Team Member Who Is a Manipulator? Ask Madeleine

bright picture of man with crossed fingersDear Madeleine,

I am a manager with a team member who is a manipulator. He uses people to get what he wants, especially if he knows his idea is unacceptable or not within the process. And he finds ways to get even with people who won’t go along. He also has the habit of saying negative things about someone in the team to others.

My dilemma is that I have not witnessed these events firsthand—this information was shared with me by a person who was initially a close friend and colleague of the manipulator. I would normally brush it off since I don’t have any real proof, but deep inside I know what he is doing isn’t right and is unhealthy for the team. What can I do? Did I fail as a leader? Thanks.

What to Do


Dear What To Do,

You haven’t failed yet. This appears to be an ongoing situation—a tricky one. The fact that you see this as your problem is a good sign that you take your leadership role seriously.

It does sound as if you have a bad apple on your team. This kind of underhanded nastiness will erode trust and goodwill faster than just about anything. Here is the thing, though—you aren’t sure whether this behavior is really happening. If you haven’t heard a similar charge from anyone else and haven’t personally witnessed this behavior, it could be hearsay from only one person. How do you know that the person giving you the scoop doesn’t have their own agenda? People who value expedience and are good at getting things done efficiently can be viewed as manipulative by some. The key here is to establish malicious intent by the person whose behavior is in question.

Years ago I worked on a small, high functioning team where we excelled at getting results together. At some point as the company grew, people on our team started getting testy and annoyed with each other. It took us a while to realize that the friction was being caused by a new person who was playing us all against each other. As it turned out, she was doing it all over the company! Apparently she did it for sport; I never understood what she had to gain from it. Fortunately, she didn’t last—our CEO had a zero tolerance policy for drama.

The best way to get feedback is to engage in a 360-degree feedback process—ask your HR group to help you with it. You can also ask for feedback from everyone on the team as you gather information for the alleged manipulator’s performance review.

The biggest effect you can have as a leader is to establish and reinforce the culture of the team. Explain to all direct reports what you expect from the team and what they can expect from you. You are clear in your own mind which behaviors are desirable and which are unacceptable; it’s time to make this information explicit with your team.

Finally, it’s your job to protect your people from a bad employee. Do whatever you can to gather intel and get to the bottom of the situation. If it turns out that the person is really as nasty as he sounds, do not hesitate to release him to be dastardly elsewhere. Your people will appreciate it—and you will never look back.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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