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Countering difficult executives’ power plays

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “In our department, the employees have to deal with some very difficult high-level managers.  If we won’t let them do exactly what they want, they complain to our boss.  She always gives in and never backs us up.  How can we tell her that she is wrong to change our decisions?”  —No Support

Answer:  The underlying issue here is power.  You say you “won’t let them” have their way, but these executives obviously understand the limits of your authority. Your manager may capitulate because she knows they can have her overruled as well.

If you can’t get your boss to support what you recommend, then you may need to recommend what she will support.  Continuing to give advice that is routinely overturned will only undermine your credibility, so everyone must agree on a clear set of standards.

Instead of criticizing your manager’s timidity, request some specific guidelines.  For example: “Whenever the executives disagree with us, they go to you for a different opinion. This makes us seem incompetent, so we need to understand which rules will be enforced.” Then review the most controversial issues.

If your manager lacks the authority to impose standards, then you will also need support from her boss.  To counteract a power play, you must equalize the power.

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