Dealing With a Toxic Boss: A Case Study

1.  In this case, Bill has primarily formal influence while Ned has both formal and informal influence within the firm. As Bill is the Regional Director, he is at a very high level in the hierarchy of the company. He has centrality and relevance over the organization’s work in the Southeast, and his position is visible to his subordinates. These characteristics classify Bill as having formal influence and furthermore creating power for himself within the organization, as he has control over resources valued by others[1]. Support for this argument is found in the case through an explanation of his power being coercive: “…if you don’t do what he says, he yells and badgers you until you do” and Bill viewing himself as the “major dealmaker”. Ned, on the other hand, has received influence from both formal and informal sources. Formally, as an upper middle manager he does have some control over resources and the way they are allocated across the Southeast region, as well as carrying relevance for the firm. The case explains that Ned believes he is “good at building horizontal (and diagonal) relationships” and thus we can infer that Ned likely has strong interpersonal relationships with coworkers and clients. The fact that he was hired away from a competitor expresses that Ned has expertise, knowledge, and a proven track record in the construction industry. These qualities are associated with informal influence, producing status for an individual[2]. While Bill carries high power within the branch, Ned possesses moderate power and high status.

2. There are three major types of conflict: relationship, task, and process conflict[3]. Relationship conflict occurs when a disagreement between two parties is based on personal or social issues unrelated to the task at hand[4]. It is likely that this form of conflict exists between Ned and Bill because Ned describes Bill as a “horrible manager of people” and “difficult to deal with”, while Bill does not trust his subordinates’ decision processes, “[interfering] in the final negotiations the head of construction, Russ, was having with a key client”. Task conflict, which are disagreements about how the work is being done[5], also exists within this situation because Bill frequently reverses or reformats the decisions of the Atlanta group without adequate knowledge of the plan’s details or “larger implications”. Process conflict, which centers on task strategy and delegation of duties and resources[6], is also relevant to Bill and Ned because although the tasks have been delegated, they are not properly fulfilled because Bill interferes in their completion. Ned identifies this in the case study through explaining that “it takes days to straighten up the messes that [Bill] causes”.

3. Two cognitive biases that might be contributing to the conflict between Ned and Bill are the confirming evidence trap and the representativeness heuristic. The confirming evidence bias occurs when individuals seek out information that support existing instincts on a topic while avoiding information that contradicts it[7]. The case leads readers to infer that Bill only supports his own ideas and is unwilling to examine others, exemplified when Ned notes that “[Bill] thinks he knows more”. Therefore, this bias may be affecting Bill’s decision making ability. Ned may have the representativeness heuristic because he is tending to base his estimates on Bill’s future courses of actions on the extent to which they fit with his schemes, categorizations, and prior experiences with Bill[8]. For example, although Ned hears that Bill was a good “solo dealmaker” he is unaware of the positive qualities Bill has that made him be associated with that characteristic. If Ned did know them, that may change his view of Bill’s strengths.

4. Bill and Ned both want to expand the construction company in the fast-growing Southeast region, capitalizing on the current economic situation to gain market share. Furthermore, it is desirable to mitigate the amount of conflict associated with the completion of this vision so that the company can produce better results. Having a shared goal provide a strong basis for the resolution of conflict.

5. I believe it is best for Ned to arrange a meeting with senior management and Bill to address how the Southeast can expand, as Ned states: “I would be negligent in my duties if I didn’t raise the red flag”. Having these meetings focus on the task and process conflict would likely not make Bill act as defensively in comparison to a meeting resolving the relationship conflict, and therefore may be more effective. If after these meetings Bill and Ned are still unable to have a cohesive growth agenda and thus cannot effectively work together, Ned should suggest that senior management re-evaluate Bill’s placement in the company. Recognizing that he has “alienated two of the other regional directors [and] the last two people in Ned’s position quit because of Bill’s style[9]” highlights that it may be best for Bill to return to be the solo dealmaker he once was. If this is not done, Ned should leave the firm, as he is not as dependant on his job as others and would be able to relocate his skills elsewhere.


Alyson Duff

Works Cited

Bradford, David. Dealing With a Toxic Boss. Stanford Graduate School of Business: Stanford University. 2012. Page 50

Greenberg, J. 2011. Behaviour in Organizations. Pearson Prentice Hill, Upper Saddle River. Page 78

Hammond, J. S., Keeney, R. L., & Raiffa, H. (1998). The hidden traps in decision-making. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), 47-58.

Robbins, S.P., T.A. Judge. 2012. Essentials of Organizational Behavior. Pearson, New York. Chapter 12

Robbins, S.P., T.A. Judge. 2015. Essentials of Organizational Behavior. Pearson, New York. Chapter 14.

Picture by Kumar Appaiah accessed through Creative Commons at the following link.