Q: A supervisor who reports to me tries to avoid responsibility for unpopular decisions. For example, when employees had to work on Saturday last week, “Jeff” told his group that they must do it “because my boss says so.” While I don’t mind being the bad guy, blaming me makes Jeff look like a puppet instead of a leader.
I have explained to Jeff that if he wants a career in management, he will have to become more comfortable using his authority. When communicating with employees, he should take ownership of business decisions and convey my directions as if they came from him. However, he seems to find this difficult.
A: The first question is whether Jeff understands the reasoning behind your instructions. After all, if you want him to own a decision, he must be able to explain why it was made. So if you tend to be a concise communicator, that could be part of the problem.
Thinking back on conversations with Jeff, ask yourself whether you have provided explanations or simply issued orders. There’s a big difference between “tell employees they have to work on Saturday” and “we need everyone to pitch in on Saturday because we must fill a large order for an important customer.”
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Without logical answers, “because my boss said so” becomes the only reasonable response to questions. But if the rationale has been discussed, and Jeff continues to pass the buck, then you have some serious coaching to do.
For example: “Jeff, as a supervisor, you must try to help employees understand the reasoning behind decisions instead of blaming management for them. Next week, for instance, some people will have to work overtime to get a shipment out. Let’s talk about the best way to explain this.”
Get Jeff to describe exactly how he would deliver that information and then continue to rehearse until he gets it right. After repeating this process with a few more decisions, he should be able to manage on his own.
Q: Two months ago, I decided to quit my job because the manager was abusive and incompetent. He was so awful that several other employees resigned around the same time. My problem now is that whenever potential employers call this guy, he gives me an extremely negative review.
According to company policy, only human resources can verify employment and managers are not allowed to give references. However, my former boss is obviously ignoring this rule. Should I just tell interviewers not to contact him?
A: Prohibiting contact raises a big red flag, so a better strategy is to avoid sharing his name altogether. Since employment inquiries should be directed to HR, simply list the human resources manager on your applications. If anyone requests your supervisor’s name, politely reply that you are not allowed to provide that information.
If this HR group has historically been helpful, consider giving them a call to explain the situation. They might like to know that your nasty boss has been violating the “no references” policy. And they might really appreciate learning why so many of his people are leaving.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.