Two weeks ago I started in a new position with a new company.
Beginning on my first day (yes, my first day!) one of my new subordinates began a series of troubling comments and actions including:
1) In our very first meeting he stated that the loss of the previous person in my position (his old boss) was a big one for the company and that it would set us back. He also said that the two previous individuals in my position hadn’t lasted long, so, “good luck“.
2) He took the seat at the head of the table at our first staff meeting before I arrived in the room.
3) He has so far circumvented my attempts to learn about the results and activities of his department usually by either claiming that he does not understand what I am asking for, talking around the subject in a circular fashion, or saying he’ll get back to me and then not doing so.
4) In our most recent meeting said he suggested that I set up the booth for an upcoming trade show (although as a VP for the company that is clearly not in my job description), told me erroneously that one of his subordinates was invited to the show (who was not), suggested that I’d better hurry up about getting ready for two other upcoming shows and that my lack of knowledge about them, “scared the hell out of him“, and finally said that the attendance of the principals of our company at another upcoming show was a way for them to evaluate my performance and I should question their attendance. He also listed a bunch of things he needed from me including signatures on sales expenses and expense reports and confirmation of his bonus structure and then looked annoyed when I said I’d have to get back to him.
Unfortunately, however, he was apparently hired by our company’s founder who, while out of the day to day management, still owns a good portion of the company and is still very politically powerful. When he threatened to quit last year, he circumvented his previous boss and went straight to the founder who apparently asked our President to save him by promoting him to his current position. My predecessor, his boss at the time, was fired soon after.
I am shocked that he is acting this way so early, but at least it is not subtle. This position is a good one for my career and I don’t want to let this guy hurt my chances to do well. I also know that both my boss and the company’s founder supported my being hired, after an intensive recruiter search. I have skills that the company needs and that my subordinate does not have. Since the group he heads is not very strategic for the company, I can probably just leave him to it and make my mark in other ways. Is that what I should do?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
We are very confident about your future because your letter indicates that you have already developed a high degree of Organizational Savvy. We think it would be useful for our readers for us to highlight the skills and awareness you already possess before we give you our recommendations for moving forward.
At least half of being savvy is being alert to signals and analyzing situations correctly. You have picked up the “tells” of a subordinate from day one. This person is demonstrating a variety of sabotage behaviors and is showing you that he is not afraid of you in any way. You are correct to take these actions very seriously and won’t be victim to “I didn’t see it coming”.
Why would a subordinate engage in this type of risky behavior? Usually it is one of two reasons: either they are making risky mistakes or they know something that you don’t and these facts actually make the behavior not really a risk to them.
You are very astute to do a power analysis. How much power does he have and how much do you have in this situation? This is a crucial step to make before you decide on how to deal with an overly political, sabotaging subordinate or peer. Many people do not do this accurately and suffer the consequences.
In this case your analysis reveals that he has the power to circumvent policy and possibly get his previous boss fired. That is a lot of power.
You also have some power now because you were just hired. Sometimes this affords you a “honeymoon” period where your power is the highest. We must consider this possibility because he will likely try to erode your power in a variety of ways.
For every decision there are payoffs, trade-offs and risks.
You are doing a very good job of weighing these factors to decide what is the best option for you. We see three possibilities. Each one could be viable but it will depend on your tolerance for risk.
This seems to be the one you are leaning towards and we have recommended this option in many situations. It has some risk in that he is still there, not performing and will continue to try to undermine you. It avoids a direct confrontation but if you do this continue to monitor and document his behavior. He will continue to give you bad advice, hide information and manage the airwaves against you.
We know this is passing along the problem to someone else but there may be a place in the organization where he will do less damage to the company. In any case, we would try to skillfully get him off of our team because you are unlikely to ever be able to trust him. The main chance he will change is if he sees you get more power and will win a confrontation. So continue to add value and align with senior managements agenda.
This is the confrontation option. A version of “Him or Me”. This is risky and you should only do it when you can document what he has or hasn’t done and line up other people who will back you up. Even then you should be prepared to leave if they won’t take him out of your organization. Because you are already leaning towards option 1 we would stay with that.
But be alert that if he weakens your reputation, your power will recede. Also look for visible ways he may mess up. That may give you the ammunition to pursue option 3.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.