I am a new manager in a fairly small startup who is just now getting my feet under me. I fought hard to get a new employee—I had to show exactly what he would do and make a business case for him. My new hire, Bill, is great—smart, hard working, and easy going. I’m working hard, too. We’ve set clear goals with weekly to-dos and we have weekly one-on-one meetings where we talk about each goal, how things are going, and what he needs from me to succeed.
Things were just fine until a new person joined the company. I’ll call her Linda. She is senior to me and needed someone to help her so it was decided that 30 percent of Bill’s time could go to Linda’s projects.
What a disaster. Linda has still not given Bill any clear goals; she kind of throws stuff at him and is constantly interrupting him for help with little things like technology stuff for social media. Bill can’t plan out his work and is no longer getting anything done on my projects! He is making mistakes and is clearly stressed out. He says some personal issues are throwing him off, but I’m pretty sure Linda is just driving him crazy.
I have tried talking to Linda on a couple of occasions and she keeps promising to set goals and get more organized in her directions for Bill. Months have passed and Bill is running out of steam. I am his official manager but I have no control here because Linda is above me and has the ear of the founder and president. I feel so angry that our excellent setup has been ruined and I feel powerless to fix it.
Wow. You are certainly getting an education in management right out of the gate! No honeymoon period for you. Sharing a direct report is tricky at best and a total curve ball in this instance.
It sounds like your basic managing got off on the right foot, but now you are struggling with a situation that is outside of your control. Of course I wonder whether you have thought of enlisting your boss’s help with this situation—presumably they would have the seniority to confront Linda on her slipshod management methods. But it sounds as if your boss might not be textbook management material either.
So let’s talk a little about power, and allow me to challenge you a bit. Many people—more often women, but not always—think power is bestowed by someone else, someone more senior. It is not. The dirty little secret about power is that it belongs to those who take it. And even though the rest of us wonder “who the heck does she think she is?” seized power is rarely challenged. And it is certainly not challenged if the person who seizes it is trustworthy and an all-around decent person.
You are thinking of power as position power. A lot of power in organizations, especially these days with matrixes and herds of very young leaders, is actually personal power. Personal power is built on strong convictions with well thought out rational arguments to support them. Those with personal power are able to ask for what they need, draw clear boundaries, and make specific requests. They are trustworthy because they are competent, relate well to others, pay attention and keep their promises.
You may have more power than you think—after all, you did fight for your employee and you are his official manager. You had the wherewithal to get yourself a new hire, and now your job is to fight for your person and your own sanity. Plan to articulate what you need to say, in clear language and a neutral tone. Practice with a friend. Think through all arguments and be ready to negotiate.
Brook no opposition—mark your territory and be ready to hold it. Step up. Stand up for yourself and your employee!
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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