When a rogue executive undermines your authority

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in Your Office Coach

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 management

For Office Coach suggestions on interacting with higher-ups, see How to Impress Senior Managers.
 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mohan M Prasad September 24, 2009 at 4:17 am

It has been my experience that typical multi-layered interpersonal dynamics like what you have explained get resolved in most cases through a systemic solution.

Please do not forget that in the pack, your manager is a weak link. Your approach should be more inclusive and mindful of his sensitivity lest in solving one you create another quarter of head ache

There are lot of tools which are available both soft ware and human ware.

Having a daily review say” sunrise meetings” to check progress on matters would facilitate your bring the bottlenecks to a forum and it will take it difficult for one to pass off line instructions and even if it’s done , it come to notice in the next 24hours .

You may like to invite Ellen at least for a couple of days in the week to get a hang of the way you have decided to go about. Have your manager to conduct the meeting and that way you bring him to focus and at the centre. The grapevine spokesperson of Ellen can be made in charge to record the main points of the meeting. Make it crisp and short not more than 15 minutes a day

I have personal experience of this being a very powerful tool for tracking and recording deviation which may have implications on the annual goals

At the software level, you have tools like Gantt charts etc which you can start implementing …….all these to send a clear message to Ellen that you are focused on both “Role clarity and Goal clarity to achieve the results and if there is a messing around , she will have to take responsibility for the short coming and her shortchanging strategy ”

It’s a slow steady yet stabilizing process.

If your social equation is otherwise good with Ellen, it will not be a bad investment to have a frank chat with her and get deeper into the roots of her changing routes mid course. She may have something to say, you were never prepared for. That will be a good icing on the cake

All the best

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