Is Someone Poisoning Your Relationship? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have just been promoted. This has been my career ambition and it has been a long time coming.  

I have been leading a large team of individual contributors and will now be managing three other managers in addition to some individual contributors.  Two of these managers had been my peers and both seem to support my promotion.  Neither of them applied for this job, so I don’t have that awkwardness to deal with.  

The other manager—let’s call her Hesha—is quite new. Her team was moved into my area shortly before my promotion as part of a reorganization.  I don’t know her at all, but from looking at her social media it does not seem that she has the experience for the job. Her former boss left the organization at the beginning of the reorganization. I don’t know if he left on his own or if he was let go.  

This former boss got in touch with me on social media and asked if we could talk.  In a short conversation he told me point blank that Hesha was the daughter of an old friend of our CEO, he had been forced to hire her, she had no idea how to do the job or manage people, and she was hostile to feedback.  He went on to tell me that she has a lot of power, she was the reason he got fired, and I’d better watch my back. Yikes.

I was flustered enough that I got off the phone before asking the useful questions that occurred to me after we hung up—but I have a bad feeling about calling him back. Frankly, I have a bad feeling about all of it.  What do you think?

Been Warned


Dear Been Warned,

Yuck.  Bad feelings indeed. What a cruddy way to start off on this exciting leg of your journey.

You really have no way of knowing if Former Boss was telling the truth or what his ultimate agenda is.  His getting in touch with you seems extreme and smacks a little of a desire to sabotage by sowing seeds of doubt.

It is entirely possible that Hesha does have power and that Former Boss was a terrible manager, or worse.  Perhaps he was truly motivated to help you—but I have to trust your bad feeling that clearly comes from something seeming not quite right.  You may be able to locate some folks in the organization who worked with Former Boss—they may be your peers now, so you should get to know them anyway—and learn from them whatever you can about Former Boss’s character.

Remember that the rumor mill must have been working overtime when this drama went down. Use the information you hear only to give you an impression; don’t expect it to be reliable.

I think the key thing to do is to file away the whole incident as a data point that may or not be useful in the future.  Make your own decision about Hesha.  Do an amazing job as a manager and be above reproach.  Take extreme care to set up the beginning of the relationship by setting crystal clear goals with her and having regular one-on-one meetings to check in.  Make clear from the start that you see part of your job as giving feedback and that she should expect to get timely and specific feedback from you.  Tell her that she is also welcome to ask for feedback any time.  The more intentionally you set things up in the beginning, and the more clarity you provide, the less room there will be for suspicion.

Give it some time and trust your gut.  You’ll know the truth soon enough.

Love, Madeleine

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.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

One thought on “Is Someone Poisoning Your Relationship? Ask Madeleine

  1. I agree with you, Madeleine. It’s best to file away this extra info from the ‘Former Boss’ and carry on in a professional, clear and open way to build a proper management relationship with Hesha. I’d say ‘Been Warned’ also needs to take a mindful approach to understand how his/her own mind may work as far as unconsciously reacting to the kind of info ‘Former Boss’ gave. This is a difficult situation, and needs pragmatism as well as great self-insight and self-control. That info may be right, it may be wrong. But it’s there, and whether right or wrong it will have its effect. Taking care to think and ‘feel’ things through before the relationship with Hesha even begins will pay dividends.

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