Philippine, the manager, complains about Jeanne, her assistant, whom she describes as unpredictable, both professionally and personally. Unpredictable and intimidating, and who in short defies her authority: “I can't count on her, she doesn't play her role as assistant, she's there or not and doesn't warn me and refuses to give me an account. In fact, she refuses my hierarchical status”. Philippine ended up fearing Jeanne's aggressive reactions to her at the slightest remark about her work or her untimely absences.

The situation is now worrying for her as she has to face increasing complaints from the rest of the team who can no longer absorb the work of an assistant who is always absent.


Jeanne has been suffering for many months, it is established by numerous work stoppages.

She complains about her work situation which makes her suffer, in particular about her manager Philipine, of whom she is the assistant, and of whom she says: "I suffer from a permanent abuse of control on her part"

She would like to change jobs to a new activity but her mobility attempts are failing, which she also complains about.

Philippine her manager complains about Jeanne (her assistant) whom she describes as unpredictable (both professionally and personally), unpredictable and intimidating, and who in short challenges her authority: "I can't count on her, she doesn't not play her role as assistant, she is there or not and does not warn me and refuses to report to me. In fact, she refuses my hierarchical status”. Philippine ended up fearing Jeanne's aggressive reactions to her at the slightest remark about her work or her untimely absences.

The situation is now worrying for her as she has to face increasing complaints from the rest of the team who can no longer absorb the work of an assistant who is always absent.

The relationship between Philippine and Jeanne has become conflictual based on an escalation of injunctions: (de) Philippine (who) summons Jeanne to respect the authority of her status and (de) Jeanne (who) summons Philippine to stop control it. The escalation stops momentarily when Jeanne, exhausted, goes to see her doctor who confirms her condition and stops her for a while.

But this conflict overflows and ends up mobilizing many actors with complaints that diversify: towards the HRDs and the N+2, towards the elected officials, up to the doctor when she can't take it any longer, and once absent, the teams complain to Philippine, who herself speaks to her hierarchical line and the HRD.

Jeanne ends up being a subject of concern, without a solution that suits her being found. And for good reason, his wish to obtain mobility is made difficult by the reputation that now precedes him: of being fragile and difficult to put in line.

A cycle of complaints that lasted for many months… until an acute crisis broke out.

Jeanne has returned from yet another sick leave. She no longer wants to work with her manager and says it openly: what she wants is mobility to another activity. The crisis will focus on her assessment interview which she refuses to do with Philippine, who immediately informs Victor.

Jeanne would like to do it with someone else. She tries with her N+2, who refuses, and with a senior manager with whom she has no hierarchical link and who collaborates with Philippine on certain subjects. He shares his embarrassment and the head of department who ends up exasperated by the disorder with Victor, himself contacted at the same time by the occupational doctor and the elected officials who express their great concern about Jeanne's fragility.  

Victor the HRD has become the receptacle of numerous injunctions and complaints in relation to Jeanne and her direct manager Philippine, which embarrass him and the hierarchy.

So here is Victor, the HRD who has to deal with:

- A collaborator who suffers, who worries, whose behavior is deemed uncontrollable

- A manager who proves to be powerless, his leadership is deemed to be failing

- Pressure from the doctor, elected officials, the rest of the hierarchical line

Victor contacts us and tells us how helpless he feels to deal with this situation and asks for our help.


To respond to the emergency, we set up an operational diagnosis with the actors directly involved in the situation. Two interviews of operative diagnosis take place, one with Philippine, the other with Jeanne and a restitution/work meeting is organized with the hierarchical line and the sponsor (Victor).

At this stage of this first stage of intervention, the observation is that Philippine is incapable of acting on the situation (and no one in the hierarchy either).

The first objective is to ensure that Jeanne passes her interview with Philippe, (that is to say that the rule in this area is observed).

You will find in the book a more complete and detailed analysis of the situation.

We have chosen today to mainly shed light on what is at stake at the managerial level in this organization and what contributes to maintaining a pathogenic disorder.

If we shed light on the way in which Philippine behaves with Jeanne and more particularly what she puts in place to try to resolve the differences between them, we will say that with Jeanne, Philippine always tries to convince her to respect her authority.

She shows kindness and understanding, as a friend. She listens to complaints, gives explanations, justifies herself in return. She thinks that the discussion and the exchange are enough to bring back Jeanne to become reasonable (in her behaviors and her demands), but these exchanges produce polemical discussions and not a return to Jeanne's rank.

A “democratic” attitude which leaves room for debate, but which ends up exasperating Jeanne who in turn shows herself to be aggressive and intimidating.

 Faced with Jeanne's initiatives, when the boarding attempts show their ineffectiveness, Philippine tends to delegate part of her hierarchical responsibility to the organization (senior referent, hierarchical superior, HRD).

it informs of errors made, untimely absences and declares that nothing can be done about it.

An absence of consequences to Jeanne's initiatives, which turns out to be permissive (relieving at first), but which ultimately causes her to lose all credibility with Jeanne, her team and her hierarchy

It is interesting to observe what happens at the level of the hierarchical line. Indeed, we observe that when she is in direct contact with Jeanne (in the various forms of overflowing the conflict), she behaves like Philippe: the same attempts at boarding to try to bring her back into line, and a distance when it all seems ineffective.

Even at the higher hierarchical level, there is no consequence to the initiatives taken by Jeanne which set her aside from the rule.

The rest of our intervention was built during the restitution/work meeting of the operative diagnosis phase.

Jeanne considered that she was within her rights and did not need any help. On the other hand, Jeanne expressed her distress and her suffering, feeling threatened in her work both by Jeanne's insistent accusations that she is unable to control and by the increasingly worrying distance that her superior has towards her.

It will be decided during this meeting of an individual intervention with Philippine and some strategic coaching sessions with Victor

Our diagnosis is that we are in the presence of a relational system of the democratic-permissive type, which is based on a type of relation with an egalitarian vocation, and which by its rigidity leads to confusion in the hierarchical levels -> resulting in a disorder that all the world is condemned to suffer and to see it prosper.

In a democratic-permissive system, it's a bit as if the law would be: 'here you can say and do what you want, anyway, there are no consequences.

More concretely, Jeanne seems fragile, she takes initiatives that go against the order expected by the organization, but she sees no consequences for her.

Faced with unwanted initiatives, the hierarchy tries to dissuade them by the instrument of discussion, conviction, by positioning itself as a friend who advises and without asserting the status of authority (which produces a complementarity between the two pathogenic). She poses no consequences because she is intimidated by Jeanne's fragility and is afraid of her reactions (some of which are very aggressive). In Jjeanne's eyes, authority seems rightly weak to her, which feels insecure and which contributes to reinforcing the fragility that is taking hold.

It is a dangerous game for the manager who loses his credibility and his authority; it is a dangerous game for the managed, because he is under the illusion of a force that ends up making him fragile: he lives: “the more I threaten the more I win” and he experiments “the more I have the impression of winning, the more fragile I find myself”.

⇒ Not everything can be resolved by reason and discussion (especially in situations with very strong emotional stakes as is the case here).

The intervention strategy with the hierarchical line will be to help him maintain a structuring professional framework by connecting differently (and in particular to Jeanne). This will lead them to get in touch with Jane (and no longer to avoid her by delegating) and to set a limit to her initiative by saying "NO" in a benevolent, firm and determined relational mode.

“I can tell you say yes (I've done it so many times before), but it's no”

What is good for the hierarchical line is also good for Philippine, since they all share the same democratic-permissive relational mode. And so the work will be more detailed with her to help her adopt a benevolent, firm and determined communication: through work on a low relational position, benevolent sabotage in the face of initiatives and untimely absences. You will naturally find these details in the chapter of the book devoted to this case ( Chapter 10 - The evil of authority ).


Question from a speaker about the case study:

- Why focus on Philippe rather than Jeanne?

- What is benevolent sabotage?