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The Question

I recently stepped into a managerial role and have three people reporting to me. I found out that one of my reports applied for my job, but didn’t even get an interview. His attitude and performance are making it difficult for me to do my job. He’s strategically choosing what projects he wants to engage in. How do I handle insubordination as a new manager?

The First Answer

Eleanor James, Personal Communications Consultant, the James Thinkstitute, Toronto

This is a perfect leadership opportunity. This man shows a human response to a disappointment which he’s taking out on his workplace. Not great and not unusual.

Right away, build a sense of team with your new reports. “This is what we do and we do it well: we work together, share information and build action plans.” Weekly team meetings are important for cohesion. You pass on important information and others report what’s happening with their responsibilities and what might affect the work of others.

Also, have lunch with each one of your people to ask them about their work, suggestions, etc. While you’re there with the disappointed man, say that he seems unhappy at work. Take the emotion out of your tone. If he knows that you know he wanted the job you got, try saying that you know it’s disappointing for him. Let him speak. If he has been a good contributor previously, tell him. “Your experience is valuable to the team and my plans include you if that’s what you want.” Maybe the air will clear over lunch. If not, plan to talk again in two weeks and watch what happens. Be approachable and drop the insubordinate tag.

These things that managers deal with take skill. Be prepared with what you want to say (no threats or harsh language) and don’t say too much. Address the point clearly and with professional respect and he might become an engaged team member. Most people respond well to generosity.

The Second Answer

Bruce Sandy, Principal, Pathfinder Coaching and Consulting, Vancouver

Be upfront with your staff member whose attitude and performance are presenting challenges for you.

Set up a time to meet with him one on one. Be curious with him about how he is feeling about his job. Point out that you are aware that he is doing a good job on the projects that he is choosing to engage in. Ask about his resistance to take on other projects and work. Be curious about what is going on with him and what is behind the resistance and attitude. Reflect to him what he is saying to you and ask whether there is anything else that is at play here.

Point out that you are aware that he applied for your position and that he did not get an interview. Ask if this is affecting his current attitude and/or resistance. Indicate that you can appreciate how this might be difficult for him. Also, highlight that you had nothing to do with him not being given an interview for the manager position. Ask him to consider how he would feel if he was in a similar position as a new manager dealing with a staff member like him.

State that you would like to design an effective working relationship with him. Emphasize that if he works professionally and respectfully with you and his colleagues and addresses all the work that is assigned to him that you will work with him to ensure that he is seriously considered for the next promotion opportunity.

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