies, people are promoted purely on the basis of their performance. Their people-management skills are not taken into account. “Such leaders are great performers, but they lack people sensitivity. They are no leaders at all,” opines Biswas.

Sharma suggests that in such situations, an HR professional needs to stand strong with what is right for the company. “One needs to have that muscle,” asserts Sharma.

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