I'm doing very well in my position, The other manager at my pay grade(who was hired around the same time as me) is doing very poorly. He was basically stripped of all of his responsibilities(but not title or pay grade) and put underneath me to learn from me on how to succeed.

I'm not sure how to treat him, I know that training him is an objective for my next promotion, but he knows less then most of my employees and is technically at my same management level. I've been directing him as one of my employees but going into the bigger picture on why things are done a certain way. I've been showing him what I do and trying to delegate things as I feel he is figuring them out.

There are times when I just have to tell him to do something, but it doesn't feel right and I don't want him to resent me for doing so much better in my position. What advise can you give me on this situation. Should I be hard on him? Should I treat him more as an equal or an employee?

I guess I feel a bit guilty because he moved across the country for this promotion and now he's basically at the same place before moving away from his home.

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    Have you talked to him about this awkward situation? He probably feels as uncomfortable as you do.
    – pdr
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 23:06
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    So, how would you treat an employee different than a manager?
    – psr
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 23:12
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    well I tell employees what to do, and direct them, I give them tasks and expect them to to be followed using the processes I've set in place, but to an equal... it's like one lieutenant giving orders to another lieutenant. It's just not the way chain of command was designed, so it feels strange. I have not talked to him about this situation, we don't really talk outside of work and when we are working it's very fast paced and there is no time for idle conversation.
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 23:56
  • @psr: employee's are not valued the same... Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 1:08
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    @Jeff: It's not idle conversation though. It's important to working effectively with each other. It's important to the business who pay your wages. In fact, you should have regular 1-on-1 time with all your staff, on work time, and it's especially important in this case. If your company doesn't support that then you're being set up to fail the same way he did. (I have been in this exact position, I know of what I speak.)
    – pdr
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 9:40

4 Answers 4


This is tough situation. A lot of what you can do will depend on his attitude.

First talk to the managers who moved him under you and find out clearly what they feel he did wrong and what they expect you do to do with him. You need a defined road map to success.

Next talk to him about what went wrong from his perspective. See how far what the managers think needs to change is from what he thinks is the problem. Likely there will be a significant gap. It is up to you to help him understand that what the senior management want is relevant even if he doesn't agree with it. But in the first conversation just find out what he thinks went wrong and why. Try to get a feel for his attitude about being placed under you.

Now after you know both sides, you need to come up with a plan. List what he needs to get from working for you and then figure out what tasks he needs to be given to get the kind of experience and knowledge he needs. Depending on how large a gap there is, you may want to start with him observing you and then with him being assigned to do the task. You may need to ask him to provide you with his plans before he tries to implement them so that you can critique.

When you present the plan, point out to him that management would have fired him, if they didn't think he could learn to be a good manager. Let him know that you want to help him succeed because your own success depends on it as well. But also let him know that if he doesn't try to improve you will be willing to let him go through whatever process you have available (check with HR in advance to know exactly what you have to do to fire someone for poor performance, it will vary from country to country and company to company) to let him go. Tell him you will be measuring progress along the way and discussing it with him. Unless his own viewpoint of what went wrong was totally unbelievable, at least try to address some of the problems he spoke of and how those will be prevented this time. Show him you have listened to him.

Now even if you do all this and he responds well, you still have a problem. The other people who report to you are going to resent it if you spend all this time helping him succeed without spending a similar amount of time helping them succeed. They may well see him as an unwelcome competitor who will harm their own chances for promotion by taking the most interesting and challenging tasks away from them. So you need to talk to them about where they want to go and create a plan for them as well. This situation is a real balancing act.

Document everything. If he is one of those people who is incapable of believing he has to change, then he won't try. You need to have the evidence of what you tried to do and how he responded. If he ends up being a liability for your team, then you need to be able to to take the steps to fire him. Make sure to work closely with your HR on this issue. They need to see the evidence that he is improving or not improving and what you have done to help him improve (remember your own evaluation depends on this). A lot of poor perfomers stay in their organizations because people don't like being the bad guy who does the firing. Your own organization may be trying to see if you do have the courage to get rid of him if he doen't shape up.

Be careful, he could undermine the rest of your team very easily through his words or actions. This is a situation you have to monitor fairly closely.


Regardless if this person messed up or not, he is now reporting to you. This is a fact. Therefore, he is your direct report and you should interact with him as such.

The fact that this individual has a given pay grade is independent from the relationship you want to develop or the good you are doing for your company.

I had instances of individuals with higher pay grades reporting to individuals with lower pay grades in my organization and they worked together nicely. This is, I admit a rare occurrence.

I would focus on the role him and you have to play rather than the personal history or how much you and him are getting paid.

Treat this person with integrity, honesty, and respect. Help him reach his highest potential.

  • 1
    +1 for "help him reach his highest potential"; from the OP's comments this is very much the expectation of management.
    – GuyM
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 22:23
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    It is extremely common for higher paid staff to report to a lower paid manager (in the UK at least) - contractors are a good example
    – Matt Wilko
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 15:03
  • Various "guru" positions do command higher salaries than their managers, but that doesn't seem to be the case; it seems as if two people of seemingly equal qualifications were hired/promoted into a position for which the OP turned out to be a good fit and his co-worker turned out to be substandard. Rather than an official demotion/pay cut which would look very bad long-term, the higher-ups are basically setting him up as a "trainee" to the OP, hoping he'll get back to the job they wanted him to do.
    – KeithS
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 19:29

What does your boss expect to happen? If training him is an objective for your next promotion, what is the objective of that training supposed to be? Has anyone who sets your own objectives told you? I think more information is needed here to give you a meaningful answer.

Once you know these things, they define the objectives that you must discuss with this employee. He will not be able to meet your expectations if you don't discuss them. You can't discuss these expectations until they are defined.

If your boss expects you to determine the best career path for this person under the circumstances, then you might want to discuss that with the employee.

The employee is more likely to be successful when he knows what is expected of him and agrees to the objectives.

Here is something else to consider: It's also important to understand what happens when the objectives aren't met. Is a formal demotion possible? Or a formal change in job title (with no change in pay)? As an example, if a job title change might occur and the employee is overcompensated for the new role, he might have to consider the chance that merit raises will be lower until his pay is more in line with others with that job title. (This all depends on your company's compensation policy.)

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    Upper management expects me to train him to understand my part of the operation, with the main focus being that I show him what is need to succeed in the company(like me). This is a busy time of year for us and the help is nice to have an extra pair of hands around, but I'm not sure if I'm just supposed to keep him out of upper managements hair, or if this is a test to see if I'm ready for promotion. More than likely it's both. His repeated failure would more than likely result in him taking a position elsewhere.
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 0:36

I like your lieutenant analogy but keep in mind it is a civilian workplace and not the military. It is a good idea not to order or command people to do anything in the workplace unless the person is being difficult and you have to.

Instead ask politely for people to perform tasks and don't talk about what you need them to do and instead talk about what you want to see happen.

Use personal pronouns like I and My. This makes the conversation about your needs and desires around specific goals and tasks that need to be met or completed. Avoid using second-person pronouns like You and Your as it defines clear expectations that you are personally placing on the person. It opens them up for judgement by you personally and can make a person feel very subservient.

The same advice in communication makes sense for better communications in a relationship as well, what sounds better and is less likely to start a fight or bitter feelings?

You make me feel like crap when you talk to me that way

I feel like crap when I am talked to that way

Clearly the second is less aggressive and less likely to evoke bad feelings in someone who is technically your peer and not your subordinate. Anybody with half a brain or even a modest desire to please others and do a good job will pick up on such language and fulfill expectations on their own, and the important takeaway is that they feel like they had a concious choice in the matter.

Certainly you are given the authority to command when necessary but a good manager should think of it as the nuclear deterrent.

In essence, you should make every effort to treat employees and managers both as your peers all working towards a common goal for the organization.

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