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Career Q&A: Turn to boss for help with disgruntled underling

Q: When I joined this company a few weeks ago, I discovered that the person who previously held my position is now working for me. "Sarah" obviously resents my presence and frequently says I don't have the authority to manage her, even though I clearly do. Her negativity has made my job much more difficult.

When Sarah was in charge of this group, she coddled the staff and ignored performance issues. One employee who has not met his goals frequently complains that I'm being too hard on him. I am actually trying to help him succeed, but Sarah undermines my efforts by sympathizing with him. How can I get this situation under control?

A: Sarah is undoubtedly suffering from a bruised ego, but that's no excuse for her rebellious attitude. Regardless of how she feels about her demotion, she still needs to behave in a mature, professional manner. Getting that message across, however, will probably require some assistance.

Because Sarah refuses to acknowledge your authority, anything you tell her will automatically be disregarded. She is more likely to pay attention to someone higher up, so try asking your boss for help.

For example: "Sarah seems to resent the fact that I am now her supervisor. She repeatedly says I have no authority over her, and she tries to undermine my relationship with other employees. I understand her feelings, but her behavior is creating problems. If the three of us could meet to clarify expectations, I think that would help."

Remember that your boss' role in this scenario is simply to establish ground rules. Once those are in place, you must rely on your own managerial skills to keep Sarah in line.

Assess how boss views your skills

Q: I am trying to decide whether I should leave my new job. Several months ago, I achieved my goal of becoming a certified public accountant. After a rigorous interview process, I was hired by a small private company. This position appealed to me because it reported directly to the CEO.

Unfortunately, I am now beginning to feel more like a secretary than an accountant. Most of my assignments are administrative in nature and have nothing to do with accounting. I like the CEO, but he doesn't seem to appreciate my professional skills. Should I leave or wait to see if things improve?

A: Something clearly went awry during your "rigorous interview process." Maybe you neglected to clarify job responsibilities, or perhaps someone provided misleading information. But either way, you must now do a quick reassessment of your career prospects.

Since the CEO controls your fate with this company, you need to determine how he views your role. If he has never before worked with a professional accountant, he may actually have no clue about what you have to offer. Some basic education about the accounting function might solve that problem.

But if your boss was really looking for an administrative assistant, then he has obviously made a huge hiring error. In that case, it's time to cut your losses and find an employer who understands your value.

Be a manager before writing up worker

Q: One of my staff members constantly tells her colleagues how to do their work. "Tracy" is a good employee, but this domineering attitude alienates her co-workers. I have hinted to Tracy that she needs to improve her communication skills, but that hasn't done any good. Our disciplinary policy allows managers to write up difficult employees as "unable to supervise." Should that be my next step?

A: If you believe you are "unable to supervise" Tracy, it may be time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Ironically, she seems to be more comfortable giving feedback than you are. So instead of dropping hints or taking disciplinary action, you need to put on your manager hat and initiate some performance coaching.

Start by helping Tracy understand the problems created by her dictatorial behavior, then work with her to develop an improvement plan. If she makes no effort to change, a formal warning may eventually be in order. But you should not conclude that you are "unable to supervise" her until you actually attempt to do so.

Career Q&A: Turn to boss for help with disgruntled underling

06/24/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 6:39pm]
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