How to Deal with an Unprofessional Leader

Every workplace has at least one expectation in common: that employees at every level treat one another with respect and behave in a manner that reflects positively on the company. Leaders in particular are expected to set a good example, so it can be especially distressing when a leader behaves unprofessionally, engaging in harassment, bigotry or discrimination. Whether it’s a peer or your boss, there are things you can do to protect yourself from a leader who is unprofessional.

A great deal depends on the setting in which you’re working. If you’re in a large enough organization, HR may have policies on dealing with harassment and other forms of misbehavior, and you should talk with them as a first step. In a smaller company, things may be more open-ended. The best response also depends on the specific behavior in light of professional standards—and even, in some cases, the law. But here are some general principles you can follow if you find yourself confronted with bad behavior on the part of a leader.

See something, say something.  First and foremost, resolve to take action. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something. Don’t allow yourself to maintain denial or assume that the problem will go away in time—if anything, it’s likely to escalate.

Have a teachable moment. If you’re comfortable doing so and it’s appropriate to the situation, explain to the person that what they’re saying or doing is offensive and inappropriate, and why. Occasionally people honestly aren’t aware. And in any event it’s an opportunity to communicate expectations clearly.

Draw the line. Respectfully but firmly, let the person know unconditionally what you will and will not tolerate. Be crystal clear in your communication.

Document everything. Document all unprofessional behavior, including the date and time and any witnesses. Also take notes of every meeting and conversation. They’ll give you added credibility if needed.

Ask around. Quietly talk with other people in your workplace to find out whether any of them have experienced something similar. There’s strength in numbers.

Enlist support. These situations can lead to long, drawn-out conflicts, so have plenty of emotional support lined up from friends and family.

Lead from within: An unprofessional leader damages relationships, businesses and reputations, and tarnishes the trust of those they lead.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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