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How Do I Manage An Openly Hostile Direct Report?

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Managing a new team can be fraught with difficulty, but managing someone who was temporarily doing your job – and was unsuccessful in securing it – is a whole new level of pain.
Career Coach Ines Kretschmer helps a new manager navigate the minefield.

 

Dear Daily Slog,

I am two months into a new job, have just started to get my head around the internal politics of the team, and have hit a major stumbling block. A colleague from a different department has just quietly told me that one of my direct reports was temporarily carrying out my role whilst the company were recruiting for the position. She applied for my role, and was unsuccessful, but was told by my team lead that she could retain some of the projects that she had been temporarily managing by way of compensation.  This was never communicated to me when I started the role so naturally I dived right in trying to make a good impression. 

My team lead was happy to let me proceed and now I find myself in a position where my direct report has become openly hostile and will not give me the full details of the work done on the projects to date. I set up a three way meeting between my direct report, myself and our team lead but he was reluctant to intervene to set clear boundaries on the roles and projects so now I find I’m at an impasse where work has stalled. The other team members have also picked up on the hostility, which has undermined my authority with them. Please help. 

 

Dear Reader,

You are looking at quite a complex situation: confusion regarding roles and responsibilities and a more or less open conflict that is also impacting on the team and on the tasks and projects at hand.

It is usually easier to resolve such a complex situation by breaking it down into its components and look at them separately at first.

From what I read in your letter I think the central issue is the conflict that has arisen between you and your direct report. As you point out, you have already set up a three way meeting, so I take it you have communicated to your team lead in a subtle way the issue that has led to this conflict initially: you and your direct report have received misleading and/or contradicting information, and he does not seem to want to get involved in resolving this conflict now, or to set clear boundaries. This leaves you and your direct report to resolve the situation between yourselves.

 

How would you feel or act, if you were in her shoes? She was unsuccessful with her application so probably feels disappointed and under-valued.

 

One thing that is very helpful in a conflict situation is to look at the situation from the others perspective. How would you feel or act, if you were in her shoes? She was unsuccessful with her application so probably feels disappointed and under-valued.

She was then told she could carry on managing some of the projects she took on temporarily but this was not communicated to you, so she feels you want to take this away from her, too. While her reaction may not be helpful or correct, you will probably feel it is at least understandable.

Now let us look at your situation again. You are two months into a new role, keen to make a good impression and fully motivated to do your work as best as you can. You have done nothing wrong, want to do the job you have been hired for as best as you can, but now you find yourself in this situation where your work is negatively impacted by lack of information and support by both your manager and your team.

Both you and your direct reports expectations have not been met and this has naturally led to disappointment. But rather than being defensive you may ask yourself if you could not become allies?

 

Remember, you are still in a better position – after all it is you who was successful with your application and who is now in charge, so perhaps for that reason it is a little easier for you to make a step towards her rather than the other way around.

 

You are saying she was told that she could retain some of the projects she temporarily managed. Is there a valid reason why she should not? I understand there are a few projects going parallel, so could she keep some of them as project lead under your management? Or could you show her, by involving her more in other important tasks, that you do value her experience and skill set?

As the three-way meeting has failed – could you set up a meeting with her alone to discuss the situation and find a way of sharing the tasks that you both can be happy with and that would make her feel more valued and secure in the new setup? Remember, you are still in a better position – after all it is you who was successful with your application and who is now in charge, so perhaps for that reason it is a little easier for you to make a step towards her rather than the other way around.

Rather than working against each other, together you could be very successful and that could reflect very positively on both of you if you were able to create a win-win situation. Your team lead would probably be very happy with this as well, as what counts for him is probably the result of the work and that he does not need to get involved more than necessary.

As with the other team members – this could also be a very positive signal for them that will help you to gain back the authority you deserve. If they see that you are willing to share tasks and responsibilities and that you involve and value the team, chances are that they will naturally accept you as a leader and support you.

 

About Ines Kretschmer:

Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin.

Tel: 087 4149489

Email: kretschmercoaching@gmail.com

http://www.findacoach.ie/Find-a-Coach/Career-Coaching/Leinster/Ines-Kretschmer

Do you have a career dilemma you would like answered? Drop us an email at contact@thedailyslog.com and we will ask our experts to help.

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