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Brain circuits

Tips for managers to navigate relationships at work

Published 2 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

Navigating workplace relationships may be one of the biggest challenges a leader faces. But there are steps you can take for tackling some of the trickier situations. Here are a few examples:

When the micro-manager is YOU

How can you address feedback in which you’ve been called a micro-manager?

One of the most challenging aspects feedback is that it can reveal our blindspots. Our natural tendency may be to react in a defensive (or even aggressive) manner, but this blocks learning and growth.

  • The first thing to do if you’ve received uncomfortable feedback is to gracefully accept it, and have a good night’s sleep.
  • Next, reflect. Consider what might be true; reflect on how you manage people and the level of detail and oversight you request. This oversight might be providing you a sense of security, control or trust.
  • Then envision what kind of a leader you want to be, and the culture you want to create. Do you wish to empower team-members to use their strengths and take ownership?
  • Finally, act. Leadership is a learned behavior, and bad habits can be unlearned. Try some micro-experiments with new ways of being and leading. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so have self-compassion and keep practicing.

The star performer is a jerk

What can you do when one of your direct reports is a star performer, but is not a team player? How can you prevent this from causing tension on the team?

While star performers might boost short-term results, if can erode your team’s overall engagement and culture, and have adverse long-term consequences. As the team’s leader, your actions are a statement about the behavior you’re willing to accept.

  • Addressing this starts with a difficult conversation: providing your star some tough feedback about their behavior how it affects others.
  • They might need help to change, or development opportunities to learn new ways of interacting.
  • The impact of some individuals can be toxic and drag down an entire business. If both of the above approaches do not work, either find another role for this person or part ways.

You’re the ‘diversity hire’

What should you do if, for example, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, you have been referred to as a “diversity hire”?

The good news is that organizations are starting to acknowledge the role they play in entrenched systemic bias and inequity, while discovering the benefits of a diverse workforce. “Diversity hire” comments often represent micro-aggressions that imply that diversity and merit are incompatible.

  • Such situations require organizations to leaders’ biased notions of merit and build a culture of inclusion.
  • The onus is on your hiring manager to communicate to others why you are the best person for this role, and how you should be treated. They should emphasize your skills and experience, as well as your importance for partners, clients and stakeholders. Senior leaders with a strong internal standing can also help sing your praises.
  • You could try to educate colleagues directly about your experience, and the harmful impact of this statement.
  • Find and nurture support systems that help you to build resilience through camaraderie.
  • Finally, secure some quick wins to gain credibility, but be wary of burnout.


Alyson Meister - IMD Professor

Alyson Meister

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD

Alyson Meister is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior and Director of the Future Leaders program at IMD Business School. Specializing in the development of globally oriented, adaptive, and inclusive organizations, she has worked with of executives, teams, and organizations from professional services to industrial goods and technology. She also serves as co-chair of One Mind at Work’s Scientific Advisory Committee, with a focus on advancing mental health in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter: @alymeister.


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