Q: My boss recently hired a guy who seems determined to cut me out of the loop. "Mike" is a project manager whose job requires him to interact with members of my staff. He often gives them new instructions without telling me, which creates a great deal of confusion.
When problems arise, Mike immediately escalates them to our boss instead of coming to me. I asked my manager to support me by refusing to get involved, but he says he's only helping Mike learn the ropes. I'm beginning to feel shut out, and my staff is getting frustrated. How should I handle this?
A: Although his actions may look like deliberate sabotage, Mike could simply be an impatient newcomer who wants to make things happen quickly. To give him the benefit of the doubt, talk with him directly and explain your concerns. This approach has the added advantage of modeling the very behavior you would like him to exhibit.
For example: "Mike, several of my staff members have indicated that you and I are giving them contradictory directions. To avoid further confusion, I would like to see how we might coordinate our activities more effectively. If you can tell me in advance what you need from my group, I believe we can avoid this problem in the future."
If Mike continues to bypass you, it's time to go back your boss. Instead of asking him to "support you," which sounds like taking sides, explain how conflicting communications are adversely affecting your team, then ask him to help you and Mike find a workable solution. The key is to remain focused on business issues, not your own hurt feelings.
Supervisor treated like a subordinate
Q: I have a co-worker who refuses to work with me, even though I am her supervisor. When I ask her to do something, she ignores me. If she thinks I've made a mistake, she immediately runs to inform my boss. I would like to tell him about her behavior, but I'm not sure what to say.
A: This woman is obviously sending you a message that she does not accept you as her supervisor. Talking with your boss is definitely the right move, because you will never resolve this issue without his support. When you meet with him, factually describe the situation and ask for his help.
For example: "Mary simply refuses to acknowledge that I am supposed to be supervising her. She seems to resent my instructions and sometimes ignores me completely. I would appreciate it if you could meet with us to help her understand my role."
Let me also point out that you must be clear in your own mind about your supervisory status. If you continue to think of this woman as your "co-worker," she is less likely to regard herself as your employee.
Work shortage at new company
Q: I'm afraid I may have made a big career mistake. Shortly after joining this company, I discovered that there really isn't enough work to support my position. In an effort to keep me occupied, my boss loans me out to other staff members, but they seem reluctant to share any assignments.
My manager keeps saying that "things will iron themselves out," but I'm not sure what he means. I've also found that my co-workers don't communicate well, and they have a lot of complaints about management. I would really like to leave, but I've only been here a few months and don't want to look like a job-hopper.
A: Communication roadblocks and gripes about management are fairly commonplace, but the big, bright red flag here is the lack of work. If you were the only one with time on your hands, there would be less cause for concern, but your colleagues' desire to hoard tasks may indicate a widespread shortage.
To assess the situation, ask your boss why work is so scarce and how this affects your job security. If his explanation leaves you feeling uneasy, it may be time to explore other opportunities. Assuming that your work history is otherwise stable, interviewers won't be too concerned about one short-term job with a troubled company.