Office Coach: Manager's backing key to wrangling difficult unit

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Question: My manager, "Ray," recently asked me to begin supervising the clerical staff. This is a troublesome group of five women who have a history of slacking off. Ray knows about these problems but has done nothing to address them. According to Ray, he doesn't have enough time to manage this group. I have a feeling this change will create lots of problems, but if I refuse I might as well look for another job. Any suggestions?

Answer: Your wimpy boss seems to be escaping his performance management duties by dumping them on you. But since declining this honor is not an option, try to increase your odds of success by engaging Ray in some planning.

Start by asking specific questions to clarify your supervisory authority. For example, will you be responsible for making work assignments? Are you supposed to monitor the time cards? When performance problems occur, should you discuss them with Ray or take action yourself?

Next, draft a set of clerical work standards for Ray to review. Ask him to meet with the staff, explain these expectations and describe your new role. This step is critical, because unless Ray clearly puts you in charge, the staff will never view you as their supervisor.

If Ray consistently backs you up, this new management structure might actually work. But if he allows the staff to play one of you against the other, then you are in for a rough ride.

Question: I recently quit my job after six years of dealing with the owner's erratic behavior. The last straw came when he swung his fist and punched a hole in my office door. I immediately wrote a letter of resignation, gathered my things and walked out. Since then, I have lost two job opportunities after employers talked with my former boss who said some very unflattering things about me. I have consulted an attorney, but would rather not pay legal fees. What should I do?

Answer: If there's any chance that your volatile boss might cooperate, one option is to contact him and calmly try to negotiate what he will tell prospective employers. If you can lower the emotional temperature, he might agree to be less obstructive.

Another possibility is to find other responsible people who can vouch for your competence. Their agreement to act as references becomes part of the third strategy, which involves preparing interviewers for your boss's negative review.

For example: "Unfortunately, my former manager was quite angry when I resigned, and I've been told that he's making negative comments about me. However, I have several other references who can confirm the quality of my work."

As a final option, your attorney could send a strongly worded letter reminding the owner of the reason for your resignation and requesting that he cease his disparaging remarks. If this approach shuts him up, it might be worth the cost.


Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Get free coaching tips at


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