Background: I indirectly oversee a professional who manages an assistant. The assistant's work has lacked some attention to detail lately. The manager decided to deal with this by sending a rather scathing email berating the assistant for some mistakes that were made, and sent me and one other person a copy to keep us in the loop. I feel that the approach is not likely to be productive, and would like to guide the manager toward a more respectful approach.

Question: What is the best way to approach the manager to encourage a more respectful management style and by extension a better workplace atmosphere for all

And given that we probably can't afford to provide formal management training, Is there a book you can suggest that we could ask the manager to read to learn more about the benefits of a respectful management style?

  • @alroc and others, I've re-worked the question a bit to ask for advice on approaching the manager rather than explicitly asking for resources. Jun 29, 2014 at 2:10
  • Do you know the full history of the relationship between the person and the assistant? Is s/he otherwise a model employee? Could this be the straw that broke the camel's back? is it something the manager has been trying to correct for a long time? are there other problems with this employee? is s/he failing to live up to a performance plan? is the manager trying to get rid of this employee?
    – atk
    Jun 30, 2014 at 3:29
  • @atk The employee is relatively new, and I don't think the manager is trying to get rid of the employee, but I think sending board members a copy of the email was intended as creating a paper trail in case the manager later does wish to terminate the employee. This manager has a rocky history with assistants, at least in part, IMO, because of this brusque and confrontational management style. Jun 30, 2014 at 3:53
  • what is your relationship with the manager? are you HR, the manager's friend or confidant or employee?
    – atk
    Jun 30, 2014 at 3:58
  • 1
    @Adel there is no other management. The board is the direct supervisor of this manage. It's a tiny non-profit. Jul 1, 2014 at 0:48

2 Answers 2


You can start from Theory X and Theory Y of management.

The Big Three automakers, among others, were big time practitioners of Theory X, until the Japanese automakers were on the verge of destroying them as competitors in the 1980's. Theory X has been largely discredited among most major American manufacturers - actually, what's left of them. Even, outfits that by nature are authoritarian and compulsion oriented such as the armed forces rely on Theory Y rather than Theory X.

A rigid, authoritarian, top down structure is simply not suited for coping effectively with a swiftly changing and at times, downright hostile environment where the unexpected is to be expected.

In response to your edit of your question, I think that you agree that the answer is to apply the Theory Y of management :)


You should consider asking the manager to explain what is going on. They sent the letter to the board, and as a member of the board it is up to you to act upon it.

Just ask the manager questions until you fully understand the purpose of sending you the letter, the history of the manager with this assistant and the history of the manager with previous assistants s/he has worked with. Ask why the manager felt it was necessary to involve the board in this. Ask why the manager's manager wasn't involved.

Try to understand if there really is a problem with this employee or with the manager. Maybe the manager really is doing the right thing, due to things of which you haven'been appraised. Maybe the manager treats all staff like this, and is a cancer for the organization who should be replaced as soon as possible. Or maybe s/he just wasn't ever trained in how to manage and needs some formal training.

  • 1
    Or maybe s/he just wasn't ever trained in how to manage and needs some formal training. This is my feeling based on this and other prior situations. But it's a tiny organization and I'm not sure we have the resources or the infrastructure to provide/require it. Jul 1, 2014 at 0:52
  • First, you have to determine why things have gone awry so you can correct it. Then you can look at what the possible solutions are and which is the most appropriate. If it's lack of training and you don't have the resources to train, perhaps the manager can seek training themselves, with their own funds. Perhaps there are less expensive training options. Perhaps a quick conversation will work. Perhaps you can require s/he read a book about managing that you choose. Perhaps this is a mentoring opportunity.
    – atk
    Jul 1, 2014 at 1:11
  • Or maybe the problem is not big enough to be worth fixing. Or maybe the manager just isn't allowed to have an assistant any more. Or maybe they should be in an individual contributor position instead of manager, if they don't have management skills. It's up to you to figure out what the right balance is for your organization. But you have to start by investigating to know what the problem really is - not make guesses and suppositions.
    – atk
    Jul 1, 2014 at 1:13
  • would you have any particular books you would suggest? Jul 1, 2014 at 2:26
  • I think that would make for a great question for this website :-). I don't have a lot of reference material about how to manage people.
    – atk
    Jul 1, 2014 at 3:15

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