Q: Our boss has a terminal illness that causes her to have memory issues. "Emily" was not a very good manager in the best of times, but her declining health has the department floundering. Although Emily could retire with a pension, for some reason she wants to keep working.
Most of us have tried to work around Emily's deficiencies, but some people are using this as an excuse to goof off. Key projects have now been put on hold, so it feels like we're just treading water. We would like to get past this management problem and be a productive team again. What should we do?
A: First, instead of harboring resentment toward your ailing boss, you might try to muster up some compassion. Emily undoubtedly has her reasons, both practical and personal, for choosing to remain employed during this difficult time. Since you aren't walking in her shoes, make an effort to be less judgmental.
Viewed another way, this "management problem" is actually a leadership opportunity. When faced with a crisis, a team of mature professionals should be able to pull together, make collaborative decisions and complete critical projects. But if some members are neither mature nor professional, then the natural leaders must try to guide the group.
If your slackers seem unlikely to respond to informal leadership, consider meeting with management and suggesting the appointment of a temporary team lead. This person would not replace Emily, but assist her with specific supervisory tasks. That might not only reduce Emily's burden, but also get those key projects off the back burner.
Act as advocate for change, not critic
Q: Shortly after joining this retail company, I was promoted to store manager and transferred to a new location. My assistant manager, "Angela," has been here for seven years and probably believes our positions should be reversed. She often says she hopes to have her own store before long.
Although Angela has terrific skills in customer service and operations, I feel she has one major drawback as a leader. Whenever things go wrong, she reacts defensively and looks for someone to blame. I'm afraid this could limit her promotional opportunities, but I hesitate to mention it because I've only known her a few months. How should I handle this?
A: If you appear to be an advocate, not a critic, Angela may be more receptive, so try relating your feedback to her career objectives. Start by describing how much you appreciate her operational expertise and customer service skills and then explain that you have one area of concern related to her future as a store manager.
For example: "Angela, I would like to make one suggestion that may increase your odds of being promoted. I've noticed that when something goes wrong, you seem worried about being blamed, which makes your responses sound rather defensive. Upper management won't react well to this, so I think it's something we need to work on."
The next time Angela reacts defensively, refer to this discussion and suggest that she try rephrasing her comments. If you remind her that she's practicing for a possible management role, she might actually appreciate your efforts.