Question: My boss’s boss, “Ellen,” frequently redirects my employees without informing me. She just tells them to disregard my assignments, then issues new instructions. Recently, Ellen asked a member of my staff to manage a major project, even though she knew I had already chosen someone else for that role. Previously, she had expressed no concerns about the person I selected. Every year, Ellen approves my annual goals, then switches things around and makes it impossible to accomplish them. My manager is no help because he’s very weak. Do you have any suggestions? — Bypassed
Marie’s Answer: Ellen sounds like a prime example of a rogue executive. You can’t change her personality, but perhaps you can contain the damage. Here are some suggestions:
• Ask your wimpy boss to arrange a meeting with Ellen so that all three of you can discuss your priorities. If this seems to make him nervous, find an opportunity to talk with Ellen yourself.
• Resist the temptation to tell Ellen how she’s screwing up your department. Direct confrontation with senior managers frequently leads to career suicide.
• Keep your comments focused on business issues. For example: "Two employees apparently have been told that they’re in charge of the XYZ project. We either need to appoint co-leaders or agree on one person."
• Finally, propose a plan to prevent future problems: "To avoid confusing employees, perhaps you and I could meet weekly to discuss priorities. That way, I can get your input on assignments and convey any changes to the staff."
If this approach fails, and Ellen continues to meddle, then you can either learn to live with chaos or find a workplace with more professional .
For Office Coach suggestions on interacting with higher-ups, see How to Impress Senior Managers.
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