Greetings! I have quite the dilemma, though most people think it would be a dream. My old-supervisor answers to me now.
To make a long story short, the position of network manager was created, and the network supervisor thought he was going to get it. Unfortunately for him, he was written up too many times and was not able to apply for the position. I fortunately was able to apply, and due to my past experience and hard work, won the position.
My dilemma is…. I feel uncomfortable around this individual, given his past history and the fact he was my boss at one point. I am sure he harbors ill feelings towards me as well, unable to accept he was passed over for promotion due to his own misdeeds (yes HR has talked to him and everyone about him). How do I go about managing this individual? Is it possible to coach this person? He fits the profile of author Robert Sutton’s definition of an Asshole: he drains everyone he deals with.
My old peers have accepted me as manager, but I feel resistance from him and like he is being territorial. Being new to this position, having been ‘test driven’ for 4 weeks, I’m still waiting for the official announcement, even though I have been told by upper management that I have the position. How should I approach this situation? I do not want to be a commander this early as it could hurt my relationship with my old peers (besides the announcement not being made yet), but I’m afraid he may force me into it.
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Dear Good guy (New Boss),
Congratulations on your promotion! Nice to see that the ‘good guy’ got promoted. But as you point out in your letter, it does pose some complications. To help answer your letter I’ve pulled in Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule.
The question is: How do you treat an ex-boss (we’ll call him Eddie) that was a jerk to you and everyone else?
A swift kick
A normal human response would be to give Eddie a swift kick. But while it might feel really good to kick him when he’s down, you run the risk of looking like a bigger jerk to your peers and the management above you. And why risk that? Eddie could be history very soon. Ultimately you may decide to fire him, but get all your ducks in a row first. You don’t want him seeking compensation for wrongful dismissal.
Let’s try to figure out a path that treats Eddie with the dignity that any human being deserves – but also shows that you are calling the shots now. Clearly if you treat this guy like dirt before your promotion is announced, it could jeopardize your promotion and your reputation. You don’t want to appear to be ruled by emotion or to be seeking revenge.
Just the facts Ma’am
What are the facts? Eddie is dangerous to you. He can be a divisive element on your team. He can cause you all sorts of trouble, from undermining your management efforts, to sabotage. In my opinion you need to neutralize Eddie’s power and demonstrate to your team that you are the leader now.
Sutton agrees and suggests, “You may have a new problem now that you are becoming his boss – watch out for the “kick down, kiss-up syndrome.” You may believe that your coaching is helping, when in fact, the jerk may just be showing you his (fake) good side and is spewing his nastiness at co-workers and subordinates.”
What type of leader do you want to be?
As a leader, your best bet is to appear fair, even-handed and in control of your emotions. Yes, Eddie is a first-class jerk, but you are a bigger man and you are an expert Office-Politician. You are willing to give him a chance to be a productive member on your team. The message you want to send to your staff is that everyone makes mistakes, but you will not stomp on people for making mistakes, and you don’t hold grudges.
Remember, in every interaction with this guy, your staff is actually looking at you and judging you. Do you want them thinking, “Geez, Eddie was a jerk. But my new boss is a bigger jerk. Gosh if I make a mistake he’s going to hammer me…” One of the most common mistakes business leaders make is to condemn employees who make mistakes. I believe in the philosophy that if you aren’t making a few bloopers you’re not trying very hard.
Step One: Show compassion
The last thing most people want to do is show compassion to a jerk. But it can give you valuable insights, and make you a much more skillful — and powerful — Office-Politics player.
Put yourself in Eddie’s shoes and think about the situation from his perspective. There are many factors at work here — but I’m sure he feels ripped off and envious. He may even be seeking revenge… You can’t do much about that except keep your eyes peeled. Eddie has to adjust to the new reality: You are his supervisor now. He takes orders from you. Do not feed the fire by being rude to him. Showing respect to him may ease the tension a bit (even if he is rude to you, your staff will admire your disciplined restraint).
Step Two: Find a safe place for him
Eddie needs to rebuild his self-esteem. He’s been shot down in flames and is badly wounded. Try to find a safe place for him on the team (where he can’t do too much damage) that shows your staff that he is still useful — but that you are calling the shots now.
Step Three: Lay out the Game rules
Lay out the Game rules. We recommend laying out processes and procedures very clearly for the entire team. As you are just appointed you may not even know what they are. Try to imagine yourself as the ideal leader. What would you say? What would you do? Where could things go wrong? Your staff wants direction from you. Step up to the plate and give it to them. Eddie has gotten in trouble in the past because he did not follow the rules. So be sure that you show your leadership skills by laying out the playing rules.
Step Four: Ten Ways to Kick Butt
Be creative and fun in outlining your game rules, e.g. Ten Ways to Kick Butt (or whatever is appropriate in your culture). They can be a powerful motivational tool as well as a disciplinary tool. If anyone breaks the rules it will be easier for you to call them on it — and decide whether to cut them from the team or what penalty they will face. (Take a look at Erika Andersen’s book Growing Great Employees for some coaching tips.)
But can this jerk be coached?
Sutton offered this advice: “Can this jerk be coached? Your note suggests to me that he has already had many warnings and feedback about his behavior, and if I am reading between the lines correctly, he is a certified asshole in a workplace where this is the exception rather than the rule. So, although you might try to coach him and give him another chance — by setting specific goals with him about how he plans to change his behavior – I would not give him too many more chances as it sounds to me like he has already had a lot.”
Step Five: Sutton’s Bottom-line advice is:
Sutton goes on to ask, “Will this ex-boss undermine your ability to lead your new group? Will he be seen as a negative force in other ways? If so, then pushing the “delete button” might be the best thing for both you and your group. As I talk about in The No Asshole Rule, too often, companies put up with such nastiness too long, and I wonder if this is one of those cases.”
You are the leader now — so lead!
In closing I’d say — Appreciate the fact that you are stepping into a leadership role. You will have power over others. How you exercise that power will determine the trajectory of your career – and whether you are viewed as a talented leader or a jerk. Good luck! Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
My thanks to Robert Sutton for contributing to this letter.
Here’s a brief bio on Robert:
Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, is a Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. He studies innovation, the links between knowledge and organizational action, and most recently, workplace assholes. He works with organizations and managers of all kinds, from People magazine, to Procter & Gamble, to National Football League executives. He has published over 150 articles, in places ranging from peer-reviewed journals, to the Harvard Business Review, to Esquire magazine. His books include Weird Ideas That Work: 11 ½ Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge into Action (with Jeffrey Pfeffer), and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (also with Jeffrey Pfeffer). His new book is the national bestseller The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. He is a Fellow at IDEO and a member of the Institute for the Future’s board of directors. And especially dear to his heart is the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which everyone calls “the Stanford d.school.”
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.