I am working for a consulting firm and they employed me at their client location for their client project. My team consists of different team members who are also employed from different organizations who are vendors to my current client. After joining a few months my client manager promoted me a team lead position.

I am now having trouble with one of my team members. Below are some facts:

  • I am always worried about giving him offense because he is an elder.

  • He wastes the time allocated for the requirements phase, and his requirements analysis is inadequate. Typical communication: "I will inform you when I see any issue with requirement and if I need any further inputs"

  • I have to repeat each of my requests three times before I get one response for him and that one response is a slap dash after-thought. Typical communication: "task1 takes probably 2 weeks, maybe less or more. I will inform you later. Other tasks depend on task1, I will give estimates once I am done with task1"

  • His software development process is a travesty. After having many requirement reviews, architecture design and explanation sessions, he came up with a design which disregards our basic design principles. He summarily dismissed my design alternative, and I had to set up a meeting with a senior architect, who had to explain it to him and who suggested that he use my design.

  • He makes the same mistake again and again and gets offended when corrected. He has commented to the effect of: “Do I need to talk and take step by step instructions whenever I code? Is that the process that you want me to follow?”

How do I correct him gracefully without him feeling offended?

  • I have cleaned up your post a little but was unsure about placing the quotes in the second bullet point. Can you check that and edit if wrong?
    – user8036
    Jun 27, 2014 at 6:29
  • 3
    I have to understand something. You are the lead of this project, and thus within this group, senior to this older team member? If you are the team lead, then understand your role, and outline the facts. If something is not working within the team you need to adjust it.
    – Donald
    Jun 27, 2014 at 13:24
  • Disregarding how old he is, is this guy a 'senior developer' in the sense of responsibility, job title and pay? Also, I'm presuming you are not his actual reporting manager. Is his reporting manager part of your company, or a different company? Jun 27, 2014 at 14:46
  • @Ramhound, I am not senior to him in over all experiance. But for current project and current company I am senior to him
    – Babu
    Jun 27, 2014 at 14:57
  • @DJClayworth, His reporting manager is from different Company. As all we are vendors to the client, all of us reports to client manager.
    – Babu
    Jun 27, 2014 at 14:58

4 Answers 4


You are the lead, you need to stop enabling this incompetent just because he is older than you are. You need to tell him clearly what performance is expected and then go through whatever HR steps you need to in order to make him change or get fired if he ignores you.


Start off with the full support of your team

An intelligent team leader, making an intelligent decision that he fully understands will have no trouble explaining and defending that decision in a discussion with others.

You're the team leader. Make your decision, discuss it, improve it if necessary, and then move forward, with your team's full support.

If you do this, the troublesome member of your team will be incapable of defying your standards, development practices, and code structure.

How could he? Your whole team has agreed that the chosen method is the best solution that any of them could devise.

Establish unified expectations, practices, and methods

This is the method, standard, and structure that I think to be the best solution for our task, and this is my reasoning.

I am not infallible. So right now, if any of you have any input at all on the matter, we'll discuss it, but within the hour we will have decided on the best course of action, and we will not deviate from the decided expectations, standards, and practices.

Now discuss the topic intelligently with your team if they wish, and guide the discussion towards a unified, intelligent decision. There should be no further questions after that, and it should be perfectly clear what you expect from each member of your team.

Handle deviation from the agreed-upon expectations accordingly

If the older team member deviates from the decided practice and standard, then you have a very clear path for proceeding with the team member's refusal to cooperate with the team's goals.

How do I correct him gracefully without him feeling offended?

This is not a personal situation. If a team member, regardless of age, is damaging performance or slowing progress toward the completion of your task, you handle that in a professional manner; not a personal one.

If you need further advice, there are some great answers on this site than you can read for tips on how to deal with a troublesome subordinate in a professional manner.

  • Disclaimer: I am not a project leader, but aspire to lead in the future. While my answer isn't based on experience like others, I think it's a proper way to handle the situation.
    – user20914
    Jun 27, 2014 at 17:34

I don't know that I necessarily disagree with other posted answers, but I have a personal perspective on this as I've been in this situation myself.

I've led several projects at different stages of my career and (until recently) I've always had at least 1 person on the project working for me who was senior. In some cases this meant senior including ability, but in most cases senior simply meant that there was someone who'd been there longer.

The individual you're referring to is someone I'd like to call "the tough nut to crack". He's been there a long time and done things a certain way, and it's always gotten him by. He's never had to be concerned with deadlines or metrics, and he's really never had any staunch resistance when applied. He's certainly not going to change for you, and quite frankly I consider this to be a test of character.

A lead on a project (regardless if it's tech related or not) needs to have the backbone and fortitude to make decisions and enforce them. It requires a strong personality, the drive to help the team succeed, and the ability to communicate that not just verbally but by action.

Your first mistake is being concerned with this individual's perceived "offense". While I don't advocate treading on everyone's feelings and just bulldozing your way through your career, there are some individuals that simply can't be handled gently. Many people are looking for guidance. They want a reassuring lead who will take them forward, make them feel good about themselves and they'll bend over backwards to help you achieve the team goal.

This guy is not that kind of person. He sees you as either a threat or a challenge to his stature or status quo. Everything you do will offend him, and weakness (perceived or otherwise) will only offend him more. He'll see you as weaker than he is, and why are you the lead if you are so weak? This is how he will look at it.

The solution to this is simple. You have to be the lead. You don't have to be perfect. You can make mistakes just like everyone else. Just learn from them. Don't guide him, direct him. Guidance is done through suggestion. Direction is done through instruction. Don't give him the option of non-compliance. When it comes to the success of the project, it takes the team to do it but you are the one who will receive all the blame if it fails. Instruct him on how to do things. When they are not done, have him re-accomplish them properly. If he fails to do this, have a direct discussion with his supervisor indicating his improper participation and poor work performance. He will absolutely not like this, but he will truthfully not like anything you do and this will actually begin to garner results even if the only reason it does is because he doesn't want to continue looking bad.

When he gives you unclear or vacillating estimates on work, let him hang himself. Budget in slightly more time than the middle of his estimate, but do that quietly. Then reduce his estimate by some reasonable amount (or unreasonable amount if you feel it'll get a better reaction) and instruct him to have his work complete by then.

Him: My part of Item A will take 1 day, maybe more, maybe less.

You: Very well, I'll budget it 5 hours of effort. I'll look for your check-in at the end of today.

This will create conflict and tension at first (never desirable). However, the response you need to give him is one of direction not guidance. Direct him that if he can't be more clear with his estimates that you will be more clear for him and you will hold him to that. Give these directions during team meetings.

In my case, I had one individual who liked to do things his way. During a team meeting, I had to call him out and indicate that he did not follow the directive. I gave him until the close of the day to correct the error (ample time in that particular case, adjust accordingly) or he and I would have to have a discussion with our common supervisor. In private, I had a stern discussion with him. I let him know that I'd been placed as lead of the project and that the project would be done my way. He could do his projects however he liked, however I had very specific expectations for work submitted to my projects. I offered right there to consult with our supervisor if he disagreed with me.

Depending on how reasonable this person is, he may simply begin doing things the way you'd like them to be done. More likely you'll have to have several conversations with him and his supervisor before performance improves. You need to have the fortitude to have these conversations candidly and openly. Expect to be criticized. Be willing to accept that criticism and consider any suggested corrective action. But most of all, hold to your expectations of performance.

For most people, this post is very likely TLDR.


Since you have already dealt with him directly and it hasn't improved the situation, it is time to raise or escalate the issue with the client manager so that you can stay out of it altogether. In general if people can't work things out among themselves then it is really up to a third party with the authority to make a decision.

Also, if there is a standard process or procedure that has been established, there also needs to be something in place for people who want to do things another way to justify that decision. You need to put something in place with your project to make sure that this doesn't happen again or affect the progress of the project.

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    +1 - I believe this is exactly the situation that Performance Improvement Plans were designed to deal with. Jun 27, 2014 at 20:50

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