Manager must deal with former peer like any other employee
I have a problem that has made me question whether or not I am suited to my job. I am a manager in a non-profit organization with seven employees reporting to me. I’ve been in this position for two years and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I used to be in the department I am supervising and when I got promoted everyone except one person seemed thrilled.
But that brings me to the one person who wasn’t so happy about me getting the job. She wanted the job and feels that she is more qualified. She has been snippy and acts superior to me and even ignores some of my requests. I have tried everything I can think of to make her accept me. Now it has gotten to the point where she is undermining me with other people.
She has gone over my head to my boss (who used to be our manager) and complained about me. My manager came to me and asked for an explanation. I was furious that she would go around me and complain behind my back but I didn’t want to make things worse so I said nothing and tried to explain myself. I think she may have caused my manager to doubt my leadership style. The other employees I get along with fine and they have no problem with what I am doing. But I feel that I am being set up for a fall with this angry employee who is very manipulative and vindictive. What should I do?
End runs should be saved for football. When she lost her bid for the coaching job, she stopped playing for your team. Two years is a long time for this behavior to continue, which causes me to suspect that you have been tolerating her manipulation for too long and, perhaps even inadvertently, playing into her hands.
Sometimes, in an effort to win respect, new managers try to be "friends" with their employees, particularly in a case where the new manager feels a little guilty about winning the promotion over another peer. He or she may bend over backwards to help the passed over employee get over it. But ask any football coach and they will tell you trying to be pals with players doesn’t work.
Here is what I would do:
- First, have a conversation with your manager and explain your concerns. Tell your manager that you felt undermined by your employee’s end run. Explain that if your employees have concerns or questions about your style or decisions that you are very happy and willing to listen to them and improve. However, tell your boss that allowing your employee to run directly to her—without coming to you first—will cut the leadership legs out from under you. Your manager has now opened the door for all employees to go around you. Instead, request that your manager redirect your employees and send them back to you to work out the problem. If your employees don’t feel that you have taken appropriate action, you should then consider involving your manager.
- Schedule a meeting with your employee. Before the meeting, take some notes for yourself to keep you on track. Write down some examples of behaviors that have been inappropriate. Describe them clearly and objectively; remove words such as "vindictive" or "manipulative" and stick to non-judgmental descriptions. (For example: "In staff meetings you don’t speak and sit with your arms crossed," or "You went to talk to my manager instead of speaking to me directly, first.)
- During the meeting, come to the point immediately: "Pauline, since I came into this job, I have seen you do some things that I would like to discuss with you. I get the sense that you aren’t happy with me as your manager and perhaps you feel that you would be a much better manager than I am…and, who knows, you may be right. But the fact remains that I am the manager and we have to work together and I would like to clear the air and establish some clear expectations about how we work together in the future." Then go over the specific examples you have, as well as the expectations you want to establish for the future: direct communication with you when there is an issue, completion of assignments in a timely manner, active participation in meetings, etc. Preserve her self-esteem but be firm. Forget about attempting to be her friend, and focus instead on establishing a respectful relationship.
- Set a time to follow up. If she doesn’t improve, describe the specific instances of inappropriate behavior. If, after several sessions, she fails to make significant progress, it may be time to ask her to decide if she really wants to keep working for you. Make it clear that she has a choice: to become a full-fledged member of the team or to go find a job where she can be happy.
Sometimes a "wronged" employee never gets over the hurt. But allowing her to be disrespectful, manipulative or vindictive is no solution at all and undermines your entire team.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist.
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