Senior manager should mentor manager, not step in

Dear Joan:

Four years ago, I changed jobs and changed companies. I went from a Senior Financial Analyst with enormous freedom of movement, no direct reports, just a briefcase, computer and packed suitcase. Now, I’m a controller with seven direct reports, and they are driving me crazy—but different ones on different days. 

The transition to managing other people is the hardest thing I have ever done. I’ve tried to bring to the job respect for those I manage and the expectation that I will receive respect in return. Unfortunately, this quid pro quo just doesn’t work like that.  

The recent letter to you this week about senior managers who meddle was so timely for me. I was brought in to my job by the COO, who was my former boss at my old company. We always had a great working relationship, as I respected his integrity greatly. But since coming to this new job, he feels compelled to tinker with my direct reports and play the hero.  

I just laid the article you wrote [on micromanaging] on his desk and asked him to read it so we can discuss the situation. We had an incident last week where, during a meeting, one of my employees took up an issue with him that they had not brought up to me (of course, it was about other co-workers, who were not present at the meeting). When I tried to respond by explaining their actions in a more positive light, he openly disagreed with me. I was furious about and still am. He is bored here and I thing this is just fun for him.  

Answer:

You were smart to have a cooling off period before you went to your boss and I’m glad the article will provide a common point of reference for the point you want to make.  

But before you charge in with guns loaded, let’s take a step back. While I agree that your boss was out of line when he stepped over you and undermined your leadership in the meeting, there is some benefit in understanding why he did it in the first place.  

Here are some questions you need some information about:

1.      Does your manager feel that you are not handling your employees and their issues appropriately?

2.      If employees are going to him with complaints about you, has he sent them back to tell you directly, so you can have the opportunity to act on them?  

If he feels that you are inexperienced in your role—or worse, if he thinks you are ineffective in your role—he may be actively soliciting their input and using the information to justify his micromanaging. (“See, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, so I’d better step in and make sure she treats her people right.”)  Without feedback, you will never be able to overcome this situation. 

If your boss is playing the hero, it feels great but it doesn’t teach you a thing and it reinforces the wrong behavior in your employees. Why should anyone listen to you when they can appeal to a higher power, who can veto anything you say?  And if he doesn’t like something you’re doing, he should hold you accountable for changing it.  

You have a history of good rapport. So, during your conversation, I’d suggest you say something such as, “If I am not meeting your expectations as a manager, I’d like you to tell me, so I can correct it. But when you do my job for me, it conveys that you don’t trust my judgment, so you second guess me or override my actions. By doing this in front of my employees, it tells them I really have no authority, so they can ignore me and go directly to you if they don’t like my answer. I can’t effective in this role with responsibility and no authority. I’m more than willing to work on anything I need to correct but I don’t stand a chance at fixing it, if you continue to do this.” 

Learning his intentions (which are probably good, since you admire his integrity) will help you to calm down and get down to the real core cause of his micromanaging. If indeed, you suspect he really is bored and looking for something to do, suggest that he mentor you on these issues.  Perhaps both of you can get your needs met, if you agree to bring him these issues to discuss on a regular basis and he helps you figure out what to do about them—instead of stepping over you to do it himself.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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