RE: 'Step Up to Leader' Post > Tangential Question

Subject: RE: 'Step Up to Leader' Post > Tangential Question
From: "Nicholas Russon" <nrusson -at- bluecatnetworks -dot- com>
To: "Agnes Starr" <zigrocstarr -at- yahoo -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 10:14:55 -0400

Agnes Starr wrote:

> What do you do if you ask an employee to do something and
> they refuse to do it?

That depends on the specific situation:

(1) Flat refusal to do a requested task
(2) Ignoring or deferring action on a request

Dealing with type 2 situations is easier in the short term: pick your battles and only press if the task really is critical. Nobody wants to be in the situation where someone else is directing their every move (at least, nobody I've encountered in this field). Doing things on your own schedule and in your own way is how most of us exert control over our work. As long as the task eventually gets done (before it becomes critical), it's not worth butting heads over it. Don't let it get out of hand, but don't lose your cool if you ask for something low-priority that gets treated as low-priority. ;-)

A type 1 situation demands immediate attention. If you give direction and that is refused, that person needs your attention ASAP. Is it a misunderstanding of the request? Is it a direct attempt to challenge your authority? You need to find out, and the only way to find out is to talk to the person directly.

If it's a case of "you told me to do it _this_ way, but I prefer to do it _that_ way", if doing the job your way is important -- and I mean it has to be done in a certain way for valid technical reasons -- explain that as clearly as necessary. If you want the job done your way just because that's your preference, you'll find this problem recurring frequently. As a supervisor, you tell your staff what to do, but not (generally) how to do it.

If you're saying "do task X" and they're responding "No", then that's a very different situation. You _cannot_ let that go at all. If you do, you're no longer the supervisor . . . you're the messenger with no power. And no respect.

> If you insist, you sound like you are pulling rank like "I
> am the boss and you must do what I say."

And what's the problem with that? You _are_ the boss, and rank is how we determine who is in charge. You don't need to be arrogant, but point out that following direction is part of the job, and that this is a failure to perform the job. Failure to perform the job can lead to losing the job.

> If you go to your boss with the problem - unless it has gone
> on for a while, they will say you should handle it before
> escalating it, or at least that is what I was told.

If you go to your boss to resolve the issue before trying to resolve it yourself, you've already lost the battle. If you've tried to resolve it, and had no success, then you go to your boss with a brief summary of the problem and your recommendation on how to solve it. If you don't have the power to discipline your staff, then your boss _must_ do it. If your boss fails to back you up, get your resumé out there immediately: you will not succeed in that job.

> If you ignore it, the message gets out that you are a pushover
> and a chicken-little supervisor/manager.

Yes, that's true. You won't be able to do your job properly after that.

> Writing them up seems too harsh to do so on the first offense,
> or even second. If you do write them up, how soon do you do so?

First offense. Anything else is leading the wrong way in that working relationship. Let them know that if they don't do the required task, it _will_ be written up. And _do_ write it up.

I'm not saying that you should be a hard-case bully . . . that's hardly the situation you've presented . . . but you need to be firm and consistent. If you waffle and delay taking action, you're as good as telling your staff that you're afraid to be the boss, and you're inviting them to take full advantage of your fear.

> Years ago in a seminar I was "taught" that refusing to handle
> a reasonable request is technically grounds for immediate
> dismissal

Laws differ substantially on that point. It may be true in your province/state/territory, but no company wants to employ managers who resort to that option unless they've already exhausted all other options first.

> I have learned to beware of "pseudo-leadership" positions.

Yes. You're caught in a bind between still being "one of the team" and "being the boss". You have the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. If your manager hasn't or won't deal with problem subordinates, you are being used as a buffer to keep the problem away from your manager's desk.

> You effectively get turned in[to] a whipping girl or boy.


> Perhaps this is the key to the whole thing - having "true"
> power versus not? Or perhaps I just didn't know how to
> handle it.

You need to have the authority to enforce your position. If you don't, then you don't give directions . . . you give suggestions. That's an _organizational_ problem, not a personal one. You can't do the job without the necessary tools. Delegated authority from senior management is a tool for first-line managers. If you don't have it, you can't do the job properly.


Nicholas Russon
Manager, Technical Writing
BlueCat Networks

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'Step Up to Leader' Post > Tangential Question: From: Agnes Starr

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