I have about 4 years of experience, all that time I have been working in the same company. I am a researcher, and over the years I have managed to establish credibility in front of my superiors.

About two months ago I wanted to explore other areas of research, so I was promoted to lead the current team while doing hands on work in another team.

Then about a month ago my new team's lead decided to step down so that he can focus on his ongoing studies and also because he was facing issues in satisfying the clients. I was the second most senior(senior in overall experience while being the newest member in that team), because of my seniority and credibility as a researcher I was made team lead of this team. But here I am facing insubordination from one of this team's members.

I have a subordinate who is two years junior than me, but from day 1 he has been dealing with me as if he is my senior.

What he does is

  • He can be really insolent and arrogant, not just with me but others as well, except for the managers and clients. People who are senior than him know better than him, but he has that attitude as if he knows it all and what he is saying is the best most accurate thing. While, in actuality he is wrong so many times. The way he talks is like he is provoking/challenging the other person. A senior asks him a question or corrects him, he instead of answering or listening to them, starts their inquisition.
    • He gives me lecture about how to lead a team, while he has only two years of experience. I would not mind if he was brainstorming, giving his opinions, but no he is lecturing me about how to do something, and how to deal with managers with whom I have been dealing with for years and who value me opinions and skill-set. Plus he is not fully aware of the office culture, he tells me(not advice or opinion) about how to run things here. He keeps on pointing out political angles while there is no real politics in this office. This office consists of highly professional and skilled people, your work speaks for itself here you do not have to play politics to get what you want....
    • He starts planning activities without my input, assigning tasks to people he has no authority over. This happened in a major activity we are doing he took the lead, and since he had I let him, I thought it was good he is showing enthusiasm, but he messed things up and after that he had me sit in front of him and lectured me about how I am the one who is responsible for this mess and how I should fix it now. He wants to call the shots but does not want to be responsible for. And while they were all making the mess I tried several times to wave in and handle things but since other sub-ordinates have had the impression that he is the person handling it so they including the x-lead did not bother with what I was saying. It all happened because two people were trying to manage and the team listened to the familiar person. Well after the mess I took total control of the activity and realized I can not let him call the shots or lecture me.

The situation of this team is that they have their x-lead there who is two years senior than me, and my over confident trouble guy whom they know since before me. Between those two and me the actual teamlead, the rest of the team does not know which person to follow. Whenever x-lead decides to do something differently, I let him since he is a senior it does not feel right to manage him. But the other guy...I can only have one person who is not acting according to my plans, I can not have two such people. If there are two then it is a total mess. I need to rein in this junior guy. If he was a capable, responsible and credible person I would not mind handing the team to him and focus on my own research but he is so not that. And now this is my credibility on the line in front of the clients and the managers. I can not have him sabotaging it.

Possible solutions:

I do not want to have him fired, transfer to an other team is also not an option. I also do not want him to get discouraged or something and sign a resignation. I want things to workout somehow. I want to have a talk with him.

His actual job in team is that there is a sub-project which he completely deals with, x-lead or I have nothing to do with that. I want to tell him to have full liberty in that sub-project, run it however he wants to but leave all other things to me.

Now how do I proceed with having discussion with him? I am thinking following options:

1) Talk to him one on one. Ask him if he is fully aware of what he is doing, what is motivating him to do that, what is he hoping to achieve, what is it that he wants
2) First talk to x-lead, he has known that guy for years. See if I am misreading the situation somehow, and ask his advice on how to deal with him
3) Talk to him in presence of the x-lead. Because he and I have not known each others for long but x-lead knows him and me better than the two of us know each other.
4) Since this guy has an interest in politics so before he does damage to my reputation by approaching my manager. I should make the manager aware of the situation myself. Do not fully disclose his miss-behaviors since I should handle this mess without bothering the manager to do it. But at least, I should let him know that this is an issue and I'm going to talk to that guy about it.

Can you guys please advise me about which way I should go

  • well, as office policy we have to keep a high level of tolerance and we do not fire people unless something really critical has happened. You first have to see if the problem can be resolved if it really can not or the offense is too critical only then someone can be fired. And as researchers we have specific skill sets and interests we can not just transfer to another team. As for resignation, replacing a researcher is not easy plus it will reflect poorly on me. I have to try and see if he can be molded into an asset.
    – blackfyre
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 17:41
  • "Since this guy has an interest in politics so before he does damage to my reputation by approaching my manager. I should make the manager aware of the situation myself."
    – lambdapool
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:24
  • disclosure EVERYTHING.
    – lambdapool
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


You need to do something. That is clear. In other case you will end up with elephant in the room.

First talk with your boss, maybe you can get some insights. Then talk with subordinate directly - if he is arrogant to others - concentrate on that. Ask him to stop doing that to all the team, since that is ruining team spirit. It would be great to get agreement / feedback. But in any case - give him a week, or two to think / adopt. Ask if you can help anyhow. Maybe there are other problems, maybe personal - that causes whole situation?

However you need your boss to be fully informed. Talk to him about the conversation. Then talk how it goes. The point is to address the problem while talking with your boss. It is not that you are snitch, you have particular problem, and describing situation. You need that person in a team, problem is in accepting you as a leader. Problem can be anywhere, and you are responsible in solving it...

Please update / answer how it goes.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for the advice! Well, I have talked to him, for now at least he is being agreeable. Still I need to keep observing him for a while and do friendly followup discussions if needed.
    – blackfyre
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 17:16

This seems simple enough, you are the team lead, so lead the team. That's your job, don't let anyone else take over projects unless you assign them that role.

Focus on doing your job professionally instead of worrying about stuff like this. If Xteam leader is doing things that are your responsibility, tell him to stop. Make the hierarchy very clear to everyone, or you are the one failing.

If underlings don't like it, discipline them, or escalate it to someone who can. Again, this is your job you're being paid to do.


You have a complex situation. To handle this appropriately, it is good that you recognize that politics play a role. Being new to a team and the lead, like you are, means that sometimes subordinates will not respect your authority.

You may lose this person. It is important to understand that. This kind of insubordination may be something you cannot resolve. To handle this properly, you need your manager to also communicate the same message - both of you, separately and/or together need to have a conversation with this person about roles and responsibilities. His role/responsibility/job does not include leading the team. If he has ideas about how to "do it better" - he needs to know that until he has experience (time) to prove his ideas are valid, his "advice" is speculation, not direction or leadership. It's a gamble based on his perspective, and will be taken as feedback or a suggestion, but not direction or leadership.

He may not realize that he is so head strong or argumentative. He may think that he is merely "brainstorming" or offering suggestions, but you sound fairly convinced that this is not the case. After having these discussions, it will become clear. If he is enthusiastic about improving and listening more, then maybe there was a miscommunication. If he argues or defends his position, he is not convinced and needs to comply or needs to go.

This is really important because if he disrespects your authority and leadership, that insubordination will spread to other team members. Your problem will grow if you are passive and don't recognize that his insubordination may be more costly than his contribution in other ways. This is a disease, and you might need to cut it off to save the team. His influence on other team members may make this it harder to manage as time progresses.

However, if he responds positively to conversations about his role, then give him a chance. Most likely, you need to be political about this - and for the benefit of the team, this guy probably needs to go. He might learn his lesson if he loses his job over this, but most likely he will be grateful to have been "let go of a losing team" - which is clearly not the case. But you can't convince this guy, unless he actually starts to listen to you and allows you to lead the team, as you have been asked to do. Either he's on the team, or he's off. He pushed you to make this decision - it's not your fault, but you need to be the leader and make the hard decisions. You lead or he does...


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .