Work Friend is a Mess? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am the business unit CEO of a global consumer goods company. My CFO—let’s call him AG—is literally a genius; one of the smartest people I have ever worked with. I brought him with me from my previous company because he is good with numbers and he thinks strategically. He stays on top of industry developments and I can count on him to play devil’s advocate in a good way that consistently leads us to the best decisions. I really depend on him.

The problem is that over the last two years or so, AG’s life has fallen apart. A few years ago, something went really wrong in his marriage and he and his wife separated. Soon after, he started packing on the pounds, smoking, and coming to work looking exhausted and disheveled. He is so unhealthy now that when we sit at the conference table I can hear him breathing. I can also tell he drinks during the day even though he tries to keep it hidden.

His work is suffering as well. He is distracted and has been missing deadlines with the senior executive team of the company. I am worried about him both personally and professionally—he is going to lose his job and seems to be on track for a heart attack or a stroke.

I feel that I owe him the benefit of the doubt, and have been pretending everything is okay because we have been good friends and tight colleagues for so long. I don’t know where to begin with this—and my trusted HR partner is out on maternity leave.

Worried About a Friend Who is a Mess

Dear Worried,

You have two issues here: one is that you are worried about your friend and the other is that you fear losing your dependable CFO with the amazing skill set.

First things first. Get the professional support you need to go at this very distressing situation properly. If I were your HR partner, I would want you to call me even I were on leave. She will have good advice for you and will help you to stay out of trouble from a legal standpoint. If you just can’t bring yourself to interrupt your HR person’s leave, you have no choice but to go discuss it with her backup person.

In a huge company like yours there are too many variables to navigate, so you must man up and talk to AG right away. Don’t worry about being wrong or offending him—there is simply too much to lose here.

As his friend, you owe it to AG to be direct. Tell him what you have observed and that you are worried about his health and his reputation. As his boss, it is your job to tell AG that his performance is not what it used to be and he needs to get it back up to standard. He may get defensive and deny there is a problem. If this happens, you have a real predicament on your hands and will have to talk about a performance improvement plan. Hopefully, he will respond with relief that he can finally talk about his stress level and his lack of ability to manage it. You can share that much help is available and there’s no shame in using those resources when life has knocked us sideways.

Almost no one gets through a long career without a challenging illness or terrible loss. It is the ones who least expect it and think they are exempt that often respond the worst to unexpected crisis. Show your friend how much you care by being straight with him and helping him get the support he needs to get back on an even keel. It may be difficult to speak the truth to your good friend, but I can guarantee you will really regret it if you continue to pretend that nothing is happening.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

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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