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:
How do I handle a manager above me who insists on interfering in decisions I make regarding my employees -- such as leave time, work assignments, staff not coming into work and then apologizing to him with no explanation to me, etc.?
When I approach my manager regarding very specific issues that have arisen such as false comments made at work by those I supervise that cause relatives (whom I do not know) to come to my home to "confront" me, he laughs because he finds the topic humorous (never mind the fact that I felt threatened--a topic he never addressed). Or when threatening calls are made and messages left on my work voicemail, he does nothing. I am supposed to have authority over the people involved, but my manager has never addressed those involved in the situation. He's only said to me basically to ignore it. HR is not much of a help either.
Well, I'm going to be direct here: Either you have authority or you don't. Right now you're acting like you don't.
Why are you asking your manager to handle these issues for you? You are the manager of the people involved, and you need to manage them.
Your staff's relatives are coming to your home to confront you? People are leaving threatening messages on your voicemail?
You have completely lost control of your staff. You need to get it back, immediately. You need to address this on three fronts: your staff, your boss, and yourself.
1. Your staff. Sit down with each staffer, individually, and explain what is and isn't acceptable. For instance, they are to clear leave time with you, not your boss. If they do not do this, it will be considered unapproved leave. And, obviously, having relatives come to your home or call you is not acceptable. Explain that you've tolerated more in the past than you should have, that that's changing immediately, and that you expect them to demonstrate that they're able to comply. Period.
If they don't adhere to these new standards, give them one clear and final warning. If they still don't comply, at that point you really need to replace them with people who behave professionally and aren't wildly insubordinate. What you're talking about is so far over the line that you should clearly lay out what needs to change, and then very quickly either see that change or move to replace them. And frankly, the situation sounds so far gone that you may not be able to recover the respect that you need to properly manage with this current crop of staffers, so I'd be prepared for the strong possibility that you'll need to go the fire and replace route.
2. Your boss. Why is he undermining your decisions? Has he lost confidence in you? Either he is a bad manager who doesn't know how to properly delegate authority, or he's stepping in because he's not happy with the way you're running things. Actually, either way he's falling down on the job, since if he's unhappy with your management, he should have talked to you about it by now.
Have a candid conversation with him. Tell him that to manage your staff effectively, you need them to see you as their final authority, not him. Explain that he undermines your effectiveness when he reverses your decisions, and ask him to resist the impulse to meddle in individual decisions you make. If he has concerns with how you're handling things, you and he should work those out on a big-picture level. Either he's assigned you true authority or he hasn't, but he can't have it both ways.
3. Yourself. How did the situation get to the point that you have a staff behaving in such an outrageous way? What you've described isn't even near the edges of normal. At a minimum, it's indicative of a staff that doesn't respect you (possibly because you haven't exercised your authority correctly with them). You need to figure out how this happened so that you really understand how this all unfolded and what to change in the future. Good luck!
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