Your Office Coach: Green manager butts heads with older employee

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Q. Carolyn is very assertive, while I am more casual and relaxed. I have only been a manager for a few months, so disagreements fluster me. I tend to get defensive, which is not helpful. How should I deal with this challenging employee?

A: Because supervision is an acquired skill, your real challenge is learning how to be a boss. Carolyn may indeed be frustrating, but an experienced supervisor would have no problem handling this situation. New managers, on the other hand, typically have difficulty with performance issues.

To become an effective leader, you must first recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. While your easygoing nature is an asset in many ways, you need to toughen up when dealing with more forceful staff members. This means learning to use the authority of your position without becoming dictatorial.

For example: “Carolyn, I know you have a lot of experience, and I’m sure there are other ways to create this report. Nevertheless, this is the standard format in our department, so I need for you to follow it. If you have some suggestions, we can certainly discuss them later.”

At the same time, however, you must also avoid becoming a micromanager. Forcing employees to do tasks exactly as you would will only stifle creativity and create resentment. So if Carolyn is producing the desired results, it really doesn’t matter how she gets there.

Q: I was recently fired for excessive tardiness. I find it difficult to wake up and get moving in the morning because I suffer from sleep apnea. My doctor prescribed a device to help me breathe at night, but it was too late to save my job.

When prospective employers ask why I left my last position, I’m not sure what to say. I want to be honest, but no one will hire me if I tell them I was fired for tardiness. How should I explain this?

A: The most important issue is not the reason for your termination, but whether you have solved the underlying problem. While interviewers may sympathize with your physical difficulties, they really just want to know if you will get to work on time. Therefore, you need to emphasize that you have become a more reliable employee.

For example: “Last year, I had difficulty being punctual because of a problem with sleep apnea. However, I have received treatment for this condition, and I can assure you that I will arrive on time every day.”

Sleep apnea can be serious, so be sure to follow your doctor’s orders. And if you still find it “difficult to wake up and get moving,” don’t indulge yourself by sleeping late during this period of unemployment. Instead, prepare for your next position by developing a more effective morning routine.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com



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