Q: About six months ago, I took over responsibility for my business unit, as our previous head was interested in moving into semiretirement. The problem? She is now doing special projects part time but can’t seem to let go of her past role.
Jeremiah, 48, director, manufacturing
A: Your success depends on her making this adjustment, so work with her to establish the new ground rules.
Unless you have information to the contrary, assume that she has good intent.
This is a big deal, as it should make her more receptive to feedback.
Even so, it’s possible that she is having regrets about making the change, and may be acting out rather than being direct about her second thoughts.
Your past working relationship could be a barrier to open communication about this issue. If she was a hierarchical leader, it may be difficult for her to accept you as the new boss.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if her intent is good; it’s the impact that matters. Intent just gives you a different set of options for managing her in her new role.
Develop strategies to address the behaviors she is showing.
For example, she may be providing unsought advice. Now and then may be OK, but if it’s constant, it wastes your time and could also undermine your confidence in your own leadership.
It also could be a gateway for her to be even more disruptive, so it needs to be nipped in the bud.
Develop some lines that will shut her down, starting gently and getting more direct if she doesn’t get the point.
Worse, she may be giving advice (which could come across as work direction) to other team members. If she doesn’t have oversight responsibility or isn’t part of the same project, this is directly undermining your authority.
Likewise, she may still be speaking for the team, even informally, with other leaders in your organization. These behaviors need to be discussed with her to ensure that she knows that she’s crossing the line.
To provide a natural forum for this conversation, set up a check-in meeting to talk about how the transition is going. In this meeting, you can discuss expectations that you each had, roles and responsibilities, and challenges.
Start by listening, especially to the challenges she is experiencing, and exploring whether the transition is more difficult than she’d expected. Ask clarifying questions that will help you understand her intent and hopes for the future.
Then lay out clearly the behaviors that have had a negative impact on you.
Use “I” statements: “When this happened, I felt … and these were the consequences.” This is a nonaccusatory approach that can help deflect defensiveness.
As you work through these issues, use the meeting to create a mutual vision of shared success, and a process to keep the conversation going to avoid bumps in the future.
What if she’s resistant to your feedback?
In that case, you are the boss and are responsible for the success of the team as a whole.
If she can’t adapt to the new situation, it may be time for her to step out completely.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.