Power Play: New Manager Caught Between a Rock & A Hard Place


Q. I’m a newly employed Manager of an educational consulting firm — just two weeks in. My officer administrator is the most experienced staff member of the company and she is killing me. My MD said I was hired to tame her rudeness & defiance to every instruction given. She attacks every instruction, misleads others, spites me in front of clients and refuses to reply to queries. She is extremely rude & defiant and opposes every instruction from MD or me. She encourages the junior staff to disobey & disrespect.

My MD is reluctant to sack her as she knows the most about the job and so she acts as the one in charge and negates every thing I say. She does all this to present me as a weak leader. I recommended 2-day suspension without pay and she is still the same.

What do I do? I’m only 2 weeks old at the job and I’m expected to solve.

A: The 40:20 Vision on this one was to start looking for a new job. Your boss has put you between a rock and a hard place without any authority to do anything. That is tough!

“It sounds like a bad situation and one that I would change by either leaving myself or firing the office manager.” – 40-something, financial advisor, management and formerly owned a consultancy


“I think I would just get out and look for another job!” – 40-something, fashion industry, entrepreneur, former boss!

A few women say, stand up to her. The way you treat yourself is the way others treat you.

“One boss of mine constantly put me down and talked to me in a derogatory manner. One day I finally slammed my fist down on the desk and said, ‘DO NOT TALK TO ME THAT WAY. IT IS UNNECESSARY.’ It worked.”  – 40-sometihng, graphic designer.

Many experts would advise you to confront this person in the most unemotional way you can. Returning to previous advice from Carol Frohlinger, author of She Negotiates …this is how to prepare for a tough conversation:

Think about:

  • What specifically you want your report to do (what action you want her to take)?
  • What reasons does she have to do what you want her to do (the benefits to her and to the company)
  • Your alternatives if she doesn’t (for example, find a new job, continue to suffer, take it on with the MD etc.)
  • Why she might be behaving the way he does
  • Based on that information, propose a solution(s) that will meet your needs and hers
  • What she might say (pushback)

Schedule the conversation at a convenient time for both of you when you will have uninterrupted time. Be careful to control your emotion – keep your tone professional and upbeat. The preparation you’ve done will equip you to ask for what you want in a way that links your interests to those of the company – that is the best way to get what you want at work.

But first it seems you may need to talk to your MD. They have placed you with the responsibility to “control” this person that they can’t control themselves (that seems a bit unfair to say the least). If they expect you to be able to “tame” her…they have to give you the authority and tools and support to do so.

Does she understand you are her senior? Does she report to you? Are you responsible for her salary rises etc.? You need to discuss with the MD what alternatives you have to offer her. The 2-day suspension did not work. Are you empowered to review her and put her on a performance plan? Can you stipulate the consequences of not meeting her goals?

Can you get your MD’s input on the goals of the company and use this as a negotiation point? The boss wants you guys to get along…so speak to her or him to define what the benefit of this is for both of you will be if this woman achieves the goals without resistance.

Lastly, it could come down to EQ (emotional quotient). In managing it often comes down to understanding motivations. What are these woman’s motivations …what is her life like out of work? Is she worried that you will take over her role? Is there something to be understood that will make her life easier and thus yours?

Here is one last answer from someone on how to deal with a heated work situation.

In an unemotional, extremely non-confrontational way, face up to the person. Position it for the good of the team vs. for yourself. And listen to their concerns. If you don’t get a result…reality is, there are going to be instances, regardless of what your actions, where it is what it is. You have to decide whether to say or go.” – 40-somerhting CEO.

To that last point…culture is really important to thrive. I know you just started and the job economy is tough…but if you have a job you left and that you regret…don’t hesitate to go back and say you made a mistake and see if you can go back. And no harm in keeping your eyes and ears open!

The thing to remember is that it is not about you.  Obviously she is unhappy and it has nothing to do with you.

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