Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I serve on a board for an alumni association. We are all volunteers, and we have various committees that other alumni serve on. It's hard to get much help sometimes, so we try to find something for anyone who wants to help to contribute.
However, we have one volunteer who seems to suffer from delusions of grandeur. He is not an elected board member, only a volunteer on one committee. He gave himself a fake title that doesn't exist and told others associated with our organization that this is his "job" and that we have given him authority to do certain things that we haven't.
The head of this committee, a board member, is fed up (as am I -- he has told other board members that I've given him permission to say/do things that he never even discussed with me). At first, we gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he misunderstood, but after so many times it's clear that he is making things up to further his perceived importance.
He came into this annoyed that his ideas had been ignored in the past and hoping to implement them through us. These involve him soliciting corporate donations. We don't want him representing our organization to the public.
I know his reaction if we remove him from his position will be "you said you needed volunteers and then you turn away someone willing to help?" And yes, bodies are good, but we don't want to be misrepresented or lied about, and he is not willing to follow the procedures of our organization (or says he is, then does the opposite, then claims he misunderstood).
As we discuss this further, I'd like to support the committee chair's decision if she chooses to fire him. My instinct is that we need to be very clear about why he cannot be involved without being too soul-crushing, but I do think we need to be honest that his actions are in direct conflict with our mission and goals. If that leads to him telling others we mistreated him, that's probably not as bad as having him out there running off his mouth to potential supporters. How would you handle this?
How clear have you and the board been when you've talked to him about this in the past? Has anyone directly and clearly told him, "It's not acceptable to do XYZ, and while we appreciate your work, if that continues to happen, we can't allow you to continue in this role"?
Oftentimes, people have conversations about issues like this that aren't that direct. They soften the message because they're uncomfortable delivering a tough message, or because they think a softer message will still get the job done. And then they're frustrated when the problem continues. This is common in traditional employment situations, too -- and it's even more common in volunteer situations, where people feel extra uncomfortable because the person is working for free.
So that's my first question. If he hasn't heard a clear and unequivocal statement that this needs to stop, someone (probably the board chair or committee head) should deliver one.
However, if you're at the point where his behavior has convinced you that a clear and final warning won't make a difference, and your concerns about his judgment are so serious that warning him and then waiting to see if it sinks in would simply prolong the inevitable (and potentially give him more time to do additional damage), then you're under no obligation to wait. You can move to the final step right now, which would be removing him from his role.
To do that, the board or committee chair should tell him: "We really appreciate all your work. However, you've continued not following our policies and misrepresenting your role in the community, and as a result, we're removing you from your role on the committee."
It's going to be important for you all to keep in mind that it doesn't matter that he's working for free. You have work that you need done and policies that must be followed, and if he's unwilling to follow them or incapable of following them, then the organization can and should turn down his help. You can be kind about this and openly appreciative of the work he's put in, while still being firm about the fact that it's not working out.
If he pushes back or questions why you'd turn away volunteer help, simply say, "We do appreciate help, but we need volunteers to be willing to work within our procedures. Being a volunteer doesn't change the need to comply with our rules." And if he continues to push, then you simply say, "The decision is final. We hope you understand."
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