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Joan Lloyd’s HR Words of Advice: Leader should not play the shrink

Posted by Lloyd, Joan at Thursday, 03/29/2012 7:35 am
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3.1 from 42 votes
Dear Joan:

A co-worker has issues with our President. He feels that our President is trying to be a psychologist and help him to overcome his bad childhood, and he does not welcome the interference with his personal life.

The President thinks that my co-worker is stunted in his work because of his childhood, and asks my help in getting my co-worker to talk to him about his past so he can grow. My co-worker's annual review is coming up. The President is new to management so I'm afraid one of them will do something rash that could affect our small organization.

I don't want to breech confidentiality in either relationship. It gets sticky when one person is in authority. How do I mediate this tricky situation?


Your President is well-intentioned but off track. It’s clear that you recognize the slippery slope he’s on-- trying to cross the line from business counseling to personal counseling. Not only does the employee resent the intrusion, he could use this interference to take a legal stand down the road. Experienced leaders are well aware of the discrimination risks that can occur if a leader doesn’t stick to job performance to guide human resource decisions.

Try to stay out of the middle. The key in this situation is to redirect the President’s good intentions. I think your co-worker needs to speak up. Put your focus on how to help your co-worker with some talking points that will make the President back off, without hurting the relationship.

Don’t speak for your co-worker or for the President, or you could make it worse. If either one of them asks you to intervene, I suggest you say, “I make it a practice to not speak for anyone. I’d suggest you ask him what he thinks (or tell him how you feel). If it were me, I’d want to talk to you directly.”

If the President pushes you to convince your co-worker to submit to the personal counseling, you could say, “I know you have good intentions but a lot of people don’t want to talk about their personal lives. He may perceive your help as too invasive but not know how to tell you—after all, you are the President of the company-- that he doesn’t want to talk about it. Besides, it could get you into legal trouble if he feels too pressured to reveal things. Or, what if he doesn’t get a big enough raise or maybe you give him a poor performance review…it could backfire if he ever decides to take legal action for something. Maybe you should talk with our lawyer about it.”

You could suggest that your co-worker say, “I really appreciate the concern you have about me. But rather than talk about my past, I’d rather talk about my future. What I’m interested in is how to better my skills on the job I have. What specific areas should I work on?” If he can tap into the President’s “inner psychologist” to help with work-related mentoring, the situation could be resolved.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at and visit to search an archive of more than 1400 of Joan’s articles. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates (414) 354-9500. ©Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.


Confronting poor performance, or difficult behaviors, is difficult. Joan Lloyd’s How to Coach & Give Feedback CD is a step-by-step approach to giving feedback to your employees, your coworkers, or even your boss. Actually reduces defensiveness and encourages open communication.

Coaching and Giving Feedback is the foundation skill of good leadership. Call us for information on having Joan Lloyd teach this skill to your leadership team 800-348-1944.

Susan Borden
Manager of Client Services

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