When Leaders & Managers Don’t Believe They Need to Change Their Ways—How You Can Get Through to Them


I’m up against a brick wall. As the HR manager, I report to the COO of our company. Like CEO and CFO, he’s a type-A, Darth Vader type. All three men are in their late sixties and extremely well-paid because our company is profitable.

The managers immediately under them are just like these three leaders. They’re highly productive, task-oriented and expect me to hire hard-working employees who’ll take orders. As you might expect, they place a high value on “getting the job done” and a low value on people skills. Worse, two of them are bullies. As a result, we have high turnover—for which I’m held accountable. I’m told I don’t hire the right employees.

I’ve tried everything to hire employees who will stay. I look for applicants who will work well under hierarchical managers; who have thick skin; who are compliant and will put up with a certain level of crap if they’re paid well. Despite this, we regularly lose key employees who walk out the door saying, “life’s too short,” and it’s getting increasingly expensive to replace them.

I’ve tried to explain to our leadership that it’s not the applicants we’re hiring, it’s the way our management treats employees that leads to turnover. I’ve pulled research from multiple internet sites as well as your books (Beating the Workplace Buuly, https://amzn.to/2UNMcyX, Managing for Accountability, https://bit.ly/3T3vww8) that document the negative consequences of bullying—including low morale and high turnover. Our leaders don’t agree with any of what I present because what they’ve done for years works well—for them. How do I prove to them what I know to be true—that they need to change their ways?  


Here’s what I know from experience. A company’s leaders can discount internet-based research because “that’s not what it’s like in our company or for me.” Real data from the employees they currently or formerly supervised, particularly when they as leaders or managers are individually named, more often hits home.

If you haven’t already, exit interview all the employees who’ve left in the last two years. Ask each former employee questions such as:

  1. When did you first decide to leave?
  2. Was there anything pivotal that led to your leaving?
  3. What could have been done to keep you?
  4. What impacted your desire to stay with our company?
  5. What did you like the best (or least) about your job or working at our company?
  6. What can you say about the quality or type of supervision or management you received?
  7. What words would you use to describe our company’s leaders?
  8. How would you rate morale at our company, and what leads you to give it that rating or makes it that way?
  9. If you could change anything at our company, what would you change?
  10. What would fix any of the areas you found problematic?
  11. What does your new employer do better?

Next, create a spreadsheet showing the real costs of recruiting replacement employees and the productivity loss that occurs when new hires need time to come up to speed.

Then, create a survey and provide it, along with a memo that explains how you’ll keep the results confidential, to all current employees. Ask questions similar to those you use in the exit interviews, along with:

  1. How does (company leader/manager) handle leadership and present himself/herself as a role model? Note: You’ll get the most convincing results if you name each leader/manager individually for questions 1 through 5.
  2. What can you say about how (company leader/manager) works with his/her employees and how s/he manages?
  3. How does (company leader/manager) communicate expectations and improvement-oriented information? How does s/he handle conflict?
  4. What do you wish (company leader/manager) would do differently?
  • On an overall basis, how well does (company leader/manager) fulfill his/her role?
  • On a scale of 0 to 7, what’s your morale?

Protect the employees who respond to the survey by summarizing the information and leaving out any phrases that might make the identity of the individuals who made the statements obvious. If what you believe is true, the negative impact of poor people interactions will surface in the employee survey and exit interviews.

Finally, despite the truth of what you present, your leaders may “shoot the messenger”—you. For that reason, you may want to develop your exit plan.

(c) 2023 Lynne Curry

Subscribing to the blog is easy

If you’d like to get 3 to 5 posts a week delivered to your inbox (and NO spam), just add your email address below. (I’ll never sell it.) I’m glad you’ve joined this vibrant blog. Thank you!

5 thoughts on “When Leaders & Managers Don’t Believe They Need to Change Their Ways—How You Can Get Through to Them

  1. One comment on this is the OP should ask those same questions about themselves. If the people leaving report directly to the OP, there remains the possibility that the OP is part of the problem too. I wouldn’t want to work for my boss’ boss. But I like working for my boss. She provides that buffer from her boss that I need. Maybe the OP needs to do a better job creating a buffer between over-demanding chiefs and her staff.

  2. WOW! It is classic to come up with such a literally black-and-white case like this for clearly stating a problem.
    And I doubt that there’s a more specific, (potentially) productive way to respond to it.
    This entire post is textbook open-and-shut.
    But, unfortunately, the cynic in me says… you can birth, coddle, train and lead a horse to water, but some horses simply are too stubborn, arrogant or stupid to drink.
    I’m amazed the person who wrote the question has stuck it out this long, with so much obvious evidence of blind incompetence alongside and above her/him.
    You can only bail water so long before you can’t keep up with the inflow – and then you’re sinking-in-place.

    1. Hi, Dan, i felt very sorry for the woman who called, who felt like a failure at the end of her career. Luckily, once she took action, it gave her her sense of self-respect back.

  3. Great advice! The exit interview is a great idea. Make sure the responses are kept anonymous, and hopefully the ones who’ve left will be honest, perhaps even brutally so. The idea of a spreadsheet with the real costs of employees’ leaving is another great idea. Then going to current employees and asking for there assessments and their current ratings of their morale is good, too. But like certain people in a certain body in my state, it’s just possible that these guys are just too think-headed, obtuse, stubborn, and arrogant for anything to get through.

    1. Thanks, Susan, and in the real-life story, the head folks were thick-headed and entitled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *