Overbearing Associate Not Doing Her Job

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a retail company in which a leader of an educational program has a subordinate who is young teacher of children in this program who is overbearing, lacking skills and performing below standard.

I work for a retail company that also offers classes and children’s programs, of which I am in charge. I have a young 20 year old that is the teacher for my children’s classes; she is a very good with the kids and at selling products, but she comes off as having a huge ego. Her personality is very overbearing, even to management (to the point of answering questions that were directed towards us), but she does not have the leadership skills, and problem solving skills, needed to be trained as a manager or set a good example for the other associates, so it’s not like I can channel that skill for the benefit of everyone in my opinion.

She hasn’t been doing her job in the classroom to good standard and just tries to take control and I am getting very frustrated with her but I personally feel that deep down she isn’t as confident as she seems and any sort of criticism might crush her. She also acts like she is my assistant but I do not view her like that at all, instead I see her as a part of my team, no higher or lower than any of the other teachers.

My store manager is acting passive and will not talk to her, nor will any of the other managers because none of us really know what to say. And I’ll admit, because I don’t know how to handle it, I am extremely distant myself to her, but this has resulted in her feeling like I am ‘out to get her’, which I am not. I don’t know how to tell her I am not happy with her performance in the classroom, but I’m not ‘out to get her. She just needs to listen to me and pay attention to my rules and standards. She needs to stop bossing everyone around and being so overbearing. But I know deep down she is young and just trying to help

Signed, Stressed and Worried Manager

Dear Stressed and Worried Manager:

You don’t mention anything you have told this young woman about her performance. Although you don’t say that you have, I’m sure you have praised her, as you have in the first paragraph of this question, for some of the good things she does, such as “Sally, you are very good with the kids and at selling products.” Hopefully, you have been more explicit praising her for how she handled Bobby when he had taken a toy away from Sarah and how she was patient with a customer who was having a difficult time making a decision.

Such praise re-enforces positive performance. However, you don’t say that you have talked candidly with her regarding the problems you’ve observed with some of her behavior. Toward the close of your question, it is evident you are clearly displeased with her. Consequently, probably suppressing your “getting very frustrated with her” has been read by her in your nonverbal and distant behavior. Could that not confuse her and cause her to express that she feels you are out to get her? Also I note that you don’t describe the specific instances that have caused your frustration or if you actually work with children yourself and she is in your presence or if you observe her regularly or if you manager from a physical distance.

You do say that you “see her as a part of my team, no higher or lower than any of the other teachers.” So I can’t know if you have meetings with your team and during these, like a coach, you review what went well and what needs to change before the next game. A coaching approach, treating her as part of your team, is one way to handle the problems you’ve observed and/or encountered.

Good managers are coaches. Smart coaches of sports engage their whole team in collaboratively spelling out the do and don’t rules of communication and performance. In skull sessions after a game, they review the team’s performance of turn-overs, fouls, failure to execute plays, and not meet standards. They bench players who mouth off. Get my point? From what you do not say, I conclude you don’t function as a coach; having regular team meetings in which you spell out dos and don’ts and collaboratively solve problem and make corrections.

In short, some of the problems you observe/encounter with Sally, or whatever is her name, could arise in part because no system has been in place to review and correct performance of your team. If you functioned as a team as you say you have, members of the team would high-five those especially good things and would cheer each other on. Conversely they would along with you point out what was not up to standard and help it be corrected. A one-on-one approach might also be necessary.

Your question reveals that straight talk is overdue. Isn’t it past time that you establish with her “I am in charge of the children’s programs” and what that entails as a manager. Such a session can begin in different ways:

-“Sally, how do you think things are going for you?” This should evolve into you describing how you view where she is now and what she hopefully will become. It should provide an opportunity to dream with her about where she wants to go on her career path.

– “You know, Sally, that I am charged with managing the children’s program here at our retail headquarters. What do you think I do well and what would you like me to do better? This should lead to discussion of how you might provide helpful feedback. Most particularly it should make meeting to review Sally’s progress a regular and expected.

-“You’ve been with us now six weeks, Sally, and I’ve told you how pleased I am at certain times about how you handle the children and sales, but we have not discussed that I am responsible also for providing feedback of what needs correcting. Do you understand that?” Sally should say, “Yes, I understand” or at least acknowledge that you have something in mind or you wouldn’t have raised this matter of correcting something. Here then is the time not to vacillate and to firmly state those behaviors that you see are less than desired: “I not happy with some of what you do and don’t do in the classroom. I hope you will listen to what I have to say without being defensive. I know you are young and seriously committed to doing well and I predict you will be increasingly effective if you will listen and examine what you might not see about yourself. Will you listen and can we discuss what you can do to correct those behaviors that are not right?” Here is where you need to enlist her in examining her performance in the classroom, times she appeared not to listen to you, failure to meet specific rules and standards and times she was bossy and overbearing.

Do any of these thoughts help? Being a boss is not easy, especially when you realize how your words can hurt when you want them to help. Think big with her. She’s 20 and you may be 35, but whatever are your ages, you want to make each others jobs easier and effective. That the attitude and process suggested by my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden