When a supervisor’s eccentric behavior crosses the line, someone has to say something. The question is: What crosses the line? And there is an answer.
Did you hear the joke about the boss who showed up for a meeting in his underwear? Well, actually, it’s not a joke; it’s a lawsuit.
The suit got filed by a female employee at American Apparel Co. (yes, we see the irony) who charged her male boss with sexual harassment because he often convened meetings wearing nothing but his skivvies.
For now, let’s forget that image and focus on the larger question: What do you do if you have a manager who’s, shall we say, a bit eccentric – maybe even borderline nuts?
Approach it from the legal end
Managers sometimes pull wild stunts to make a point or to motivate employees. It’s said, for instance, that in Apple’s infancy, CEO Steve Jobs used to storm in on employees while they were tapping away on their computers. To show them the urgency of a situation, he’d immediately unplug the computers, in mid-tap, and carry them off to another room.
OK, so there’s Steve Jobs and there are Steve Jobs wannabes who may go over the line. How do you get them to pull it back a notch when they’ve gone too far?
Telling someone else how to manage is always a touchy subject, so you probably don’t want to put it in those terms. Instead, take a look at the behavior from a legal and employment-law angle.
Even if there’s a ‘maybe’
If the supervisor’s behavior puts the company at risk for a lawsuit, you not only have the latitude to step in and say something but you also have an obligation to step in and say something.
Is the behavior hostile? Discriminatory? Harassing? Unfair or showing favoritism?
Even an answer of “maybe” is justification enough for you to have a sit-down with the eccentric. Just be sure to explain the problem in the context of the law, not in the context of management styles.
By they way, in the “underwear” case, the company is fighting the suit by saying the boss showed up dressed (?) that way when meeting with men and women, so there was no intent to sexually harass.