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I was promoted to manage my team a couple of months ago. While it was a stressful learning experience in itself, I enjoyed it and most of my team accepted me and appreciated my leadership - except for one.

This one person joined the company just a few months after me, and is also one of our top performers. He is highly skilled and everyone knows he has contributed a lot. However, he also has a few antisocial traits that I think everyone tolerates simply because he is one of the best at what he does, e.g. he publicly laughs at other people's mistakes, or when other people are asked some question by someone he feels obliged to chip in and answer instead. He screams when asked to explain something, easily to show off that he knows best.

Ever since I was promoted, he started aggressively belittling even the tiniest mistakes I made (like a typo in an instruction I sent him) as if it was the end of the world, answering to my new manager/s whenever I needed a few seconds to think about an answer, and most importantly I realized that he would make up mistakes where there were none and talk about it so loud that the whole company could hear. What's truly worrying is his aggressive tone, like that of a cynical crime boss, using foul language and all, but in a way that makes him appear in good light (Example:"You see? This is the f-ing reason why this whole thing broke down")

What is certain is that he clearly has double standards: if I ask him to do something, he will aggressively complain for whatever reason (e.g. not enough time, not having read my instructions). If our former boss is around, he would go to him and pro-actively suggest doing that same task and take on even more tasks than our team can handle...

In essence, I feel that he is running a campaign against me and trying to show that he can do better, and that his judgement overrides anyone else on everything that other employees ask our team or me. I feel intimidated by this and obviously also under increased pressure when he points out at my typos, tiny inconsequential mistakes (or mistakes I didn't even make) in public. I react in silence, trying to smile and be objective about what truly matters, but he then keeps insisting on those tiny things.

In spite of all this, he is still very good technically, and ever since I was promoted to manager, I also have less and less time to think about the technical details and have to spend more time with organization, clients, meetings, legal stuff etc. This also puts him in favour with our former boss, who moved laterally to a more technical role where he essentially creates all the technology our team uses.

I honestly feel that if I try to complain about him with any of our managers, I will just come across as insecure and unable to deal with him.

What are some ways I could handle this situation? Could I try winning the respect of this guy?

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    He reports to you such that you'll be doing his salary review at the end of the year? – dcaswell Oct 4 '13 at 7:26
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    Have you discussed this with your boss? They need to know you have a cancer. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Oct 4 '13 at 7:39
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    This applies to this guy, too. – enderland Oct 4 '13 at 13:03
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    "I know you were exicted about working on "Project X" but I have better news, instead i have decided that you will be incharge of TPS Report distribution, and Legacy Project SuxtobeYou. These will take up far to much of your time to be involved with project X so we will just move you to the basement office so you are not bothered by their work." – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 4 '13 at 15:05
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    Note that this behavior could have nothing to do with promotion envy. It could simply be that this person disdains management (and has no management aspirations), and is mocking you because you "caved in". Perhaps he regards engineers that join management as "traitors" or that it's a form of burning out or washing up. (He doesn't realize that technical management requires breadth. You have to be on top of what is happening in numerous areas of big, complex products rather than just knowing some piece well.) Regardless of that the behavior is wrong, it's a good idea to discover its true origin. – Kaz Oct 4 '13 at 19:31
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I honestly feel that if I try to complain about him with any of our managers, I will just come across as insecure and unable to deal with him.

If all you do is complain to your managers, then you are indeed demonstrating that you are unable to deal with him - because you aren't dealing with him.

Consider talking with your HR rep and your manager. Instead of just complaining, say something like "Manager, I've got a bit of a problem, and here's how I'm going to handle it. I'm going to tell Jealous Subordinate that his behavior toward me and his coworkers is unacceptable, and that if it doesn't stop, his position will be in jeopardy. I need you to back me up on this before it gets too far out of hand and ruins the morale of the team."

Then, follow through on your promise.

If the individual doesn't change his behavior, put him on a performance plan (which puts him on a path to termination).

Sometimes, no matter how brilliant he is technically, a person's behavior makes him a bad fit for the team. You need to weigh the good against the bad and decide what is most important for you and your company.

What are some ways I could handle this situation? Could I try winning the respect of this guy?

Other than what I have already suggested, there are alternatives.

You could ask HR for tips on how to deal with a difficult subordinate, if you are too new to management to understand what to do on your own.

You could be the counselor. Sit him down and say "Look, Jealous Subordinate. I know you were disappointed at my promotion and probably feel that you should have been promoted instead. But I need your technical expertise. Let's work together and we'll both benefit!"

You could be the avoider, and do nothing - hoping that his behavior won't be any worse than it had been in the past and hoping that people will continue to tolerate him due to his technical brilliance.

You could complain to your boss that you were handed a bad situation, and ask him to deal with the issue rather than you.

You could try to get him transferred to a different team, so that he is someone else's problem, rather than yours.

But I'd suggest that you deal with it head-on. Managers must be able to manage people who are their friends, and people who are not. You might get him to shape up, or you might have to ship him out. Either way, you can solve this problem yourself if you choose to work on it.

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    Get him transferred to a different team seems to be a safe way out – cartina Oct 4 '13 at 12:22
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    Along the lines of "Let's work together and we'll both benefit", emphasize the paperwork tasks you're doing so that he can focus on fun technical stuff. Tell him he really doesn't want that. If it's about money (some companies are crazy enough to pay technical experts less than schedule-pushers) then let him know he have his back when it comes time for raises, but he needs to give you something to work with (cooperation, better teamwork) and bring to upper management. – Ben Voigt Jan 19 '14 at 2:21
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    +1 - this is one of many "tests" a manager must pass in order to become experienced at managing people. – Codeman Jun 10 '14 at 0:41
  • Another option is to approach your boss with a couple ideas about how to handle it and seek advice or input. Your boss may have some additional background on the problem individual or a different perspective that may help. As you are new to the position, I doubt your boss would expect you to be jumping right in with a definitive solution. – Eric Feb 22 '15 at 18:18
  • Joe - I have noticed this several times. After I read your answer, I don't feel like reading any one else's answer on the same question. – Aquarius_Girl Sep 30 '15 at 5:49
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OK... so here's my take - in general, this guy and his attitude are your problem, until you manage to fix it, or make it someone else's problem. The ways of making it someone else's problem are pretty clearcut:

  • help him and the company find a position that doesn't report to you
  • eject him from the company

Things you can do with your management is ask for mentorship and guidance on appropriate actions. Either in fixing the problem, or removing the problem-maker from your scope of responsibility. I've done both in my career - generally, upper management should be more experienced, and have some words of wisdom, or at least be able to be a sounding board. But it's generally better to go with an approach of "I have this problem, my thought is to solve it this way... any feedback?" rather than "I have this mess and no earthly idea on what to do... please solve it for me."

So.. here's some (probably very long) guidance on both new manager head space things and behavior problem fixing.

Manager Head Space

When you move from a primarily individual contributor role (especially a technical one) and into a manager role - there's a big self-definition shift. Generally the best individual contributors are very, very good at technical contributions, and pretty good at team and other interpersonal communication. Managers are best when they are great at interpersonal communication - both inside and outside the team - and pretty good technically. See the switch? No one wants a manager who is a complete technical illiterate, but being totally clueless at human relationships is a much worse failing in a leader.

In this way, the choice is pretty clear - this guy isn't good at relationships, you are. I'd bet most the team is reminded that they dodged a bullet every time this guy opens his mouth - because who wants a manager that thinks belittling anyone publicly is an OK way to act?

When it comes to truly winning respect - the way you win is by being respectful yourself. You no longer have to be the epitome of technical competence - ask for opinions, ask questions, get people engaged in owning work, helping each other, and creating a positive environment for finding and fixing problems. That gets you the respect of the team. Maybe this guy will get a clue and realize he's the only one with a grudge. Maybe not. It's really his choice.

This does mean letting go of technical details. I found in my first role leading a team that I couldn't generally take on fun, new, challenging problems on an individual contributor level. I had to grow good judgement on a broader technical/personal level and learn how to see a big picture. Which meant, when I got hands on, it was intermittently and with caution. Taking on big chunks of work in an effort to keep my "rep" was a big fail, as I often had to drop this work to deal with managerial stuff.

Public Behavior Changing

In public, keep it positive. Don't call people out, it can be deeply humiliating and it's not a good way to get respect. Instead, focus on the work at hand. Realize that the bigger issue is that this guy is wasting time and energy on something that isn't the work at hand. If he would shut up and work on his work, he'd probably get a lot more done.

Things to notice, and deal with:

  • Ranting in meetings - if this stuff is coming up in a team meeting, get things back on track and focused on the agenda - presumably you had a goal in the meeting. Is the issue he's raising impeding the goal? Then work together to find a fix. Is it just blather? Then clearly and firmly point the team back to the actual goal - what needs to be done next to get there? If this happens repeatedly in the same meeting - do raise it clearly and firmly - "I understand your complaint, but we are focused on X agenda item. This is the Nth time you've gone off topic. Please focus on our agenda so we can finish the meeting... if you have issues or concerns about other topics, let's speak after the meeting". This is particularly powerful as EVERYONE wants to have a productive meeting and go on with their lives. No one likes sitting in a boring ranty meeting. You might even get some applause if this has been particularly onerous.

  • Ranting between meetings - Once you beat out interruptions in meetings, you'll likely see an increase in ranting between meetings. If this is a 1-5 minute rant that happens once a day, I'd say let it go... there's only so much that's worth your time to fix. But if you are hearing 10+ minutes of ranting (total) per day, interject. Come over to the guy and say to everyone - "hey, I've been hearing this conversation for a long time now. Are you solving a problem? If so, what's the actual issue and how do we fix it? If not, please go back to work." When the issue is stuff like "you have a typo in your email" - point back to the bigger picture - did it make the email impossible to understand? (if so, shame on you! fix your typos!) if not - is this guy so dumb that a single typo really threw him for a loop? I'm not sure I'd call an employee of mine "dumb" - but saying "did this make the email impossible to understand?" is pretty demeaning, and the context is clear - don't rant about really trivial stuff, it'll make you look stupid.

Private Behavior Changing

There's a big difference between what you can do publicly and what you can to privately. The morale of the team is a part of every public interaction you have with this guy. Showing that you will treat even an enormous Pain in The you-know-what with basic human decency raises your cred with the whole team. Focusing on everyone delivering valuable work sets the scene for a productive group. And a fight takes two people.

In private, though, is a different story. Privately, you have the opportunity (and sometimes the obligation) to be brutally clear. How brutally clear you can be and the words you use are something that is well worth rehearsing with your upper management. As ever, demeaning words are a no go. But being very clear and very specific about behavior that needs to change is part of your job.

If you don't have regular 1 on 1s with your whole team, it's something worth considering. It's a tool many successful managers use and it helps avoid singling the problem creators out. And - even a really AWESOME employee may have issues, hopes and dreams they don't want to discuss in public. I find that with my good team members, 1 on 1s are actually invigorating for both of us - we talk about issues, we help each other, and (the really fun part) we plot and scheme new ideas and ways to improve - who doesn't love that??

With this guy - you really need a 1 on 1 on a regular basis. The first one is going to consist of:

  • What do you want here at work? What's your career goal? What do you like about your job, what do you hate?

Could be, he'll tell you to you face that he thinks he should have gotten your job, and that he thinks you're a moron. In many ways that's best of all possible worlds. It's pretty clear to you that he didn't get your job because of the way he acts in public, and that's a great segue into the conversation - if this guy doesn't change his behavior, he'll never be a manager.

If not, you can still have some conversation about how you can help him work on his goal. One thing he might want to think about is - does he want to do the work to (vastly) improve his interpersonal skills so he can move into management?

  • Next point: Feedback - you've got to give some sort of feedback.

Ranting and raving about anyone's mistake without taking it up with them privately is not OK team behavior. He needs to stop. Describe what you'd like to have happen when he encounters a problem (whether you created it or someone else did), and ask him behave that way. This isn't a point for discussion, it's a requirement for being part of your team.

Escalation

Do all that, and you've done what I think of as "simple problem basics" - you've modeled the behavior you want to see - you've risen above issues, you've given negative feedback privately, you've focused the team on valuable work, you've treated people with respect.

An employee who is willing and able to be part of the team will be able to join the herd at this point and knock off the crap.

Escalation comes when that doesn't happen. Choosing to change behavior is entirely the employee's choice. We haven't developed mind control (that I know of...). Choosing whether you can retain this person in your team if the bad behavior continues is your choice. It's probably the worst choice you'll ever have to make. That doesn't make you weak, it makes you a caring human.

Escalation procedures vary from company to company, but generally if you've given feedback once or twice, clearly and directly, it's time to start escalating. This is a time when it is unwise to move forward without direct consultation with your management and HR. While the levels of feedback providing can vary, the ultimate end of the road is termination procedures, and those get sticky and legal quickly - somewhere along the way, someone will end up making clear to this guy that obeying the direction of his manager is a direct requirement for employment.

You and Your Management

Changing into a managerial role is a good time to also think about what relationship you want and need with your management and whether they can provide.

As a manager, taking ownership of problems - including personnel problems - is a big part of your job, and you can't really avoid it. But what you demand, in return, from your management is worth a discussion, or a least some commentary.

For example, I've found that once and a while, I need space to rant. I can't rant to employees - that's not cool. But just the chance to blow off steam, complain, whine and bang my head against the wall, is something I need from time to time. I will happily then pick up my problem and go forth and solve it. Not every manager is OK with that, so I actively cultivate that as part of my support network somewhere in the systems I work in.

Your management should as a bare minimum be prepared to trust your judgement, and also be ready to provide input when you have a strategy for something tricky. Be it technical or interpersonal - asking for a verification of your work when the stakes are high is a wise move. Management should be ready to give you feedback on what they care to have input on, and be ready to provide input when you ask. Be ready for the fact that sometimes "I don't care, do whatever you like" is valid input.

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    Was going to add an answer, but this says what I was going to say much better than what I wrote. One thing I wanted to add was if he keeps on ranting in a meeting after you try to redirect, then make him stay after the meeting and immediately tell him that you wil not tolerate that behavior. By asking him to stay, you let others in the meeting know that you are not going to be tolerating that behavior without having to say so out loud. By addressing the issue in private immediately after the bad behavior, he knows you are serious about not tolerating it. – HLGEM Oct 4 '13 at 14:27
  • Note that passing the problem child to someone else is not going to look as good on your performance review as getting him to fix his attitude would. – keshlam Jun 8 '14 at 23:07
  • I'd argue that's a grey area. If the person really will do well under a different leader and leadership style, it may not be a personal failing, and finding a way to make the whole company more effective is net win, not a black mark. With that said, having a habit of reallocating your problem children to other teams WILL get noticed, so don't make it a pattern. – bethlakshmi Jun 9 '14 at 13:48
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Regardless of his actual skill level, my experience with people that like to elevate themselves by putting others down is that they are perceived to be far more competent than they truly are.

Skills and competency are a requirement, but professional and courteous behavior is a prerequisite. This is unacceptable. You were made to be a manager, so now is your time to shine. There are too many spineless managers in this world that refuse to deal with troublemakers on their team because they don't want to be the bad guy.

I advise having a meeting with your direct superior, tell him the situation and your plan to have a talk with him and lay down the law. Explain why you think it is dangerous for the company and the project(s) if this isn't addressed early. Ask him what he thinks and then gauge from him if you have the authority to elevate to disciplinary action if he does not comply and improve his terrible behavior.

Just remember you may be friendly with them, but you are a manager now, you are not their friends anymore. This is why they pay you the big bucks.

6

Have you had a closed-door one-on-one with him? Let him know that this is not going to fly and that his actions are hindering your and your team's ability to function well in the workplace. He may not know it (most difficult people are clueless unless someone tells them) but let him know that you feel the working environment is becoming toxic on account of his actions. Hear him out and ask him not to pull any punches in terms of saying what he feels. Ask him how you can help. Listen more than talk. Engage him the way a negotiator would talk to a hostage-taking terrorist.

Either he lets you know what he really thinks (that can be quite cathartic for both of you) or he remains passive-aggressive, evades any real resolution and just wants this talk to get over.

If this talk continues to go no where, let him have a few days to think this over and meet up again (schedule this follow-up before he walks out the door) where you run Part II of this conversation. Has he now given this some thought and realized that you are making an effort to work with him even though you'll never be liked/respected by him?

If the reception is still frosty or worse, this time you may want to bring in the bigger guns. Draft a working agreement / rules-of-engagement where certain behaviors are off the table going forward. Let him know that your boss (i.e. his boss's boss) is going to get cc'ed to this and if necessary, HR.

If he has any common sense, he will sniff out that you are carving out a paper-trail path that will be used to get rid of him irregardless of the genius-value that he brings to your organization. Either he will voluntarily leave or he will back off, even temporarily. He might even go out of his way to prove that he is doing the opposite of whatever your working-agreement mandated was taboo.

Can't remember who said this gem once before : "It is better to have a hole in your team than an a__hole."

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I like Joe Strazzeres answer. It is a good "Stick" answer. Here is a "Carrot" one.

Take him to a private meeting. Explain that you want to give him a more leadership role, however his behaviour that you & peers have witnessed, along with actions of going to other managers is undermining your ability to put him forward.

He clearly wants that role, and he badly needs training on "leading upwards" (managing your manager). Because everything you have described he has done is considered career suicide. Here is some good material to get you started in this area for him.

http://www.uthscsa.edu/gme/documents/ManagingConflictwithYourBoss.pdf

So your job as a manager is to help your reports to grow their skills/career. Not to shuffle them off to someone else.

In the meantime find something that he can be occupied with that he can lead with. Mention that you will review the situation in X months to see how he is getting on, and if he has any questions/concerns on how things are being run to talk to you in private first.

If he gets abusive to this, mention that you would be happy to have the same discussion with HR present. Then discuss with HR before the meeting.

If he feels he can't agree with you, then explain you are happy to help in growing his role in a different team, but again in order to do this he needs to change his behaviour, as other managers are aware of his actions which are seen as undermining your manager.

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There are certain aspects to his behaviour that are not acceptable regardless of who he is addressing. I assume that if you are his manager you now formally have the authority/responsibility to address those.
Address those behaviours that not just you, but also your colleagues consider to be in the way of a good working atmosphere/succesful team, ....

You could first ask your former boss for advice on this, since this is new to you.

'Catch yourself' in those moments when you feel initimated, those are the dangerous moments where you may be sucked into a 'you against me' fight. Don't let yourself be drawn into that arena.

In all communications, emphasize his strong points also (and mean that, but I infer from your writing that you do). He is not an all-out jerk, there are tings he does that do not work.

1

It sounds like this guy is resentful of your promotion when it could've been him, which is why he chose to align himself against you and with your previous boss. I think it will be hard to win his respect because he has such deep set prejudices.

Also you shouldn't react in silence, because it will embolden him and he will continue to point out your tiny mistakes. Maybe what you can do is assert your authority. Tell him why those aren't worth his attention and he would be better off spending time improving his work.

It might be risky but you also don't want someone who keeps undermining you.

0

The honest answer is that you might not be able to do so, I've been in that place as the team leader and also as an observer between my team leader and another team member. It is not easy and not pretty to watch

You must remember that however you react also affects how the rest of the team looks at you and reacts to you. If you fold or try to please a certain team member because he's making a fuss you'll make the others loose their respect to you, they may also start acting up or they may even leave because the working conditions are unbearable.

I would recommend starting with a one-to-one talk, where you will not throw blames and not try to convince him that you are nice/okay/doing a good job. I would recommend focusing on whether this person has something to say to you that he is holding inside because you feel that this is the case. This might get him to admit what's bothering him instead of being aggressive, if it doesn't work don't be defensive or apologetic on you getting the job.

If that doesn't help you need to consult with your manager and perhaps HR about how to proceed.

I must warn that it might not turn to your direction: When I was in the position as a team leader I resigned from the project because my manager didn't allow me to remove the 2 "rebels" from the team even though he (and even his manager) admitted they are lying, disturbing and unreliable. They kept begging me to come back and lead the team in these conditions till the day I left the company (10 months later) but refused my conditions even though I had seniority of both rank and time at the company.

This is a test of your leadership and the company supports your leadership, be prepared

protected by enderland Oct 5 '13 at 12:23

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