This can be a nightmare scenario, but it doesn’t have to be. A team member has decided that, for whatever reason, they will go to your boss instead of you for a decision or to discuss some important matter.
Now, you are bound to suffer some emotional reaction to this. It could be puzzlement; I can’t understand how or why they would do that. Or frustration; why on earth would they not approach me first? Or anger; I can’t believe they did that! Right behind my back! I’ll soon sort them out!
That’s natural. But firstly, try to work out what would cause them to go over your head and undermine your authority. Could it be they don’t think they will get a satisfactory answer from you? Or possibly they think your boss would be more likely to agree with them.
Whatever the answer, resist the temptation to immediately go to the team member and launch into some kind of tirade that will cause even more resentment.
Instead, try approaching your boss for help.
Yes, that’s right, for help.
How about something like, “Jo, can I ask for your help in maintaining authority with my staff?”
Obviously, Jo is going to say yes. You can continue with something like, “Thanks. Can I ask that, if one of my team asks you for something we haven’t discussed, could you refer them back to me for an answer? When Charlie got your approval for those extra days off, it may encourage others to come to you for decisions that they should be coming to me for”
Notice that you haven’t asked for reasons why the boss approved the request. You have simply made the point of protocol for the future, without asking your boss to justify his or her decision with Charlie.
This way, you still maintain good relations with the boss, and make them realise you still want to do your job, without your authority being undermined. If you were away when the boss made the decision, work out how you would deal with similar situations in the future. That will help you both maintain good relations and help your team to understand the level of authority that you have. And it should keep communication lines open with your team. This will help you maintain your good team management skills.
Originally published: 18 October, 2010
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