Boss Playing Mind Games?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a sales leader in charge of half of the US and I have a counterpart who runs the other half.  We have a good relationship. We support each other and share ideas and information.

I recently figured out that our newish boss, the EVP of sales and marketing, is playing us off each other—or at least he’s trying to.  He seems to think we will work harder if we are competing.  He tells me things about my counterpart that I don’t think he should be telling me, which makes me wonder what the heck he might be telling her about me.

Do you think I’m crazy? What’s up with this?  How do I make him stop?  Everything has been going well and I don’t want him to ruin it.

Feeling Off Balance

Dear Feeling Off Balance,

I guess you might be crazy—but if you are noticing this and you aren’t usually paranoid, you probably aren’t crazy. I always regret it when I don’t pay attention to my instincts, and so does pretty much everyone I know.

The most obvious option is to talk to your boss about this. Explain that you and your counterpart work well together and thrive on your collaborative relationship.  Do you feel like you can trust him enough to have that kind of conversation?  Again, trust your instincts on that.  You can use our handy TRUST model to assess how much you trust him.

If talking to your boss is not an option, you might consider bringing up the subject with your counterpart. Make a pact to create a united front and stick together by not allowing your boss to drive a wedge between you.

Now, I would be remiss to not mention a potential political reality that I have seen too many times: it’s possible your boss is doing this because he either wants, or is being pressured from above, to eliminate one of you.  This tactic of creating competition could be a way to help him decide who the proverbial best man is. It may cause some real static for the two of you to try to stick together if this is the case—so you are going to want to pay attention to the way the wind is blowing here and assess the situation carefully before doing anything.

This sounds stressful.  I’m sorry.  Pay close attention, keep your eye on the ball (your goals and your people), and see what happens next. And take notes—it will help you ascertain if you are crazy or not.  Stay grounded and don’t let your boss throw you off kilter.

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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