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Employees undermining your authority? Tips to fix it

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in The Savvy Office Manager

It’s the worst feeling a boss can get: No one takes you seriously. Your employees are running the show and getting away with, well, whatever they want. Your authority is nonexistent or severely compromised.

What’s next? You either fix it or you won’t be a boss much longer. Here are several tactics you can adapt to help you re-establish yourself as the one in charge.

Tell, don’t ask. Most of your directives should be commands, not questions. “Please have this back to me by noon tomorrow,” is more authoritative than “Does noonish tomorrow work for you?” The former is respectful, but forceful. The latter turns you into a doormat.

Play on two teams. Let your staff know that you’re not only the leader of their team, but you’re also a player on the larger team. You need to defend the policies and procedures of the organization. Failure to do so will show employees that you’re operating on your own, and upper management doesn’t have your back. This gives employees the green light to do an end run around you, effectively draining what little authority you thought you had.

Build a “firm phrase” arsenal. For the most part, your words should be considerate toward your staff. But from time to time you’ll need to show some bite, so you’ll need a few lines that have teeth. Examples: “Let me be clear about this.” “We don’t tolerate that here.” Or just add the word “now,” as in “I need to see you in my office. Now.” Overuse of your tough talk will turn staff against you, so use it judiciously.

When needed, be unpleasant. Your workers expect you to correct the flaws, inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the workplace. That means confronting slackers, saboteurs and rule-breakers. If your nature is perpetual joviality, shake it when you go into corrective mode. You need to reprimand, discipline, set an employee straight. Channel your inner bulldog. Employees do need to be reminded that there are consequences for crossing your clearly drawn lines.

Be friendly, but not friends. It’s all about compassion and camaraderie, not forging friendships. Once you’ve established yourself as a “buddy” to your subordinates, they will see you as a peer. The manipulators will manipulate, take advantage of the situation and irreparably undermine your authority. Show interest in their personal lives, but don’t wander into it.

Slam your door. A manager I knew believed in one certain tactic which—when used sparingly—helped him project an edge he never really had, or so he thought. “Sometimes,” he said, “you need to inject a little theater.” And what better way to get employees’ attention and wonder than the startling crash of the boss’s door? “Are you angry?” they think. “Did somebody do something wrong?”

Neither. You’re just in charge.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

JLUW January 1, 2017 at 5:34 am

Good article at the right time for me. Thanks.


jonnyk October 14, 2016 at 8:25 am

Some of this is a bit over the top. But I’ve read other pieces on molly coddling employees who deliberately undermine your authority. employees like this can take up vast amounts your time and reduce your productivity as a manager. They also detract your attention from the valuable performing staff that are truly deserving of your time.

unless this employee is an extremely valuable asset to your team that you want to keep. Get rid. it only takes one bad apple to rot the barrel.

your valuable time as a manager is better spent on employees who have the right attitude, work hard and want to improve and progress. I disagree with spending time trying to fix a broken record. show them the door. Re-org or performance manage them out of your team before they impact the valuable positive thinking staff on your team.


SanD November 29, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Very valid points and summed up well. Lightbulb moment much appreciated!!


Steve December 6, 2016 at 10:08 am

I agree about molly coddling employees. One of my most exasperating situations occurred when a subordinate manager wanted to “work with” two employees whose interpersonal skills were costing us customers. After several incidences, I advised he terminate them. But they were part of “his team.” So, he shifted the employees to different areas and changed some of their duties. I hesitatingly allowed him the latitude. One employee did real well, even flourished in the new role. The other improved, but her abrasive personality and worse – the reputation still scared potential customers away. Over a several year period, it cost us long-term revenue. The manager’s comment was that she was performing well now and had smoothed her interpersonal skills. However, the reputation of her abrasive personality had real-time and long-term implications.

The results of this manager’s non-confrontational management style was mixed. Looking back, I see that my mistake was ‘advising’ and not ‘insisting’. What I considered then as allowing the manager space to manage was a mistake. The manager thought he was being a good boss and the two employees and others would probably say the same thing. But my mistake was not protecting the organization and it’s people better. We had/have other great employees who deserve to not have their good work undermined by the bad performance of others.


Sally September 28, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I agree with Mary. Slamming doors is over the top. I have a quiet voice and if I raise it a little staff gets upset. When I’m out of the office is when the real shenanigans occur. They go to my boss to complain. Dog eat dog world!


Gale August 19, 2015 at 9:58 pm

See this


Mary November 17, 2014 at 9:12 am

I don’t agree with the points about being unpleasant and slamming doors – if you need to do these things to remind your employees “whose boss” you aren’t managing properly.


Matt September 18, 2016 at 7:28 am

You haven’t led very long.


Cyndi November 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

This article was right on point for even tempered managers. I joined at the right time.


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