Ten Things Strong Leaders Won’t Tolerate


Liz Ryan

August 23, 2016

Dear Liz,

I love your columns. I’m an HR Manager and I try to lead our company’s HR function in the most human way I can. I have a question about your story Ten Things A Good Manager Won’t Ask Employees to Do.

This is a great list, but I wonder: there must be things that strong managers won’t tolerate, correct? People make mistakes, or they do things they shouldn’t do, so even a great manager can’t be nice all the time.

Let’s say that one employee was harassing another employee. The manager has to make it stop. The manager isn’t going to tolerate that behavior, so what do they do?

They’re not going to give the offending employee a cupcake with a note that says “Please stop harassing Taylor” on it. How will a strong leader deal with bad behavior or performance problems?

Thanks Liz!




Dear Rima,

You are right. There are certain unfortunate things that happen in almost every organization that can’t be allowed to continue. They have to stop. How does a strong manager get bad things to stop happening?

If an employee makes a mistake, the manager takes it on him- or herself, because he or she is the manager. They’ll go to the employee and say “Can we walk through the process for making a refund? I want to make sure you understand it. The Acme Explosives refund didn’t go through correctly, so let’s do a refresher training session to make sure you understand all the steps.”

There’s no judgment or criticism in this conversation or the refresher training session. If this happened again, the manager would ask the employee “Something in this process is tripping you up. I want to watch you go through the steps so we can figure out what that thing is.”

Weak  managers jump to the conclusion that the employee doesn’t care about doing the job well. That is seldom the case, if only because people need jobs. “Employees don’t care” is a weak manager’s last refuge!

Now let’s jump to the badly-behaving employee example and imagine that Ronan is harassing Taylor. First the manager will talk to Taylor so that everybody is on the same page.

The manager will say “Taylor, I understand that you’ve asked Ronan to stop asking you out on dates and Ronan hasn’t stopped. I’m planning to speak to Ronan myself. Are you comfortable with that?”

Taylor says yes. Now the manager goes to see Ronan.

“Ronan,” says the strong manager, “how are you doing?” Ronan says “I’m great.”

“That’s fantastic,” says the manager. “I have a bit of coaching for you. We have a friendly environment here. It’s easy to mix the professional and the social spheres and that’s sometimes okay, but not everyone is comfortable with it and we have to respect boundaries.”

“What are you trying to say?” asks Ronan, and the manager, who is strong and also compassionate, says “I want you to keep a little distance from Taylor and stop asking Taylor to get together with you socially, because that makes Taylor uncomfortable.”

“Wow, that is shocking,” says Ronan. “That’s embarrassing. I think Taylor is overreacting.”

“Could be, but it doesn’t really matter,” says the manager. “Do we have an agreement? You’re an important part of our team and I want us to be on the same page.”

“I’ve got it,” says Ronan.

Nobody got in trouble. The strong manager has good relationships across the department, so problems like the issue between Ronan and Taylor are not likely to get very big before the manager hears about them.

Notice that the strong manager didn’t come down on Ronan like a ton of bricks. There’s no reason to do that. Part of being a strong manager is being human. Anybody can stumble over an interpersonal interaction. Most of us have botched at least a few of them!

Now let’s jump to an extreme case and imagine that Ronan was not harassing anybody, but rather that Ronan was stealing from the company.

Ronan submitted an expense reimbursement voucher after a business trip and on the voucher was a purchase for a laptop that Ronan was never authorized to buy and that has never been seen in the office.

The strong manager approves expense reimbursement vouchers constantly, so Ronan probably thought the manager wouldn’t notice the unauthorized laptop purchase.

The manager meets with Ronan.

The expense reimbursement form is on the desk between them.

“Ronan, I’m concerned about this expense report,” says the manager.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that my laptop died while I was out of town, so I purchased one at the office supply store while I was on the road,” says Ronan.

“I’m sorry, Ronan, but you know that’s not how we purchase laptops, and you’ve got your tablet — I wouldn’t have authorized a new laptop for you even if you had asked me. You’ve got your desktop machine here at work and the tablet for travel. You’ve never talked to me about needing a laptop before.”

“That’s my bad,” says Ronan. “I totally spaced out.”

“It’s worse than that,” says the manager. “You say your laptop died while you were out of town, but you’ve been back for ten days and you haven’t brought the laptop into the office once. You haven’t notified me or the IT folks that your old laptop died. You haven’t requested that anybody move data to your new machine or issue an asset tag. It looks like you bought the laptop for your own use and were hoping I wouldn’t notice.

“This is a very serious thing. You were only out of town for two days. You had time to go to an office supply store, buy a laptop and use it — without any notification to me or anybody else — and then you forgot to bring the laptop to work for ten days?”

“It was just a lapse in memory,” says Ronan.

“I’ve talked with our Controller and also with Security,” says the manager. “I’m sorry Ronan, but your story doesn’t add up. We’ve talked many times in our staff meetings about purchasing procedures, and also about expense reports. I’m going to have to let you go. This is your last day of work. I’ll get Jonathan from HR down here. He’s got some paperwork for us to complete, and your last paycheck.”

“You’re firing me?” exclaims Ronan. “You’re firing me over this tiny thing?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” says the manager, and dials Jonathan’s number.

Strong managers are not afraid to make tough decisions. They know it’s part of their job.

After Ronan is gone, Ronan’s teammates start to share stories. “Ronan was always trying to get away with stuff,” they say.

“Ronan asked us how carefully you look at expense reports. Now we know why.”

The strong manager sleeps soundly that night because the manager’s job is to run a department professionally and compassionately. Maybe now Ronan will wake up and stop trying to rip off the people and companies Ronan works for.

Here are ten things strong leaders won’t stand for:

  1. One employee harassing or mistreating another employee — or a customer or vendor.
  2. Anyone ripping off the company, a customer or vendor, or another employee.
  3. An employee blaming someone else for his or her mistake, or trying to cover up a problem rather than dealing with it.
  4. Cutting corners on safety or quality control.
  5. Pointless bureaucracy that slows employees down and keeps them from caring about their work.
  6. Rudeness or unprofessional behavior from people in management toward rank-and-file employees.
  7. Disparagement of his or her teammates or other employees in the company.
  8. Discrimination or disparate treatment of anyone based on their age, gender, religion, national origin, parental status or for any other reason.
  9. Placing blame on employees for leaders’ mistakes; and
  10. Managing by fear instead of trust.

Strong managers know that being “nice” is beside the point. No two people would agree on what “being nice” looks like, and in any case the notion of “being nice” trivializes the critically important role of a human perspective in the manager’s role.

In leadership, “mean” and “nice” are irrelevant terms. Fear and trust, however, are critical ideas. Weak managers bully employees and manage them using fear as a weapon. Strong managers lead through trust. Six months after Ronan’s departure, the manager gets a message from Ronan via LinkedIn:

I want to thank you for firing me six months ago. I was going through a lot of stuff at home and I lost my bearings. I can’t believe how stupid I was, but getting terminated made me stop and think and I’m  in a much healthier place now. I wish you and the team all the best — Ronan 

Lose the idea of “nice” managers and think in terms of fear and trust and their relationship with weakness and strength, instead. That mindset will serve you well as you take steps on your Minister of Culture path!

All the best,


This article was written by Liz Ryan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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