@Work Advice:


(Photograph by Deb Lindsey)

Reader: I have an employee with no boundaries and maybe some other issues. She wants to know what I’m doing at all times, yet when I ask her for a report or an update, she responds, “I know the information, so trust me,” or, “I’m so busy with this project; I can’t do that right now.” Huh? Who is the boss of whom? She also insists on having keys to the building, announces she is leaving early, tells others they can leave early, interrupts or tries to eavesdrop on meetings with other managers, and wants to know where every dime of the company money goes (but won’t turn in her own expense report). I can just fire her, but I’d rather challenge myself to understand and work with her personality, if possible.

Karla: People do get fired for less. But if she’s an otherwise good worker who’s just immature or uniquely wired, you may be able to get her to respect you as the sarge in charge.

You’ll need to adopt what celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan refers to as “calm assertiveness.” You might also have to do a little boundary-marking, emphasizing your role in procuring rewards and enforcing consequences.

For “trust me”: “I know you know what you’re doing, but I need more detail so I know what’s going on, too.” Message: Show me your work if you want my support.

For “I’m too busy”: “I realize you’re working on Project X, but I need you to focus on Project Y now. If you hear complaints, refer them to me.” Message: I set the priorities.

To everyone under you: “Please let me know if you need to leave early so I can make sure we’re covered.” Message: I’m flexible, but I’m the final word.

In response to her demands for information, tell her no more than anyone else at her level: “I’ll be filling everyone in at our next meeting. Is there a reason you need to know now?”

Note that your authority is assumed in your responses. And briefly explaining the reasoning behind those responses will help her and the rest of your staff understand that you’re leading, not micromanaging, and that following your lead is in everyone’s best interest.

If your wayward whelp still doesn’t pick up the scent, be explicit: “Refusing to complete assigned tasks and intruding on private meetings is unprofessional. You can’t continue here if your behavior doesn’t improve.”

If it comes time for her to go, you’ll know you did all you could to set her up for success. Mature leaders try to accommodate all types in the workplace, but when you encounter someone who resists any guidance, just remember: You’re the boss, applesauce.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com. You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

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Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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