Struggling with an Overqualified New Hire? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I was recently convinced by senior team members to hire someone for my team who is overqualified for the position.

I am trained in Situational Leadership® II and it has served me well – but my new hire won’t let me use it.

He is competent in some aspects of the job, but he is totally ignorant of our culture and the way things get done here. This person is in such a hurry that he is not listening to my direction. He continuously challenges my decisions and authority.

He undoubtedly has skill and experience, but his enthusiasm is not being applied where it will serve the team and his onboarding success. I’m afraid he’s going to step off in front of the wrong people and land us both in hot water. Any advice would be appreciated!


Struggling Leader

Dear Struggling Leader,

Oh dear. May we all, please, be spared having a new employee pressed upon us by the higher-ups? It so rarely ends well. Overqualification isn’t always a terrible thing—but the person you hire needs to have a secure enough ego to come in with a beginners’ mindset and have some respect for the person who hired them.

But here you are holding the bag, so it is probably in your best interest to at least try to salvage the situation. You need to go at this head on. Sit this guy down and tell him that his unwillingness to listen to you is going to cause big problems for both of you—and that if he doesn’t slow down and pay attention, you will have no choice but to let him go during his probationary period.

You can also have compassion for his position. He has great transferable skills, knows what he is doing, and has tons of experience.

You can also ask him to appreciate your position better. Explain that you don’t believe he understands how he needs to do things to be successful in this particular environment. Be clear that you are on his side and that your intention is to help him be successful. Share your concerns about his inability to take advantage of your experience in the organization.

Finally, share the Situational Leadership® II model with him. Explain that although he has transferable skills, he still needs to learn the ropes in the new organization and your job is to make sure he knows how to do that.

Explain that you want to start with tight oversight and supervision and that you will back off and loosen up as soon as you see ample evidence that he isn’t going to step off in front of the wrong people and land you both in hot water.

In all cases, stay neutral and non-judgmental. If he just can’t hear it, nip it in the bud and let him go. If he seems to get it and yet still doesn’t comply, you owe him one more try. He may genuinely not get it. But he also may be “yessing” you, in which case—nip it in the bud.

Document every infraction, every conversation and agreement, so that if you are called to account by these higher-ups you can explain exactly how things went down.

Be fierce, Struggling Leader. Good luck.

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!

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