Help! A subordinate is undermining my authority
This week's questions come from federal managers and supervisors. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are some strategies for leaders dealing with subordinates undermining their authority? -- Federal Supervisor (GS-14) from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration
This is a great question. Uncomfortable conversations, especially ones with a subordinate who is undermining your authority, are always difficult. To help you through the conversation, here are three discussion points to guide the resolution of this situation.
First, get to the root of their behavior. During your conversation, ask whether they're aware that their behavior is negatively affecting you and the team. If they do not recognize their impact, give them specific examples about events that have made you or others on the team uncomfortable. Next, ask about what may be motivating their behavior. Are they trying to be funny? Are they gossips? Do they not respect you?
Whether or not they're intentionally being disruptive, you need to make them aware that their actions are unacceptable, because they're detrimental to the team. Although it can be unpleasant to be so direct, you don't want any misinterpretation about the acceptable behaviors that contribute to a high-performing team. You should be as specific as possible without compromising your team's trust.
Finally, plan regular follow-up with the employee to reinforce the good behavior and be sure to identify specific examples if the bad behavior returns. Don't wait. If the problem reappears, catch them for a quick conversation immediately afterward to help process the lessons real-time.
How does one keep spirits up in the face of a boss with a negative attitude? Is there a way to let him know that he is losing credibility? - Federal Manager (GS-15) from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Unless you can offer input through a 360-degree assessment -- an anonymous survey of a leader's supervisor, peers and direct reports -- you'll need to address the issue with your supervisor directly.
I've spoken with literally hundreds of federal leaders, and there's one thing everyone agrees upon: The most effective leaders are positive leaders. A leader's attitude sets the tone for the entire office, and while we all have good and bad days, the best ones know when -- and with whom -- it's appropriate to vent.
Begin by asking your supervisor for ideas on how the team can improve morale. Building on his ideas, you might suggest your own ones, including an authentic, positive expression of his appreciation for the team's efforts.
If this gentle approach does not work, you can try being more direct while remaining diplomatic. You don't want to say, "Your bad attitude is killing the team." Instead, suggest that your team complete a climate survey, or use your agency's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, as a way to draw your supervisor into a discussion about the tone he sets for the office. Rather than focusing on his negativity, stress the need for positivity.
I'm interested in becoming a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). What suggestions do you have for a front-line supervisor in a small agency who's looking to gain a greater understanding of the agency's management and operations? -- Anonymous
To become an SES you'll need to demonstrate that you possess all five of the governments Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs): leading change, leading people, results drive, business acumen, and building coalitions. It seems that you're asking specifically about business acumen, which is the ability to manage your team's resources strategically including human, financial and IT.
As you consider how to advance as a government leader, consider moving around your agency or even among agencies. There's no substitute for gaining a first-hand understanding of the various roles required to run an agency. An added bonus is the personal relationships that you'll build with your new colleagues who can help you get things done.
Of course, you don't always need to take another job. Consider pursuing a temporary detail to another agency, as well as joining a government-wide task force. You'll gain new insights, improve collaboration and be well positioned to drive real change in government.
July 30, 2010; 5:30 AM ET |
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