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I was recently given a small promotion at work, which has included some amount of managing an employee who has been here significantly longer than I have and who has more experience than I do. I want to take full advantage of their expertise and make them feel valued, but it is also important for me to establish some amount of authority and make it clear that I am taking a leadership role. This employee has a tendency to interrupt my training of other employees/my conversations with our mutual superiors in a way that I think negatively impacts establishing myself in this position.

Do people have any tips on the best way to maintain a good relationship under these circumstances and generally be a good manager while asserting my authority? I should note that we get along well, and the only real strain has come from them feeling undervalued by our mutual boss. I don't want to compound that, but I don't want the good relationship to be maintained at my expense either..

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The best way to answer this question is to think about it slightly differently: how do you best sell the idea to your colleague that you being his boss is a good thing?

The easiest way to do that is to give him the recognition that he feels your mutual boss denies him, and to promote him to your mutual boss in front of him (and others). This way, you become an asset to him, and not a barrier.

As for the interruptions, well, that may be a bit trickier. Depending on your relationship, it may be possible to bring this up in a direct manner, but remember to sell it to him in terms of how it hurts him (which he ultimately cares about), not in terms of how it affects you (which he ultimately doesn't).

It all comes back to Jerry Maguire:

"Help me help you!"

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I have more years of work experience than my boss has been alive. But he is one of the best bosses I've ever worked for. First, he has made it clear he values my experience and he asks for my input into a variety of technical issues. But it is also clear that while he listens to what I have to say, he is the final arbiter of what we will do. Second, he rewards good work and lets people know when they need to improve - his subordinates are never kept guessing as to how he feels about their work. He is fair. Nobody is perfect and he will need to discuss issues with any one of us. He discusses issues in private and gives out praise in public. Issues when they are brought up are never personal attacks or blame sessions. The discussions are more along the lines of this is what went wrong and what can we do to prevent it from happening again. He seeks input and more importantly, he makes sure to take that input to higher levels and makes sure we get the credit for our suggestions if higher management buys off on them. He pushes for promotions and pay raises for his people. We have an awards program and he takes the time to make sure at least one of his employess is nominated each time the awards cycle comes around. He makes it easy to tell him you need emergency leave and to make sure your work is covered. It is easy to accept someone with less experience as your boss when he treats you and all his other subordinates well.

Now it's trickier if the person wanted that promotion himself. It's best to sit down and talk about the situation openly. Tell him how much you value his experience; tell him that you want to make sure the next promotion has his name on it. If you know why he was passed over (sometimes it's obvious to everyone except the person passed over), then discuss that too. Let him know what he needs to do to improve his chances of being selected. Likely he is not as politically savvy as he should be, help him to see what actions he needs to take to get credit for his work and if you promise to help promote his cause to management, make sure he hears you giving him credit for his good work. One compliment to a higher boss that he hears will do a lot ot relieve any anxiousness about you.

That said, you are the boss now and he has to respect that too whether he is happy about your promotion or not. So don't let him get away with behaving badly. The sooner you confront behavior like trying to override what you are saying in public, the sooner it will get fixed. If you don't confront early, it may very well escalate until you have an actual performance issue to deal with officially. If he thinks he call bully you, he will. Tell him privately that you don't want him to interrupt you when you are talking to others. Tell him you will ask for his input when training others or presenting things to management and make sure he gets the credit.

  • +1, for the 'portrait of a good boss' and for suggesting giving him feedback to avoid getting passed over for promotion in the future. – RSid Apr 11 '12 at 15:29
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This employee has a tendency to interrupt my training of other employees/my conversations with our mutual superiors in a way that I think negatively impacts establishing myself in this position.

Address this directly, be respectful but firm. let him know he simply cannot do this. Be sure he understands that you are the middle man between him and Sr. Management. Again be respectful but firm.

Then get out of his way so he can do his job, Let him know you are there to get him whatever he need to do his job. Take an interest in his work, and acknowledge his accomplishments.

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    Isn't this just 'pulling rank'? ie explaining where he sits in the food chain. I don't see that helping resolve any conflict. – JBRWilkinson Apr 11 '12 at 6:27
  • @JBRWilkinson, it's putting a bully in his place. There are times when you have to pull rank and this is one of them. He is disrepecting his manager, that cannot be permitted to continue. – HLGEM Feb 21 '13 at 19:36
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Do what my colleague and I call "over communicating".

Schedule frequent 'check-in' meetings, weekly, monthly or quarterly (frequency really varies according to industry and company size and other factors).

Try to ask in those meetings:

  • What can I do to make things easier for you so you can be more productive ?
  • What can I stop doing to help you (what bugs you) ?
  • What should I change and how should I change it to help you be effective ?

Overall try to focus on your output, rather than your 'position of authority'. In many companies 'real' authority is earned rather than granted through a job title.

Outside of review meetings I would actually focus on being quiet and listening. If your collegaue interrupts, let them talk at length - but bring up the specific indcient during your frequent reviews. Try to be humble and self-deprecating even then. Words are really critical here and A) "You really pissed me off on Tuesday" vs. B) "I really struggled with our relationship and who's roles is what on Tuesday, I was hoping you could help me understand things better". Same basic intent but when someone says B) to me I react much better (even when I know the technique!)

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