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I work in a fast growing engineering company of around 100 employees in a team of now 6 people. We used to report directly to the CEO. About a year ago, the CEO decided to change the structure and deploy a second level in the company's hierarchy: team leaders. The company keeps a flat/familiarly hierarchy.

In my team, the colleague who has been in the company for the longest time has been promoted to team leader. This was also the reason given by the CEO - skillset was apparently not part of the decision making and me and some of the colleagues I talked to think that other persons would have been more qualified for the position. Even worse: She is just bad at team leading.

She is a kind of 'It's only good when I do it myself' person. She deliberately holds back information to keep control and does not assign tasks to project leaders as other team leaders do in their teams (and as she apparently should by company policy, as I found out yesterday).

There has also been promoted a surrogate team leader (which we all think would have made the better team leader) whom she deliberately keeps away from tasks, decisions and information. Even when she calls in sick for a week, she withholds the information he would need to substitute her as team leader in the meantime. She rather calls from home while being sick to ask about tasks and deadlines, assign new tasks or just to make it clear to everyone that she is so needed and that nothing works without her.

I'm not a psychologist, but I see a lot of personal issues in her behaviour like a huge need to prove herself as a woman in a male-dominant industry, prove to the CEO that she is the right person for the position and control compulsions to overact self-esteem issues.

My questions are:

  • Should I talk to her about how I think her personal behaviour is damaging the team's trust in her?
  • Can I talk to the CEO that I think there are other persons that are better suited for the position?

In general, she is taking the smallest kind of well-intentioned feedback as an attack on her position and her person. I am afraid that addressing any of these issues will result in worse behaviour towards me.

Follow-up: I quit the company last october. Mainly because the above issue got worse and worse...

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    If you feel the need to start a paragraph with "I'm not a psychologist", you should probably just cut that paragraph altogether. Oct 21, 2022 at 10:20
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    that was just to avoid the "are you a psychologist?" questions - I might as well type "To me it looks like she has..." and if I cut that part, there is missing a lot to her personality. But thanks.
    – e-shirt
    Oct 21, 2022 at 10:33
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    I hope you realise how sexist that paragraph sounds. Oct 21, 2022 at 10:40
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    This question is but one side of a "he said, she said" dynamic. You're asking us to have unquestioned faith that everything you've stated is accurate and truthful. Additionally, I don't see where you've detailed what impact this situation is having and what you hope for as an end result. It sounds a bit like sour grapes to me. "Hey Boss, I think the team leader is bad because... reasons."
    – joeqwerty
    Oct 21, 2022 at 17:00
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    @joeqwerty The nature of this beast is that we will only ever get a single side. If we answer, and our answer is not suitable because the situation isn't what the OP says, then the OP pays the price for their own inability to be balanced in their question. Oct 22, 2022 at 6:28

5 Answers 5

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As you already said, skillset was not considered as part of the decision making for the team lead position(s), lack of them it not likely to affect that decision either ways.

In my opinion, there is very little you can do here (especially this being a smaller organisation where mostly people all know - or, should have known, each other to some extent), any most likely anything you try to do is going to backfire. The question mentions all signs of an "insecure" leader, and they may go to any extent to prove their point and (re)establish their position of power.

You may very well look for a new opportunity, if you feel that the decisions and way of working is hindering your personal and professional career growth.

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Best policy is to just quietly make sure you're doing well. If she's as bad as you think, you want to be in a position to take her place when she digs herself a hole.

Trying to help her dig won't reflect well on you, and it's not your company.

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If you have a specific event, where the behaviour of the team lead caused you problems, give her feedback about it in a private conversation. Be factual, don't assume anything and don't mention things like "you do that everytime". Focus on the specific event, how it affected your goals and how you as a team can handle that better in the future.

Hey Alice, I was missing Information X when you were ill last week, and couldn't complete my task because of that. What can we do differently in the future that this won't happen again?

NEVER try to be a psychologist and tell her that she has personal issues. This won't end well.

After you have given the feedback to her personally and there was no improvement / she took the feedback very negatively, you are free to go to her boss about it. Again, make it about the business, and what damage her actions cause you personally or the team as a whole. Never talk about her character.

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    I don't think a passive aggressive "what can we do differently?" ever ends well with a control freak. Also, surely the questions posed will just make her feel even more indispensible. Oct 21, 2022 at 9:38
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    "You were missing so I couldn't complete my task." will just elicit the thought of "Excellent. My plan is working." Oct 21, 2022 at 9:39
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    Coming fro a peer, it may be fine. But coming from a subordinate, and to an insecure leader, you're like to have a significant negative reaction. Oct 21, 2022 at 9:45
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    Keep in mind that the leader doesn't care about improvement, but power. Asking them, however indirectly, to change their behaviour is a power move that won't be well received. Oct 21, 2022 at 9:46
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    @kedavle Eh. Context matters will all communication. It really doesn't matter what is intended, it's what will be interpreted that is going to lead to outcomes, good or bad. When I comment on an answer, I'm addressing the answer with respect to the question posed. Oct 22, 2022 at 7:04
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Should I talk to her about how I think her personal behaviour is damaging the team's trust in her?

No. Why would you do this? What would you hope to gain?

Can I talk to the CEO that I think there are other persons that are better suited for the position?

Definitely not. Why would you do this? What would you hope to gain?

At most, if you absolutely must "do something about" this issue, which I don't think you should, you would raise an issue in your next 1:1 with her about how her approach impacts your own performance. You would be specific in describing how the things she does make your job harder and be prepared to describe actionable ways that this specific aspect of your relationship could be improved.

  • Your boss does not and should not care about your thoughts on what your peers think of their management style
  • Your boss's boss does not and should not care about your thoughts on how they're managing your boss's performance
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What you describe is incompetence at leadership, not malice.

As a control freak myself, I find it baffling how you attribute it to the need of validation in front of CEO. Sexism aside, you are going way overboard with assumptions there. Task delegation is hard not because I would lose some ephemeral karma points if someone else completes them, but because I know people would not complete them up to my standards the first time around and find it nearly impossible to press my point quite enough for it to get fixed. I do not complete these tasks well enough myself, either, but I have good leverage there as compared to interpersonal interactions. Being in charge of even a tiny team can be draining if one has a similar mindset.

Now, if other team members seem to be fine with her leadership, it is probably a you problem. Take a step back and reflect on whether other team members feel the same way you do. If you believe that is the case, they are complaining about the inability to work efficiently due to information starvation, well, it could merit a discussion. That said, do not go over her head directly to the CEO unless you are really close with them to the point it is the CEO bringing up the topic of her management skills, not you.

You could bring it up on a team meeting with regard to your current tasks; the key point to make here is that good management allows for the team to grow, and that requires them to be able to make mistakes. Intentionally making room for mistakes so that everyone could learn is what's crucial for delegation. If that piece falls in place, the information issue should get fixed.

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