The Divisive Executive

Focus Mindfulness

The Divisive Executive

There are certain words that come into fashion from time to time, and at VIM Executive Coaching we have clients who use them as buzzwords without fully knowing what they mean! Remember “Paradigm Shift?” or how about “Bandwidth?”The phrases go on and on and for the most part, they are fun and harmless.

Then again, some words that have recently crept into our lexicon are more worrisome. An executive who is called “divisive,” for example, is not so much fun, and certainly not fun to work for under any condition. Divisive is somewhat popular because it represents for many recent social and political issues.

However, the term is hardly new. Leaders who use divisiveness as a technique have been around forever. There are indeed executives who thrive on creating divisions between employees in the same departments or companies. They often bring anxiety, dissatisfaction and constant stress to everyone who works with them or for them.


Another way of looking at divisive leader is that they are master triangulators. By that I mean, they will pit one employee against another as a management technique. They will subtly (sometimes not so subtly), say or do things to undermine one employee to the other employee, and then reverse the process, so that all trust is lost.

Several years ago, VIM Executive Coaching worked with a marketing manager who came to us devoid of confidence and self-awareness. When we started working with her, she told us her manager had not liked her from the day she arrived in the company. Over time, the new vice president of marketing created a situation where the marketing manager had become totally isolated. She isolated her by undermining the marketing manager to the manager’s subordinates and then she demeaned the marketing manager’s subordinates to the marketing manager.

What was the goal of doing this? Ultimately, the new vice president of marketing wanted to create an environment that would force the marketing manager to leave the company of her own volition. Being isolated in the workplace is a “brutal” experience. Not surprising when the marketing manager came to us for counseling she was sending out resumes and scheduling interviews – frankly, we encouraged her to do so.

We were very pleased when the marketing manager secured a new position. We helped her to get over her feelings of a lack of confidence and inadequacy. We were not at all surprised when she reported that she had heard the vice president of marketing was terminated.

The executive leader who uses “divide and conquer” divisive techniques is invariably a victim of their own strategy. Divisiveness creates long lasting bitterness among employees. They eventually realize they have “been played.” Beyond that, an executive who employs divisive techniques does not stop “triangulating” when an employee her or she doesn’t like leaves the company. The process will continue over and over again. It is very akin to the employee who loves to gossip (how often have we seen that?). Gossip does not stop when a person leaves an organization, it is then focused on someone new.

Are You in Danger?

VIM Executive Coaching has also worked with executives who are brave enough and honest enough to “confess” that they feel as though they practice divisive techniques. They realize that creating divisions and gossiping are wrong, and they even know it may come back to haunt them, but they are not able to stop.

First, we applaud any executive who is savvy enough to realize that their management techniques could use improvement, and we have seen many cases where after coaching they become spectacular managers.

In general, executive leaders resort to “triangulation” and gossip when they have been trained in work environments that are reactive rather than responsive. Instead of empowering employees and creating an atmosphere of cooperation, reactive environments are often filled with bias, suspicion and a lack of team building.

Reactive environments are “old school.” They do not foster and elevate one another, they tear each other down. The executive who comes out of that tradition is usually programmed to fail, especially in the new workplace. We can and do help divisive leaders to become “healing and empowering leaders.” We have seen amazing transitions; it just requires self-knowledge and self-love.


VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality