my employee is acting like a manager even though I’ve told him to stop

A reader writes:

I have a problem as a manager that I can use some help with. 20+ years of managing others and I’ve never run into something quite like this.

First the background. I work for a small tech startup. We are developing a new product where I needed to create a new team to support it. The initial team is 3 people with me at my location, and another 3-person team at a location in a satellite office in another part of the country. If the product does well, we are going to expand both of these teams to 10 people each by the end of this year. The team at the satellite office was not going to have any management onsite. I do my best with managing remotely, on-site visits, and video conferencing. But even so, I’ve managed remote employees before, so I knew I was going to need to have a team of self starters and leaders to handle the volatility of the first several months of building a new product.

With the leadership needs and team expansion in mind, when I hired the initial staff 6 months ago, I targeted an individual who would be interested in a managerial path. I needed someone who had the technical acumen required for this aggressive project, with the entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to work long hours to make this a success, and someone who is well suited to become a manager when the team size grew. I think I did pretty well at hiring my first 3 remote employees, and one of these peple really embodies all of these characteristics I was looking for. We’ll call him Rich. When I interviewed Rich, we discussed his career goals and my vision for the next 6-18 months for the team and the team’s goals. He was very excited to start at the ground floor, and eventually get the opportunity to be a manager. He was hired on as an individual contributor and a title that clearly indicates that. I would be lost without him. He’s the MVP of the project and has exceeded my expectations. If we hit our target goals for the project and are able to grow the staff, there is nobody else I would rather have manage it.

Which leads to the challenge I’m having. I’ve had several situations where Rich is behaving as the manager. I’m not talking about exhibiting leadership and mentoring the rest of the team – because that’s exactly one of the roles I expected him to play. Unfortunately, he’s gone pretty far down the road as behaving as a manager with hire/fire responsibilities. Everything from having his peers clear their time off with him to assigning them tasks to giving them feedback on how their performance needs to improve if they would like to grow with the company. I’ve had to speak to Rich a couple of times now about overstepping his bounds and that he has to remember that these are peers. He shouldn’t be assigning tasks with deadlines, and he shouldn’t be getting involved with HR type issues such as PTO.

Rich’s peers are very confused by his behavior. One of the members of the team won’t even email me without copying Rich. If I email the team member, he’ll add Rich on the CC line on the response. He has created a situation where he is acting as the de facto boss since I’m physically not there, even though I’m on a video conference call with all of them several times a day. But the second the camera is off, Rich tries to act as “the boss.” I regularly point that out to him that he should engage me immediately if he witnesses things that concern him such as workload, productivity, behavioral issues, or other HR situations. Rich’s response is, “Well, I’m the team lead, so handling this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” My response is, “No, you are an individual contributor, and you were hired as such. I would love to make you a team lead or a full fledged manager. But as previously discussed, we need to hit some target goals as a team and as individuals before we can do this.” I have had this conversation with him at our weekly one on one for the past month. But it isn’t having any effect. He’s using “team lead” in his email signature. Today, I got wind of him addressing an HR violation committed by one of his peers that should have immediately been brought to my attention. I won’t go into details, but it was a clear action that should have resulted in a verbal warning or possible write-up with HR present. When I asked Rich why he didn’t call me right away, his response was once again, “Because I’m the team lead.”

Now I have to do something, and I’m not sure of what. Rich interfering in an incident like this has complicated my ability to address the employee who caused the incident. And as much as I am impressed with Rich’s daily work, he is not a team lead. He also apparently isn’t very good at being a team lead, based on the micromanagement that I’ve witnessed. But I can’t worry about coaching that behavior out of him right now since he isn’t even a team lead! Rich’s title has been made clear to him. His continued insistence that he is in a position of authority and resulting behaviors are undermining my ability to manage my team. It’s apparent that my attempts to remind him of his role have not had any impact, so I will need to be more forceful. I really think I’m at the point where I have to be very blunt. But I’m afraid that if I push back on him too hard, he may just decide that it isn’t worth his time to wait until I am able to give him the title he so desperately wants. If he moves on, my project will fail. I’m not sure how to address this anymore without risking upsetting him. I think he is well intentioned, but the ambition that has made him so good at the job I hired him to do is just overflowing to his ambition to achieve a short term career goal. How do I stop the aggressive behavior towards his peers without stifling the aggressive behavior that has kept our project moving forward?

Oh dear. You’re telling this guy in no uncertain terms “this isn’t your job and I need you to stop doing these things” and he’s continuing to do them anyway, even going so far as using the title you said wasn’t his in his emails?

One of two things is happening here. Either:

1. Rich is unable or unwilling to hear clear, direct communications from you. This is a huge problem if so — huge enough that you need to seriously reconsider your long-term plans for him, because someone who won’t heed clear directives is not someone who you can put in a position of authority.


2. You are not being as clear as you think you are, and haven’t been all along. This might seem farfetched, but when you say, for instance, “I really think I’m at the point where I have to be very blunt,” it does raise the question of whether you haven’t been direct and straightforward up until now. Is it possible that Rich is acting like the team lead because you haven’t said explicitly, “You are not the team lead and you cannot act like one, call yourself one, or engage in behaviors X, Y, and Z”?

I don’t know which of these it is … but you can probably figure it out by asking yourself questions like: Have you used words like “you are not the team lead” and “I need you to stop doing X” with him? Or have you been more delicate about it, using language that perhaps felt more diplomatic? When you hear words like “you are not the team lead” and “I need you to stop doing X,” do they feel awkward to you or overly direct? If you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of saying them, chances are good that the words you have been saying have not been explicit enough.

As for what to do now…

If you realize that you haven’t been entirely clear with Rich, you have to do that now. It should sound like this: “Rich, it’s possible that I haven’t been clear enough in the past, but I want to be very clear now so that there’s no room for misunderstanding: You are not the team lead. There is no guarantee that you will become the team lead in the future, although it’s a possibility if things goes well. I need you to stop acting as anything more than a peer to your colleagues. This means that you should not do X, Y, or Z, or anything similar. I’m sorry if I haven’t been clear enough about this previously. To make sure that we’re aligned about this now, can we talk through our mutual understanding of what this means going forward?”

(And if you realize that you’ve been really unclear with Rich, put more emphasis on the”I’m sorry for miscommunicating” side of this. If any reasonable person in Rich’s shoes could have made the mistakes he made, you want to make sure your tone and your words account for that.)

But if you’re confident that you’ve already been explicit enough, then you have a serious problem on your hands. And while I realize that you don’t want to risk losing Rich because you need him for your project, you’ve got to let go of that — because otherwise you’re going to be held hostage to some very, very damaging behavior (and the high likelihood of even worse in the future).

Whenever you find yourself feeling “I cannot lose this employee, regardless of repeated terrible behavior,” that’s a flag to revisit those assumptions. You should never be so dependent on any one employee that losing them could seriously jeopardize your business — because after all, you could lose the person tomorrow for reasons you’d never predict (hit by a bus, won the lottery, family moving, accepts another job, etc.).

Right now, you are being held hostage by at least one thing (fear of losing this guy) and possibly two (fear of being blunt).

{ 356 comments… read them below }

  1. Del*

    Rich sounds valuable, but no one is irreplaceable, and with him getting involved in HR issues and pushing you out of them (!!!), his value sounds like it is on the fast track to being outweighed by his liability. What is your ‘hit by a bus’ scenario for him? If you don’t have one, make it now. Then have a serious discussion and make it very clear this behavior is putting his job on the line.

    1. Del*

      Also, a suggestion: whom would you have hired if Rich hadn’t applied for the job? Who was your best runner-up with skills and talents to put in that position?

      There is no one single person who can do something, everyone else go home.

  2. Just a Reader*

    The LW needs to fly in and have this conversation in person with Rich. And then document it in writing. I would also circulate a team org chart and processes for HR violations, work assignments, etc.–do not pass go, take them directly to the boss (subtext, do not include Rich or ask for approval).

    You don’t have to out him as being in trouble, but you do have to communicate clearly with your other employees what the expectations are. I think your presence on site to reinforce this, sit down with them and answer questions is critical.

    If it keeps up, Rich should be let go.

    1. OP*

      Awesome suggestion on the org chart. Something I never thought of, since the team is so small.

      Just goes to show you that what seems like it is common sense is taken for granted by someone else.

      1. Judy*

        Make it horizontal. And alphabetical.

        Jane Adams Tom Jones Rich Smith

        Don’t put in columns or group the two groups together. You can color code the groups if you want to distinguish.

  3. Bryan*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he was getting some mixed messages from the OP. It doesn’t sound as if he has been flat out told “you are equal, you are not team lead, you have no managerial duties.”

    1. Bryan*

      Also spell out that it may cost him the promotion. If he still doesn’t get it, then he might not be the best person to be promoted anyways.

      1. Chrissi*

        I think that couching it in terms of costing the promotion in the long run might be the most effective way of getting through to him.

        1. WM*

          Yes, I like this idea Chrissi. Since he’s been told that OP has management in her radar for him, he might (incorrectly) think that if he takes the initiative to act as the manager now that OP will just say, “Well he’s already acting as the manager, let’s just make it official.” What he doesn’t realize is this is not how promotions happen, and his behavior will push him out the door as opposed to up the ladder. Good luck, OP!

          1. TootsNYC*

            What he doesn’t realize is this is not how promotions happen

            Actually, often this *is* how promotions happen–people do the job without the title for a little while before they get the official nod.

    2. OP*

      I am taking this as good feedback. I’ve been trying to be diplomatic, but have stated “this isn’t your job”. Sounds like I do need to be a bit more forceful.

      Earlier in my career, a big knock on me as a leader was that I was too direct. Reading this response, as well as Alison’s, makes me think I may be overcompensating.

      1. Bryan*

        It’s a really fine line and different employees need different levels of directness. It sounds like he might be reading it as “I’m not the team leader wink wink”

        1. BCW*

          That is so true. I’m someone who likes people to be as direct as possible. I have had co-workers that need more nudging and coddling, and they get the point. But I”m like this in every situation. Don’t hint at what you want me to do, just tell me. Its easier for everyone. I don’t have to guess what you really want, you don’t have to be frustrated by me not doing it.

      2. fposte*

        I might even be more direct and say that it’s been a problem that he’s behaving as if he’s a manager.

        And I like Just a Reader’s note upthread about including all the employees in an update about processes and org charts–right now all they get is Rich’s version, and they need your clear statement that he is not their boss.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Very much this. Both letting him know that his future growth is in jepordy, and letting everyone on the team know that there is no team lead on site, and issues should come to you, not him. The second needs to be handled diplomatically, and the org chart might be a good way to go.

        2. A Cita*

          Yes, as I was reading this, I kept thinking, “Has OP spoken directly to staff as well about this?” (e.g., when the employee cc’s Rick on emails, responding asking why they are doing that or commenting that they needn’t cc other staff.)

          My second thought was as Just A Reader said: OP needs to fly over there ASAP to speak with Rich directly and to also manage in person for a week or so given the HR incident.

          1. Ella*

            You may have the best results if you don’t approach him antagonistically. Rich envisions himself above and beyond his current role. He is so much there. Surely he has good intentions, just his approach is questionable.
            In order to get through to him and be on the same page (in the future as well) you need to *speak his language*. He can’t hear you now. Modulate your directness onto his receptiveness. F2F.

            1. Jessa*

              Except that now Rick has a bigger problem. The management methods he’s SHOWING are lousy. He should not ever be made a manager, because whilst he’s pretending to be one, he’s terrible at it. I wouldn’t WANT him in charge, if he bungles an HR thing that could cost the company later if they have to fire that employee he supposedly “handled himself.” Truthfully, I’d have him gone already. He’s probably killing team morale and he’s hurting the OP’s image with HR and Mangagement.

          2. Dani*

            That is a good point. If Rick is telling them that they need to CC him on all emails then just removing him from replys and talking to Rick won’t help. He needs to talk to the other people to see if they have been told that this is the way things are and are just following orders.

      3. AnonHR*

        In light of that, I wonder if he is hearing, “This isn’t your job, so don’t feel like you have to do X”, instead of “This isn’t your job, it is a problem that you are trying to do X”.

        I also agree with some other posters that this may also need to be made clear to other employees as well.

        1. Denise*

          I agree with this interpretation. It seems like he’s hearing that he’s going above and beyond the call of duty, not that he’s transgressing a boundary line.

        2. Ethyl*

          Oooh yes, good point AnonHR. I can definitely imagine someone who is ambitious and gunning for a promotion hearing the first interpretation and thinking “oh then I’ll go above and beyond and then they’ll be sure to promote me!”

      4. Mephyle*

        Not so much “more forceful” as more explicit and specific. Which doesn’t have to translate to abrupt, mean or rude.

      5. Jessa*

        Yes, I think you need to go from “this is not your job” to “do NOT under any circumstances do x y z. You are not permitted to do these things EVER. You are not at this position and your behaviour makes me think you never will be.”

        And you have to also make it clear to the team that they are NOT to forward things to Rick that you haven’t TOLD them to. They are not to discuss leave, or HR issues with him at all. The team needs to be told that it’s okay to say “You’re not the boss Rick.” Because right now they think he is, because you’re letting him act that way.

      6. Vicki*

        “This isn’t your job” is not the same thing as “You are not a team lead; there is no team lead. You are not the manager; I am the manager. You are a peer.”

        So often we are told that we (the employees) must never never never say or think “This isn’t my job”. By doing “not his job” but “stretching” he may believe he’s making an impression (which he is, but it’s the wrong one.)

      7. Rose*

        I disagree. If you actually said the words “you are not team lead,” and he still had it in his email signature, and does things as extreme as making people run time off by him and dealing with HR problems, he is crazy.

        That’s not pick up extra responsibility and trying to be helpful, like some people have said. That’s appointing yourself as the boss.

  4. Mena*

    Of greatest concern to me is one line in this whole mess: If he moves on, my project will fail.

    Why is your success so solely dependend on ONE employee? This is very dangerous because he could move on at any moment (get hit by a bus, whatever). This situation cannot continue. Re-think your staffing and the remote management of this staff immediately.

    And back to Rich, please ask him to write his job description. Then you need to re-write it, review it line-by-line with him and explain that these are the only tasks he is to be taking on. And then when he ignores you and over-steps his job description, you need to put him on a performance improvement plan since he isn’t doing his job.

    Good luck – yikes this is a mess and has been allowed to continue.

    1. Interviewer*

      Rewriting the job description is exactly what I was going to suggest. That would be the clearest exercise of all for him, to see it spelled out on paper what he can and cannot do.

      Good luck.

    2. Anonymous*

      It is a very small team and they are in the middle of a very important project so I would not be surprised if it actually did fail without that particular individual. You could replace him but possibly at a cost of a major delay. I would say, annoying as he is, look for a replacement to add to the team but do not let him go until the replacement is found and fully up to speed. Sometimes getting the job done is more important than working with nice people who will listen to you all the time.

      1. Anonymous*

        I was going to say that I’m on a team of people who all do the same work, so we all have similar skills. Even so, if I’d been hit by a bus in early December at least one of my projects would have failed since it would have taken my coworkers a little time to sort through my assignments.

        1. Mena*

          Absolutely NO ONE can or should be irreplaceable. It may cost time or money or both. But no, failure isn’t an option.

          1. fposte*

            Sure it is. Projects shut down all the time. Startups bomb all the time. Initiatives die out. Things end. Sometimes people really are irreplaceable, or, in practical terms, not replaceable within the budgetary and chronological constraints of the situation. Total replaceability would actually be a severe limitation on a lot of development.

    3. Vicki*

      Oh gods, this is so not right.

      Re-reads what you wrote here and then ask yourself what everyone would be saying if someone wrote in to AAM and said “I have an employee who keeps saying to me, ‘That’s not in my job description.'”

      We are told, over and over, that we must NEVER say “that’s not in my job description.” Now we’re telling this employee that he must stick to his job description and not go outside of his job description.

      That is so not the right way to phrase this.

      Speaking as someone who has been spanked for both sticking to my job description and stating that the “new” direction isn’t in my job description.

  5. BCW*

    Alison’s #2 suggestion was exactly my thought as I was reading. I know some people who THINK they are being very explicit, when in reality they aren’t.

    Aside from that, is it possible that since you aren’t there (and I get the video conference thing, but you aren’t readily available) that they have just started treating him like the team lead by default? I’m not saying this excuses the behavior of dealing with HR issues, however it does happen. At my last job, the head of sales quit, and they were dragging their feet in hiring a new one (I wasn’t in sales, but worked closely with them). The sales people eventually started treating one guy, who was the best and most experienced as the “acting” head of sales, even though that was never really a thing. They would go to him with questions and even when they needed something approved immediately. People didn’t necessarily involve him in HR things, but if they needed to leave early for an appointment or something, they would go to him. Again, I’m not excusing his behavior, but I can see how people could start treating him this way based on his stellar performance.

    1. Anonymous*

      +1 if there’s never a manager there, somebody has to be I’m charge. It can be really hard to get a hold of a manager who is in a different location ! At my job, the manager isn’t there and never answers her phone, so our “supervisor” is just a very competent woman who holds the place together.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      In an most office environment, some type of leader will emerge regardless of intention. It could be the best at the job, the most engaging, the most self-confident, but people in a group will look for a leader in their space. Especially if someone is presenting themselves as a leader.

      You definitely need to get issues sorted out with Rich, but you also need to clarify things with the other team members. For X, Y & Z you see me, not anyone else.

      1. Anonymous*

        I was in a position where I became the defacto leader of my team when it took longer than anticipated to get a new manager hired. I wasn’t trying to pull a power play (and I kept my nose far out of any HR issues), but the other departments would come to me bc I was the only one who could handle certain tasks, and from there it became easier just to funnel information through me for other tasks. In my case my coworkers had more experience but preferred letting me deal with the other departments so they could keep low profiles.

      2. Windchime*

        So true about leaders filling a space. At OldJob, we were a team of 8 who reported directly to the CIO. He didn’t really have the time or inclination to supervise the team closely (that was another whole problem), so one of our peers stepped up to try to lead the team. After all, we can’t all just wander around and do our own thing. This person had wonderful technical skills but was not so good on the personal skills side of things. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end of the team but the lesson learned was that, if there is no manager (or the perception of no manager), someone will self-appoint.

        OP, I think you may just need to be direct with this person. “You are not the team lead. You are all peers. Do not continue to act as manager or your future here could be in jeopardy.”

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yep, I agree about leaders filling a gap. My husband was in a similar situation – and he didn’t even want to go into management! Still, his co-workers really wanted an on-site leader. Without a discussion or formal decision, they slowly started treating him more and more like their manager.

        Now it sounds like the OP’s situation with Rich is very different. However, if there IS a leadership gap, getting rid of Rich isn’t going to solve everything. You’ll still have the same environment that fostered the problem in the first place.

    3. OP*

      Building a remote staff is tricky for the reasons you’ve outlined. I’ve done it before, and it’s very important that you staff with the right type of personalities who can handle someone not physically being there. Some people need to see their manager and wouldn’t be a good fit for this type of arrangement. Hiring this type of person would mean putting them in a situation where they wouldn’t be very successful. I do the best I can to weed them out in an interview process. But I think I need to make it clear – just because I’m not physically there doesn’t mean I’m not readily available. And the staff absolutely understands that.

      1. BCW*

        Not trying to argue with you, but by not being there you probably aren’t as readily available as you think. I’m sure you are as readily available as your circumstances allow, but thats not the same as being immediately available. I’m not sure how far away you are, but there can be time zone differences and plenty of other things. Its like this, if I have the smallest question that I can just pop into my managers office for and take 30 seconds, thats very different then emailing and waiting for a response or calling and leaving a voice mail. Even if you get back to me within a half hour, that’s still not the same as being there. I assume that being a manager of a couple of offices, you have plenty of work to do, so if an email pops up, you may not answer it immediately for a number of reasons.

        1. OP*

          We will have to agree to disagree on this one. If you are a pop-your-head-in-my-office type of person, you won’t be successful in a role like this and I would have never hired you to begin with.

          It’s 2014. Telecommuting is nothing new. I’m not in the same physical building with you. Too bad I can’t be reached by:
          text message
          desk phone
          cell phone

          Any one of those methods results in me responding EXACTLY as quickly as I would if you popped your head in the office. There is no reason to assume you would have to leave a message and wait for a call back.

          If that’s not the way you work, that’s fine. Some people like that face-to-face interaction. But that’s not the case here. It is screened for and hired as such and is extremely common across many companies.

          1. BCW*

            Just so we’re clear, most recently I was telecommuting 3 days a week. My manager wasn’t even in my office the 6 months that I worked there, so I fully understand what you are saying. However, my point is that when she did move into the office, there was a difference in how readily available she was to me. I also am well aware of all of the ways of communication there are, so I don’t need you to do a laundry list of all of them. However that doesn’t mean that you won’t be busy at an exact moment. Or other things happen. Internet can go down – there goes half of your methods there (more if your office is like mine and your desk phone was VOIP). Cell phone reception could be bad. But you are probably right, if you got that defensive at a simple comment, we probably wouldn’t work very well together.

            1. Rat Racer*

              I manage a remote team and we use video conferencing, e-mail, phone, texting and IM for communication. Prior to this role, I managed a team in an office. I was often in meetings that took place anywhere on the corporate campus. My point is that even non-virtual managers aren’t always available right when you want them.

              1. books*

                +1 – you can’t pop your head in to the office for a 30 second question if that person is on a meeting on another floor. And if you then do that – they’ll wonder why you didn’t just wait on the question.

          2. fposte*

            The thing is, all of what you’re itemizing are ways for your staff to actively engage *you*. Onsite management allows you to actively engage *them*. It’s the fact that Rich is safe from your doing that that’s allowing him to run wild.

            1. Rat Racer*

              I think it’s more about avenues to engage each other. All the technology I use to engage my staff can be used to engage me. Now I’m not going to argue that having a virtual team isn’t without challenges. In fact, I liked one of the previous posters ideas of going out to the satellite office for an in-person meeting. But I stand by the assertion that virtual teams can be just as effective as office-based teams, and that accessibility depends far more on company culture and the manager’s style than whether the manager sits in the same office building as his/her team.

          3. CTO*

            You said you’ve screened carefully to ensure that your team is prepared to work well with a remote boss. But you also admit that your careful screening didn’t catch some other problem behaviors (like laziness).

            Hiring is always a gamble, no matter how well you screen. I’m not accusing you of being bad at hiring, but I’m simply questioning your confidence that your screening was 100% effective in this one area (remote boss) when you know that it wasn’t 100% effective in other areas (like work ethic). Is it possible that your employees don’t function as well with a remote boss as you thought they would? And that’s why Rich is finding a leadership vacuum to step into?

            1. Anonymous*

              It’s also possible that your project is not as conductive to having a remote boss as you think. Some projects need lots of snap judgements on major issues. Some are more set-and-forget from a management perspective and keep churning for months without major changes or emergencies.

              It’s also possible (likely, from the mention of an HR incident) that there are personality clashes at the satellite office, which need to be settled quickly by an authority figure. If you aren’t actually there, you are much less of an effective authority figure for disciplinary matters from a purely psychological point of view.

            2. Cassie*

              This. We have one coworker in particular who has to ask about everything – he can’t make judgement calls on his own. That would be one thing (his job doesn’t require a whole lot of decision-making), but he will ask about 4 different people (not his supervisor) what he should do about a situation that is slightly different from usual. After he hears all this feedback, he will finally ask his supervisor. It’s pointless since his supervisor is the one that makes the decisions and thus should be the first person he asks.

              These people that he asks aren’t even connected to the situation – he is basically asking any coworker that walks by. He clearly would not be a good candidate for a remote office.

          4. Anonymous*

            Consider though, that it’s not necessarily all about the many ways in which you can ask questions or interact, there is no substitute for having an ‘in-person’ leadership role model, someone there who is setting some standards, everything from when you should arrive and leave each day, how long to spend at lunch, general work ethic expected, etc. No matter how much you screen during hiring, your workers are still human and will need breaks, appointments and they will all have little quirks, they aren’t robots. It’s a lot easier to just pop your head into someone’s office to say you need a long lunch for a dentist appointment, whatever, which always feels a bit awkward over the phone or skype.

      2. Audrey*

        I would reiterate once again very clearly to your other staff that you are readily available, even if you’ve already been clear. Make sure they know exactly when and how they can contact you, and that that kind of checking in is very welcome.

        1. Dani*

          I would also reiterate what NEEDs to come to you. Like only you are able to authorize time off and if it doesn’t come to you then it is an unauthorized time off with all that it entails. Saying you are available is great, but if they think all things must go through Rich then it won’t help if you set up shop in the front lobby – they still won’t come to you first.

      3. fposte*

        I agree with your general theory, but you’ve got right in front of you an example of it not working with this staff. They don’t understand the way your presence in the way you want them to–as you yourself said, the second you’re off Skype, Rich is doing what he pleases, and he’s convinced the other staff he’s right.

        I agree with you that remote supervision can work, but it is a part o the problem here.

  6. just laura*

    I feel bad for the staff– if his behavior is “aggressive,” as OP says, I would be concerned about losing them, too. A bully coworker grabbing for power sounds like a recipe for disaster in terms of maintaining this team.

    1. OP*

      That’s a concern of mine as well. I didn’t go into details on that too much because it wasn’t my main concern. But when I’ve spoken with the other employees one on one on the dynamic and the situations there, I didn’t get any indication from them that they were feeling bullied.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Bullying is not the issue so much as feeling like one of your peers is playing manager and you’re beholden to that when you’re not. It would seem to me that the other employees may be afraid to push back against Rich since it would appear he’s gotten involved in HR and hire/fire issues. Perhaps they’re thinking “Well, he’s supposed to be my peer, but apparently it’s OK for him to act like a manager since OP Manager hasn’t done anything about it so I think I’ll dust off the old resume because in this company people are allowed to just self-appoint themselves as managers and we’ve got no recourse…”

      2. John*

        OP, I also wonder if he were out of the way if it wouldn’t free some of the others to shine, proving he was never as indispensible as he seemed.

      3. B*

        If they are anything like me they would not tell you they are unhappy. Why…because you already don’t like one (lazy) and the other one may assume that since Rich is the token boy they are better off just staying quiet and looking for another job.

        Remember, you are the boss and are not so sure you have been completely blunt with Rich. Employees sometimes stay quiet for fear of losing their job and/or assuming the situation will not change since it hasn’t seemed to.

      4. Ethyl*

        I dunno, though. That’s a tough thing to bring up with the long-distance boss when the short-distance bully is right there. I mean, the fact that at least one team member won’t email you without cc’ing Rich is a HUGE red flag — he has made it clear to this person that there will be some type of consequences to not doing so, when he is not in any position to make those kinds of demands. OP, I think blunt is WAY overdue.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Yes, this exactly!! I don’t get why OP isn’t more concerned about the rest of the staff. Is Rich such a rock star that he could single-handedly pull off this project? If not, the OP needs to be thinking about the fact that Rich’s peers are going to get tired of this crap and move on themselves if something isn’t done about it.

      1. V*

        It is also possible that Rich has told the other staff that he is in line to manage their office in the future, and as a result that staff is going to follow his requests/deamnds now so that they are in his good graces when he does become the manager of that office.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Yeah, that could be too. I’m thinking about myself in this position though and I’d be really angry about having to answer to one of my peers now for an HR violation for example. I would also wonder why my actual manager was allowing this to go on. But this could be because I have a lot of years of work experience behind me so I know that answering to my peers is not normal regardless of whether they’re in line for promotion or not. If the office is full of young people, they may not realize that they don’t have to answer to Rich. I think that may be what is going on because they seem confused about who the manager is since they’re copying Rich on emails and so on.

          1. Saturn9*

            Regardless of how much experience they have, they probably don’t realize they’re answering to a peer. Rich is handling issues as if he’s a team lead, he identifies himself as a team lead in the sig line of his email, who knows what procedures he’s laid out for “his” team to follow and the OP has done nothing to clarify any of this with the rest of the team.

            It seems like the OP’s screening process didn’t work as intended, since Rich seems to be the only one who’s doing the job without a supervisor.

  7. mel*

    I did a double take at “I really think I’m at the point where I have to be very blunt.”

    Mostly because in one paragraph OP says: “Rich’s response is, “Well, I’m the team lead, so handling this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” My response is, “No, you are an individual contributor, and you were hired as such.”

    I don’t know how you could be any more blunt. OP either said it or he/she didn’t.

    I’ve also had coworkers that acted like managers right from the start. It IS confusing, and needlessly stressful to have someone constantly peering over your shoulder and micromanaging things… only to find out a year later that I could have told him to bugger off at any time.

    1. Anonymous*

      I had a coworker like that last year. She was bossing me around all the time so I thought she was one of the supervisors… Until I asked her a question about something and she was like I dunno I’m not a supervisor. She stopped after that, which was nice.

  8. S.K.*

    OP, it’s always important to consider pros AND cons when you’re evaluating someone. The cons Rich brings to the table (team confusion, undermining your authority, with huge potential problems down the road if this continues) are very real, and are impacting the project in real ways. It’s possible that a replacement with 80% productivity and 0% drama would be a net win.

    Not that Rich HAS to go, but you have to approach this with a clear sense of the potential consequences here. If Rich reacts badly and throws down a “team lead or I walk” ultimatum (or something less final but along those lines) – you need to start wrapping your head around that.

    I also agree with Alison, this doesn’t sound like someone who is ready for a position of responsibility right now AT ALL (unless your hard look at the communication thus far indicates that he might not be at fault).

  9. Ann O'Nemity*

    Rick doesn’t listen to you, disobeys direct orders, undermines your authority, micromanages his peers, and gets unnecessarily involved in confidential HR matters. Even in a case of mixed messages, I don’t see how any of this is acceptable. If I were the OP, I would be making plans to redistribute responsibility so that the project isn’t hinging on Rick. And I would be seriously rethinking any short term plans to promote this guy into an actual position of management power.

    1. VictoriaHR*

      That was also my thought. It sounds like he is a very valuable team member, but not management material. Based on what the OP’s said that she has said to Rich, and his responses, he’s obviously going around her and doing his own thing. That’s not ok and it’s not the way that a manager should behave.

      Often people get promoted into management because they’ve reached a limit to their career opportunities. But just because someone’s good at their job, doesn’t mean that they’d be a good manager. Rich does NOT sound like a good manager to me, whether he’s good at his actual job or not.

      1. louise*

        OTOH, he certainly doesn’t sound like subordinate material, either!

        If he’d had authority from the beginning, all the things he’s been doing would have made sense. I wonder if he’s deluded himself into thinking it would be helpful to go ahead and assert himself as a manager and no matter what OP says to him, Rich continues to hear it as, “Yes, but I *will* be and I want the team to see me that way now–so I’ll continue.”

    2. OP*

      Already on the redistribution of responsibility front. Unfortunately, my other 2 hires weren’t as strong as I would have liked. One has displayed behavioral issues where “Rich” stepped in rather than call me and HR. There’s a very strong likelihood that this one will have to go onto a PIP. The other one has shown himself to be a little lazy, but every bit competent enough to take on some of “Rich’s” responsibilities.

      That’s why I feel it is hinging on “Rich”, he’s the only true go-getter in this group. When you’re dealing in a startup environment, that level of enthusiasm is critical.

      1. A Teacher*

        But are they acting that way because of the way you’re managing Rich or the way Rich is treating them? I honestly don’t know but this whole situation sounds like, as my high school students say: a wet hot mess.

      2. r*

        Perhaps the behavioral issues and laziness are due, in part, to Rich’s presence in the office. Have you spoken with either of them directly? I can certainly envision a situation where an employee is sick of a peer micromanaging them, and then productivity goes down the tube.

        1. OP*

          I’ve spoken with them every day, and I spend a week per month onsite with them. I’ve also had each one of the three spend one week at the other site with me, independent of each other. Sadly, from my observations, I think this guy is just lazy in general. Last one in the office, first one to leave. Longer lunch breaks. Doesn’t ever do anything more than what he is told to do (which he does fine, just no initiative). Always asks his peers to do things for him.

          The behavioral issue was poor judgement and as I’m getting more information on the incident, I’m pretty sure it’s 100% on the individual who did it. He was recently discharged from the military and what he did was something that may have been acceptable in that culture, but isn’t appropriate for an office environment. Won’t go into too many details, but he was making a lewd gesture while telling a not-appropriate-for-the-workplace story in the break room in front of employees not part of this team. Boys will be boys. Did Rich have a role? I am still getting details so I don’t want to rule anything out, but earlier indicators are no. But even if he did, my other employee will need to be accountable for what he did. I’m flying there to deal with the behavioral issue in person next week.

          1. some1*

            “Boys will be boys.”

            Plenty of boys and men don’t make lewd gestures or tell inappropriate stories at work. Offering statements like “boys will be boys” to excuse inappropriate behavior does men a huge disservice.

          2. Anonsie*

            I don’t know if I would call that guy lazy. If he’s getting everything done that he’s supposed to be getting done and it’s on time with expected quality, I wouldn’t say he’s lazy and not capable of handling more responsibility because he took a longer lunch.

            You also might consider different work style. Maybe he buckles down and works all morning solid without stopping, then takes a few extra minutes at lunch since he didn’t take a break earlier. Or his breaks and lunches are often interrupted, so he was gone for 45 minutes instead of 30 but you didn’t see that 20 of those were spent dealing with a work issue because he wanted to address it right away.

            Or maybe he’s not, maybe he works a little less. If his output’s the same, I don’t know if that’s really an issue. That’s all image and no product.

            If you’re worried he’s only doing what’s assigned to him, you might consider that one of his peers has decided he’s running the show and is next in line to run the place. That’s likely to make productivity go down and it’s definitely going to discourage him from setting a foot outside his instructions, in case Rich doesn’t like it or Rich decided he wanted to do it first or whatever.

            1. Mephyle*

              I don’t see OP excusing the offense – he says he’s going to deal with it further. I believe he quoted ‘boys will be boys’ to give us the picture what kind of offense it was.

          3. Ethyl*

            “Boys will be boys”?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

            Hold up, I am completely re-assessing your competence as a manager, and I feel terrible for any women being managed by you. You need to do some SERIOUS reflection.

            1. Anonymous*

              This is why I stopped commenting here. The OP was using the phrase to explain the offense in language we all could understand without the details of the incident. But you jump to questioning his abilities and even implying gender discrimination ? You owe him an apology.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I agree that this isn’t warranted. I’m no fan of the expression either, but many, many people use it to convey a certain mindset and are not horrible mangers for it.

              While I certainly appreciate that this site has attracted a readership who are especially attuned to issues like this, I really don’t want to drive people away or condemn people who are perhaps more mainstream in the language they use to talk about this stuff. You are welcome to point out “hey, that’s a problematic framework because ___,” but I don’t want people being jumped on like this (least of all an OP who has been willing to engage in the comments — something everyone says they appreciate and want more of).

      3. fposte*

        Many things are critical, not just enthusiasm. Rich is lacking in at least one of those key things: trustworthiness. I worry that you’re getting blinded by drive to all the other important things. I’m not with the people who were saying Rich can never be a manager, but he shouldn’t be one based on his current performance, and he hasn’t been getting the management that unit needs.

        I’m also made thoughtful by the fact that you hired three people: one is insubordinate, another is lazy, another presents behavior problems. Can you find a way to get a better hiring pool?

        1. OP*

          Really wish I knew how to shush out laziness in an interview. This guy really showed no signs of it and his references were fantastic. I’m willing to admit I didn’t do as well at screening as I would have liked.

          The behavioral one just baffles me. I will never understand people who don’t know to behave as adults in a work situation.

          Very good point on the trustworthiness. I think that will be a key point that I bring up with him at our next sit down. Let him know that he has lost my trust, and see what he responds with.

          1. Jamie*

            The best way to vet laziness is with references.

            You have to ask about work ethic and urgency.

            The best response to a question about work style and urgency was “he’s very good at X, but nothing is ever urgent. That guy wouldn’t jump if he were stung by a bee.”

            1. fposte*

              Agreed. While sometimes references do tell you what they think you want to hear, it can be really helpful to focus specifically on what’s important. “My organization really values initiative. Is this a characteristic you’ve noticed in Bob, and can you talk about how he’s displayed it?” I could go on for an hour on that with my staff, but there are also people who would elicit at best a searching silence.

            2. Windchime*

              I’m still not 100% sure this guy is lazy. I have been in a situation where a peer declared himself King of the Department, and there is nothing that stifles productivity and breeds resentment more than someone appointing themselves boss and having the higher-ups do nothing about it.

            3. meetoo*

              Someone who gets their work done at an acceptable level and still has extra time to take a long lunch and leave early? Sounds like they are very productive not lazy and need to have a heaver work load. If you want this person to take initiative to take on more work then make that clear. However, I also agree with everyone who pointed out that micromanaging bossy peers do reduce morale and productivity.

          2. Lindsay the Temp*

            It sounds like Lazy Guy needs a little bit of a sit-down when you stop in to deal with Lewd and Crude. He also deserves straight forward feedback about what your expectations are, and if he’s not living up to them- what the implications will be. Let him know that you’re feeling a lack of interest and looking for leaders and self-starters at this remote location. Ask what you can do, or if there’s more/alternate work you can add to his plate that might keep him more interested, or a portion of the project that can be specific to his skill set that he can take ownership and pride over. Get him interested in the big picture! What was he interested in about your organization that made him apply to you in the first place? Also, is he newer to the job? I know when I’m newest is when I want to show the most initiative, but it’s difficult to know what really needs to be done, or what can be picked up during down time when you’re not familiar with the big picture.

      4. Anonymous*

        Or if your information only comes from Rich or filters thru him he’s giving himself the cherry tasks and them the stuff that makes them appear lazy. (“What did you do last week?” “Well I fixed a couple problems.” “Rich what did you do?” “Oh I finished building the great big thing!” unsaid? the other coworker had to fix all the problems Rich was too busy to fix, but both jobs needed to be done.)

        Rich isn’t that great.

        Alternately, Rich REALLY IS that great and you should already promote him to manager since clearly the only problem is that he doesn’t have the title.
        (If you balked at that at all then you need to see above where Rich really isn’t that great.)

  10. Julie*

    When I started oldjob, my peer (who had been there a few months longer than me and was quite ambitious) started saying “thank you” when I left for the night. I was really puzzled because I wasn’t doing her any favors by doing my job. It was one of the many tactics she used to push herself into the team lead role, and for her, it worked! It took several months, but eventually our boss was treating her as the team lead. I don’t know if she ever had any conversations with the boss about this, but there was never any announcement about her “promotion” or “new title,” so I assumed it just was just de facto. The whole thing made me uncomfortable, but I can’t figure out why.

  11. Ruffingit*

    I’d seriously revisit the idea of making this guy a manager in the future. He doesn’t get some very basic boundaries and he apparently refuses to listen to his own manager (assuming OP has been as forthright as possible). OP also stated the guy is a micromanager and he doesn’t have time to coach that out of him at the moment since he’s not supposed to be in a managerial position at the moment.

    So, let’s recap on what we know about Rich:
    1. Doesn’t listen to his own manager.
    2. Doesn’t follow directions.
    3. Is a micromanager.

    Yup, go ahead and make this guy a manager. You’ll be keeping Alison busy as his subordinates write letter after letter to AAM asking how to deal with him because his higher ups think he’s a rock star when meanwhile he’s a menace.

    1. OP*

      What I’m really hoping I am able to do is create a development plan for him over the next 12 months of things I’d like him to work on TO make him a manager. I would not consider a promotion that would be effective today, especially considering his recent behavior.

      1. fposte*

        And that’s another area where frankness could be useful–he thinks he’s getting closer to promotion by doing this. Tell him he’s hurting himself.

        1. Briggs*

          Yes. This. “Rich your inability to follow my directives about your roll on this team is making me seriously reconsider making you a manager.” Might get his attention

      2. Del*

        Honestly, I really would not dangle that carrot in front of him until you’ve gotten this “team lead” business straightened out. Even if you intend “Here is your 12-month track to management” as saying “you’re not management yet, bucko, you need to meet this goals first” he’ll probably hear it as getting results and moving forward toward his goal.

      3. Artemesia*

        IF you have been clear about his role, then he does not have the potential to be an effective manager. He does have the potential to be a complete PITA in perpetuity.

        If you have not been clear then you need to be a better manager.

        The things you note are serious examples of insubordination on his part if you have been doing your part and made it clear that he was out of bounds going to HR etc. Someone this dense shouldn’t be a manager.

      4. Ruffingit*

        I get that, but I would strongly consider not making him a manager at all. I don’t know if a development plan of things for him to work on would be that effective since he refuses to take simple direction right now. Being able to take direction, listen and follow that direction is very basic and he apparently refuses to do that despite you telling him multiple times.

        What I’m advocating is a very hard look at this guy as management material. It seems to me you’ve made the decision that you can develop, coach, etc. Why not look at whether all of that is even worth it at all with Rich? In other words, take a look at the assumption you’ve made that he’d be good management material with a little development/coaching. Believe me when I say that out there right now pounding the pavement for a job are some very good people with management skills that could hit the ground running and NOT need the coaching, development plan, and continuous blunt conversation that Rich needs.

        I fear what giving this man the actual power of a management title would do considering his behavior.

        1. OP*

          All fair points. However, I’m a big believer of growing talent from within and giving people a solid career path. That doesn’t mean I’d promote someone just for a career path’s sake, but I think it’s premature to dismiss him as management material if he hasn’t been given an opportunity to develop the skills he would need to be successful. I’m not sure if he is a power hungry type, as much as status driven. Doesn’t change my problem any, but if his motivator is the status of being a manager and forward progress within his career, this may be something that I can help coach and develop.

          1. Dani*

            What happens if you coach and develop and he doesn’t improve so you promote someone else to be the manager? Will he be okay with that? Or will he try to do an end run around that person too?

            1. OP*

              That’s a lot of what-ifs for a hypothetical situation that may occur in the long run :)

              If he can’t show he can develop into a manager, I wouldn’t make him one.

              If someone else does show that they are a manager, I would make them one.

              If he undermined someone’s authority, including mine, it would be dealt with via coaching or a PIP. Remember, I wrote a letter here to get suggestions on how to handle this. I’m not opposed to using any and all HR tools I have available to deal with this.

              1. Ruffingit*

                If he undermined someone’s authority…

                He has undermined someone’s authority- yours. I’d strongly consider putting him on a PIP now assuming you’ve been as blunt as possible with him regarding his role, which from your letter it seems to me that you have. He needs to improve his performance ASAP.

                Also, I’d tell the satellite office in no uncertain terms that Rich is NOT to be copied on any management emails and that PTO goes through YOU and not Rich. Make it clear to the others in the office what the rules are and make sure they’re following them as well.

                1. AMG*

                  Exactly. I’d tell him that he goes on a PIP if it happens again. He needs to focus on doing his job (not yours) and is falling short.

                  I also agree–handle your people and if they cc him, tell him that they are not to, that he is their peer and it isn’t appropriate.

                2. Jamie*

                  I would both listen to Ruffingit and take her as your model for clarity and bluntness :-).

                  I concur. Every time Ruffingit posts I am bummed she doesn’t work with me.

                3. Ruffingit*

                  Thanks fposte and Jamie! You guys made my day particularly since I respect both of you and always get something out of your posts. :)

              2. Not So NewReader*

                OP, it is because you asked for help that everyone is jumping in here.
                For myself, I have seen too many managers get chewed up by the Richs of the world. You have made yourself accessible and we can warn you to watch your back. Hey, look out for this or that pitfall. From what you have told us we see big problems.
                Although, it might be hard to drill down through all these posts the overall intent here is to help you be the best boss possible.
                I think in the future he will go after your job. Perhaps I am cynical, but I have seen this personality type way too much. And I have seen that good boss that kept saying “oh s/he just needs coaching.” no. not really.
                I will tell you something, if my boss has to speak to me over a matter she can do so a gentle, understated fashion and I will IMMEDIATELY correct what I am doing. If I do not understand what is wrong I will say “I’ll stop doing that as soon as I understand what it is you want me to stop.” At which point she grins and explains with a different set of words that makes sense. I think that most good workers try to make sure nothing becomes a big issue.

                The rule of three, OP. If you see a behavior/action/response three times that establishes a pattern. After the third time, you must move forward with a different plan because the one you are using is not working. I use this rule of three with bosses/coworkers/family… heck even the dog.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Good points all NSNR. Personally, I use the rule of twos: first time is a mistake, second time is a choice.

                2. Sarahnova*

                  Agreeing with ALL OF THIS.

                  Maybe Rich is coachable, but I have serious doubts about it, since he seems to have practically nil interest in listening to direct instructions that contradict his personal view, much less an interest in self-reflection and real change.

                  I too have seen way too many managers held hostage by someone with great technical skills who is an interpersonal or management nightmare. I have never known a manager to regret, overall, firing or losing one of those employees.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  @Ruffinit- I tend to agree with you, twice is more than enough. However, I remember when I first started working with this concept. I was not very sure-footed and needed that third time to be sure I was looking at the situation correctly.
                  It did not take long- pretty soon I learned that certain things only had to happen ONCE and I would speak up. I betting you do the same thing yourself. Somethings are just ZT.

          2. Sadsack*

            Sounds like he’s been creating his own opportunities, thus far. Plenty of us are driven and still wouldn’t insert ourselves into another employee’s HR issue at all, let alone not discuss it with our manager.

            This conversation is bizarre:
            “I’m the team lead.”
            “No, you are not the team lead.”
            …next day…
            “Yeah, but I’m the team lead.”

            I think you might consider that you may be in denial about all this because you rather keep him for what he does contribute.

            1. fposte*

              I kind of what to ask him, “When I said you weren’t the team lead, what do you think that meant?”

              1. Jamie*

                Yes, and then stop talking.

                People forget the stop talking part – they ask why and then continue to talk about why is in fact isn’t so.

                “I’ve told you directly you aren’t the team lead, why are you saying that you are?” Followed by a really uncomfortable silence where he tries to answer that. Because if the OP was as direct as that then the only answers he can have are:
                1. If I keep saying it maybe it will become true and you’ll forget that I’m not.
                2. I can’t remember anything from one moment to the next and I not only forget my title but also my phone number and the color of my car.
                3. You said I’m not, but you’re wrong, I am…so I will disregard what you’re saying to me in full.

                None of those things scream future manager – but silence will force him to spit out something.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Yeah, if he can’t get through the small stuff like a job title what is he going to do when he is in charge of a large project and ten people.
                  He will not be able to handle it.

                2. Ruffingit*

                  Such a great point regarding stop talking. So many people ask the question and then inadvertently answer it as well because they continue on with their narrative. This is especially true when you want a certain answer because you’re so emotionally invested in that answer. Thus, you supply it to the person because you refuse to quit talking and actually listen to THEIR answer.

          3. Just a Reader*

            I would recommend coaching and developing him within his current role–not slapping him on the wrist and then talking to him about management. It sends a mixed message.

            Certainly fair to say “once you’ve mastered working within your role, we can discuss your management path”

          4. Artemesia*

            what I am getting from you is ‘yeah but’ to any suggestion. you apparently want this guy to manage so why didn’t you appoint him ‘team lead’ and be done with it?

            everything you have said here suggests a disastrous employee who is likely to repay trust with undermining, insubordination and long term misery. but you like him. you want to promote him. so why didn’t you in the first place?

            1. Anonymous*

              Seriously. It sounds like you’d be making a big mistake to do it (and everyone here for the most part agrees about that) but since you insist that *this* (self admittedly) insubordinate, untrustworthy, micromanaging guy is the guy you want to manage your place, why not just get over with it, and let him?If he’s so great, pull off the Band-Aid and get started teaching him how to be a super manager using your 12 month career plan for him.
              Oh wait, doesn’t really listen to you… teaching someone who doesn’t listen will take more time and sanity than that.
              I bet the other employees will be thrilled. :/

      5. Yup*

        If you’ve been very direct with him already and this is the result, I’d reconsider that path. It’s a *very* big deal if you’ve been direct with him and he keeps doing this stuff. If he can’t/won’t follow clear instructions right now, discussing future promotion will be seen as an endorsement of his current behavior and approval that you’re willing to overlook it in favor of technical competence, etc. Which will create a monster in him and probably piss off his coworkers to no end.

        However, if you feel like you haven’t been direct enough to date, I agree with fposte that it needs to be couched as “I want to promote you someday but will be unable to do so if you keep doing X,Y, and Z. These behaviors will make you ineligible to move forward.”

        1. AMG*

          Do not do not DO NOT promote this guy without him understanding boundaries very clearly. The next thing you know, he will be going over your head. I’ve been there.

          1. Windchime*

            He already is going over the OP’s head. He is dealing with disciplinary actions, HR issues, and PTO requests.

        2. some1*

          “discussing future promotion will be seen as an endorsement of his current behavior and approval that you’re willing to overlook it in favor of technical competence, etc.”


      6. Anon*

        Sorry, but I think a 12 month development plan would send the message that he is on track towards a management position, when in reality he is on the cusp of needing a PIP instead of a roadmap towards a promotion.

        1. S.K.*

          +1 to this. Regardless of what language you use, most people hear “12 month plan” as “12 month countdown to promotion” – even those who haven’t shown themselves to be as tonedeaf as Rich.

          1. some1*

            Seriously. I’m imagining Rich’s letter to AAM next year “I was hired at a start-up and was told after accepting the offer I’d be promoted after X, Y, Z happened. In addition to meeting those goals I showed some iniative by leading my team from our remote location from our boss. After that, he gave me a 12-month Development plan for a promotion, but he just hired someone from the outside — what gives?”

      7. EM*

        But you’ve admitted he is already micromanaging your team even though he’s not even a manager yet. Do your really want to make this guy a manager down the road? It seems like his behavior would only worsen.

      8. EB*

        This guy is insubordinate, undermines you, and you still are thinking of developing him into a manager? that’s rewarding him for his bad behavior.

        I would think at this point you may be looking at removing him from the team. Shouldn’t he be told his promotion is off the table until he can prove to you that he can follow your directions and function only as a peer on his team. At minimum he should be recieving warnings regarding his behavior with clear expectations laid out to Rich and the remote team and to HR (Rich has no authority over his team, no authority regarding PTO or )y ing elseregarding Rich’s authority. Make clear to the remote team that you are their manager and that Rich is their peer and does not have authority over them.

        Have you thought about visiting them in person and making this clear in person? By visiting or talking privately with each team member you may find Rich is bullying or harassing team members.

        I would advise you to consider bringing in an outside supervisor when the time comes because Rich’s behavior will only get worse. This is what he does WITHOUT being promoted, after he gets authority he may only get worse and begin challenging you directly for authority over the whole project.

        1. Mike C.*

          Indeed, this employee is no ninja, sherpa, rockstar, MVP or whatever else the business world are calling “good employees”.

          Also, why aren’t any other employees being considered for future management roles? Have you discussed it when them?

        2. AMG*

          I agree; I would get over there, put this brat on notice, talk to his peers, and empower them so they knwo they stand an equal chance. If he’s telling them he’s getting the promotion, and they get his wrath for not including him, they may think that they shouldn’t bother.

      9. A Teacher*

        Put yourself in your other employees shoes or future employees shoes, would you want to work for Rich? Really? I mean he can’t follow basic directions, he micromanages, and he acts superior to those at his level. Sounds like great management material.

      10. Elizabeth West*

        I’m thinking you’re wasting your time, but that’s just my opinion. The thing for me is that he is BLATANTLY insubordinate. You said “You’re not a team lead,” and he said (basically) “Yes I am.” He has gone behind your back and is putting himself over your head by making his colleagues clear their PTO with him (this one had my mouth hanging open. If one of my coworkers did that, they’d get the side-eye and a big “WTH?” from me.)

        If he can’t follow rules and respect boundaries as an employee, he won’t be able to do it as a manager. I can’t imagine your being able to rein him in because he has made it very clear he won’t listen.

      11. Jessa*

        The problem with this, is that he’s still going to hear “going to be a manager,” and I honestly don’t think you want him to be a manager at all.

  12. Artemesia*

    I took over an operation once in which one of the people had this attitude. The operation was a disaster and I made a number of changes and installed a new director with whom I worked closely to turn things around, which we did. The employee who felt he should have been chosen manager became a major problem, essentially assuming authority over most of the other employees and being somewhat condescending to the new director. He was the only one in the office who understood how certain systems worked and was able to play Mr. Indispensable for a time.

    When I understood the problem i.e. closely held knowledge and skills, insubordination and undermining, serious misunderstanding of role, I made sure to have the director trained in the technical systems used by the office so that he didn’t have a monopoly on valued knowledge.

    And then I fired him. You cannot afford to have someone on a team who is undermining your authority. If this guy has been told he is not team lead clearly and refuses to cease this behavior, then a careful succession plan for the project should be thought through and he should be dismissed. This is a disaster in the making.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Amen to everything you said. I bet the guy you fired was all kinds of surprised. “But I’m Mr. Indispensable!!!” Uh yeah…NO.

      1. Artemesia*

        The thing is that while he was in fact Mr. Indispensable because he had manipulated things that way, the systems he had installed were terrible. I was willing to give him credit for initiative and bootstrapping but the actual outcomes were miserable. If he had been a team player, he would have been fine — he had in fact done a lot to keep the chewing gum and duct tape in place on the badly designed systems. But he could not accept that he wasn’t boss and wasn’t being persecuted. When his wife came in to advocate for him because his personality disorder made it difficult for him, I knew we were done.

        1. Betsy*

          Oh, I know this issue so much. I have seen it many times in the software world: someone builds a system, refuses to let anyone help design or code it, and doesn’t document it. Then you have this critical component that NO ONE understands or can deal with, except the one “Mr. Indispensable.”

          What’s especially great for him is that his code is this black box of misery, so he can pretty much fill up his time tinkering with it, and if he explains that fixing a bug will take three days, no one will have enough knowledge to argue with him.

          My most recent version of this guy went on a two-week vacation, during which his nightmare system blew up and I had to learn it or leave the system down. Once I figured out the secret mysteries of the code, he was OUT. We’ve been working for a year since then to try to make the code more comprehensible.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Sadly, this happens in government, too. Where only one person knows where all the water lines for the village are and he does not write it down. That one is playing out all over the country.

            Knowledge is power. Knowledge is job security. For the short run, at any rate.
            If a person uses knowledge as a weapon against others then chaos ensues.

          2. Windchime*

            Yep, we’ve got that guy here at our office, too. Refuses to learn any programming language that was created after 1990. Has workstations under his desk that run batch files to kick off jobs on some randome server someplace. Nothing documented, very little checked in. Tons of work done manually, but he’s the only one who knows anything about it so he’s regarded as some kind of a guru. It’s baffling.

        2. Sarahnova*

          “When his wife came in to advocate for him because his personality disorder made it difficult for him, I knew we were done.”

          This sounds like a story we should hear.

  13. Dani*

    Even if he was the team lead wouldn’t dealing with HR issues be outside his scope? In my experience dealing with HR has always been for a manager – never a team lead. I am wondering how the other people feel and if they are considering leaving. Rich may be valuable – but is he valuable enough on his own? What if the other two revolt.

    I see in your update that you learned you were too direct when you first started out. I find that so weird – I would much rather have someone be direct and to the point then soften it all and end up with a misunderstanding.

    1. OP*

      100% agree that even as a team lead, he would have overstepped his bounds. I’ve seen many first time team leads make a mistake of how far their authority actually goes. But that’s a very different conversation to have with him than the “Hey! Do we really need to do this again? You aren’t a team lead!”

      RE: Directness…. I don’t get it either. I rather be told flat out where I stand. I hate when I have to interpret the meaning behind a message. But since I had received that as feedback from different managers at different companies, the perceived issue is obviously with me. I’ll throw in that when I deal with millennials (as is the case in my story above), they expect even a softer approach than others. That’s very tough for me, because I’m not a direct/blunt person intentionally. It’s difficult to try to stop doing something you aren’t aware of.

      1. Ruffingit*

        It’s an individual thing. Some people need things to be a little softer and with others, blunt/direct is the only way to go. Personally, I’d prefer blunt/direct too since I’ve worked with several managers that were passive-aggressive, which is all kinds of irritating and causes a tremendous loss of respect for them since they can’t come out and say what they want and we can all just move on.

      2. ChristineSW*

        That’s probably the hard part about being a manager. I’ve never managed (thank goodness! lol), but I’ve been on the other end where managers have had to address issues with me; I’ll admit that I prefer a softer approach, but I absolutely understand that being direct/blunt is often the most effective way to get the point across.

      3. EB*

        Can you bring in a fourth person, a new supervisor? Seriously, find some other superstar to take Rich’s place and manage Rich off the team,

        1. OP*

          Not at this time. New company, new product. Need to hit some financial targets before I have a new headcount.

      4. MJ*

        Please don’t make generalisations based on age like that. I’m a millennial and I’d be appalled if I found out that my manager had decided to be indirect with me entirely because of my age, meaning that I missed something they were then blaming me for. I don’t know if that’s the situation here but I’d advise against thinking of it like that.

        1. amp2140*

          Amen! I’ve gone to my boss (known for being direct with everyone but his own reports) and said “Please tell me if you aren’t satisfied with your work. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting praise all the time when someone doesn’t like what you’re doing. I can’t improve if you don’t tell me how.”

      5. Mike C.*

        Please stop talking about age groups as if they are all alike, it’s demeaning. You hired individuals, not a cohort.

        1. OP*

          Really? That offended you? There is lots of research that indicates that different age groups do show different work characteristics due to different shared experiences during their formative years.

          Yes, people are individuals. But let’s not get morally outraged because a 25 year old expects a different communication style than a 60 year old.

          1. Mike C.*

            I never said I was offended, but a lot of that “research” is nothing more than fly by night business book authors claiming that millenials are lazy, stupid, expect the world without working for it and aren’t true adults because they delay traditional milestones such as marriage, buying a house or having children.

            So when you talk about how every millennial you’ve met has to be let down easy to an extent not expected of other age groups, you’re feeding into a stereotype that simply isn’t true.

          2. John*

            OP, you are absolutely correct about that. Millennials tend not to respond to authority like Baby Boomers, for example.

            1. some1*

              My parents, aunts and uncles are baby boomers. Not only were they the first generation to question authority, I know plenty of people in that age group who have issues with authority figures.

          3. aebhel*

            If you’re making blanket assumptions about someone’s communication style based on their generation rather than their actual personality, yes, that’s a problem. It’s lazy thinking, and it’s liable to get you into exactly the kind of trouble that you’re having right now.

            You may be generally right about millennials, but if you’re tailoring your interactions to their age group instead of to the person you’re actually talking to, you’re going to end up with a lot of miscommunication.

            1. Anonsie*

              This. In fact the whole picture I’ve been getting from the OP’s responses here is that s/he has a habit of making decisions about how people Are with a capital “A” from very limited evidence, then contorting all their managerial expectations and actions accordingly.

              While there’s room for individual assessments here, this is getting out of hand for OP’s company.
              -Employee A is incompetent and they just are so they’re on a PIP but there’s no way to train them back up to being able to take on some of Rich’s responsibilities.
              -Employee B is probably lazy so they’re also a lost cause and probably can’t be given more responsibility either.
              -Rich is a superstar who carries the entire company so even though he’s challenging my authority and won’t follow instructions and is negatively impacting the rest of the team and doesn’t do a good job managing anyway, I’m going to spend a year grooming him out of these qualities because he’s just so talented and valuable that I have to keep him at the expense of everything else.

              1. amp2140*

                I agree.

                Especially Employee B. I’d probably seem lazy too if I knew that Rich had the promotion in the bag, and it seemed like no matter how well I did, I wouldn’t be considered. Since it doesn’t seem like OP knows how much of a bully Rich is (and simply asking that will probably not get you an true answer), he might be going after anyone who sticks their neck out.

                1. fposte*

                  Really? If you didn’t think you could get a promotion, you’d try to get other people to do your work?

                  I don’t know, I think the OP’s description seemed like something I’d find disappointing too, and in a way that the Rich problem wouldn’t excuse.

                2. Kou*

                  If Rich is being a bully and wants to be in charge, it might be less “I want someone else to do this” and more “Rich will do X thing I want to avoid if I do this” for whatever assortment of reasons. That’s why aggressive, insubordinate employees who are determined to be in charge are so detrimental- the add issues and politics in stupid places, and the rest of the staff will react accordingly.

          4. Anon*

            OP, I can see where you are coming from. I’m 24 and have definitely found I have to “coddle” people in my age group more often then out of it. I’ve actually been warned as well to be less direct – specifically because of a few instances with other millennials.

            However, I agree with others here that those observations shouldn’t influence your way of working with someone. I think your wording, “..when I deal with millennials…” set some people off because it was a blanket statement. “…when I deal with some millennials…” would have been better.

            I very much want my boss to be direct with me, and I don’t want her interactions with other 20 somthings coloring the way she works with me.

            1. Windchime*

              How about “when I deal with some *people*”. That works better for me.

              My kids are in their mid twenties and they have never been coddled or “let down gently”. They are good, hardworking people and it seems to me that most of their friends are, too. Are some people from their generation spoiled? Undoubtedly. But there were some pretty spoiled people in my generation, too. And in my parents’.

          5. Artemesia*

            Let’s not get defensive when it is pointed out that the chosen indirect communication thus far is a disaster because this ‘millenial’ isn’t getting the message.

      6. Not So NewReader*


        I think that is a term that is up for grabs.
        I have no problem with a boss saying “NSNR, don’t do X anymore. Do Y instead.”
        Hey that is clear, I understood that one.

        What I have problems with is “Listen dumb a**, you frigged this up. Now @#$ and get it @#$ right for a change will ya!”

        If I even overhear this type of talk, I am on edge. And my opinion of the speaker has just taken a header.

        The difference is the INTENT behind the message. Is the intent to make a better worker or is the intent to be obnoxious and degrade people?

        A boss that cannot convey necessary information becomes known as weak/passive-aggressive/etc. If you know that you are doing your best to properly guide an employee then that will show in your words.

        1. Windchime*

          And then there is the flip side. “Rich, as you know, you are not a team lead…….yet. So please don’t feel that you need to deal with these issues.”

          That, to me, is not direct. It reads like a suggestion and, as someone else mentioned, with a “wink, wink” in there.

          Look, it’s clear that the OP wants to promote this guy and probably will do so, sooner rather than later. So I guess I’m not sure what the original point of the letter was. You want to promote him,then do it. Just don’t expect the rest of the team to stick around; as soon as they can, I’m guessing they will be out. (But hey, they are lazy and incompetent anyway, so no big loss).

        2. aebhel*

          I don’t really think it’s that hard to make a clear distinction between being direct and being abusive.

    2. Zelos*

      Yeah, this. In my experience, team leads organize the teams, is the de facto team representative to supervisors/managers/beyond, and often organizes tasks lists based on priorities and workload and whatnot. They represent the team to (middle) management and supervisors too, so that supervisors don’t have to talk to team members individually for a team memo or something. And if a person’s away, telling the team lead (so the team lead can then tell management/plan around the absence) makes sense to me too.

      But they do not have power to hire/fire, HR duties, and whatnot. OP, obviously you set the tone as to how much power the team lead has, and if you want your TLs to have less power and defer the workload to you, the manager, that’s your call, and Rich is far outside his boundaries whether he is the team lead or not. But to me, being in a leadership role but still mostly “a peer”…well, that IS what a team lead is. (I think a lot of retail work has this position too…head/lead person on the floor, no scheduling/hire/fire powers.)

      So I think Rich could be the team lead…and perhaps has been doing that (and more, which is the problem, because he is not supervisor/manager) for a while. But if you hired him with the “mentoring/self-directed” criteria, I can see why he thinks himself as a team lead.

    3. sunny-dee*

      Actually, it really depends on what the HR issues are. The only one I saw explicitly in the letter was PTO — which actually makes sense, since Rich is on-site, that someone would inform him when they were going to be out. (Although different circumstances, I always inform my project teams of any changes in my schedule before my manager, because I work with them directly.) The giving feedback thing could be a violation, or it could be a senior / experienced developer trying to mentor inexperienced colleagues or trying to establish his role as lead. Which wouldn’t be that bad.

      Some of this really could cut either way, depending on your perspective. The OP’s main trouble is that she seems to have little control over her remote team — and that could be Rich’s fault or not his fault at all.

      1. Jamie*

        If I were to be out I’d inform the whole team – there’s only 3 of them – that it was just him is weird to me, like they do think of them as a manager.

        People can be weird about leave, though. I’ve had people ask me to approve leave when they don’t have any dotted line to me…like any manager in a storm – totally not how it works.

        I’ve thought it would be funny if I just approved all of it though. No checking to see if PTO is on the books, no consulting manager or schedule – just be everyone’s good cop and when the other managers complain tell them it’s their punishment for not training their people in proper procedures.

    4. Anon for this*

      “In my experience dealing with HR has always been for a manager – never a team lead.”

      My personal experience says otherwise. I, too, work for a small start-up (30-ish people) and I’ve had to hire/fire/have difficult conversation with people even though I technically have no direct reports. This was mostly as a result of my boss, the CEO, feeling these discussions were not a good use of his time.

  14. ChristineSW*

    I’d say this is more of a case of miscommunication/mixed messages, which I would imagine is fairly common with the manager is remote. But I agree with Ann O’Nemity above that it doesn’t excuse his attitude. Even if he’s genuinely unsure about his role, he needs to be a lot more professional about it. An in-person sit-down with the team AND Rich one-on-one is definitely a good idea.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, the messages seem to be terribly mixed coming from the OP. She hired this guy flat-out telling him that she is grooming him to be a manager in a relatively short amount of time and then has no on-site lead. To me, I would naturally assume that I would need to function as a team lead — there is, literally, no one else to do it and he was hired for that very reason. Depending on how she’s framing feedback, I could even see him dismissing a lot of what she’s saying as her not understanding the situation — because she truly doesn’t seem to understand that with three people in one place working on the same project, someone has to divvy up work and answer questions and be the lead. And she told this guy that that was why she was hiring him.

      A big problem here may be that he has lost respect for her as a manager. He could be just a power-grabbing jerk. But it could also be that he doesn’t trust her to be accessible or to respond effectively or appropriately to problems in the group.

  15. Anonymous*

    “He’s the MVP of the project and has exceeded my expectations. ”

    No he’s not and no, he hasn’t. And I think the fact tht you would make this statement and then go on to detail myriad problems this employee has, well, that’s a big part of the issue.

    He may be very knowledgable and excellent in terms of the actual work he is supposed to do. But assuming you have been communicating clearly with him when he oversteps his bounds, he is a terrible, terrible employee. If you have given him clear direction multipel times and he willfully disreagrds it, that is NOT an MVP. That’s a problem employee.

    I think you need to get clear in your mind what the situation is so you can ensure you are communicating it clearly to him:
    – You do X, Y and Z extremely well.
    – No matter how well you do X, Y and Z, if you cannot bring your job perfromance in line with my direction re: acting like a manager, we’re going to have a BIG problem.

    1. Ruffingit*

      THANK YOU! This is exactly the point I’ve been trying to make in a couple of posts above, but you’ve done it much better. Why on earth OP sees this guy as exceeding expectations and being the MVP of the project is mind boggling given the description of his behavior. This guy is a problem employee who should not be groomed for a management position. Why OP insists on sticking to the idea that he’d make a good manager is stupefying. The guy doesn’t even make a good employee. I don’t even want to think about what will happen when Rich has the actual management title and power. Were I one of Rich’s subordinates, I’d be handing out my resume right and left to anyone who would take it rather than work for that guy.

    2. EB*

      I agree, how does OP know that the work Rich’s?

      Given that Rich is having everyone report to him, he could be just compiling the team’s work or farming out hard stuff to a competent employee.

      I’ve actually had that happen to me. So called superstars reporting team work as their own or implying it. It made me move on from the team because the “superstar” began acting like a defacto manager while I did a lot of the heavy lifting (which the “superstar” took credit for of course).

      1. CAA*

        This is a tech company, and it sounds like they’re writing software. It’s really not very hard for a manager who’s meeting with a remote team multiple times per day to figure out who’s working on what tasks. Also, source code control systems document every single check-in, so it’s not like one dev can take credit for another one’s work.

        1. OP*

          Spot on. Also, I can just simply look at the source code and know right away who wrote it. Everyone has their personal style while coding, standards be damned.

          I could still spot code written by a professor I had in the 80s from a mile away.

          Bottom line – I am well aware of who works on what. Even if I was in a different field, I’d make it my business to know who works on what.

      2. OP*

        I know it’s very frustrating when someone takes credit for your work. I’ve had it happen to me. That’s why I’m very much involved in understanding who has done what and am able to understand the output of each individual. It is one of my management traits – I spend a lot of effort making sure people who report to me aren’t victims to things that I have been.

        I’m hesitant to explain this because everyone has been accusing me of rationalizing when what I’m trying to do is prove context. But I think it was an interesting point you brought up, so here it goes:

        Rich was hired to do X. Employee 2 was hired to do Y. Employee 3 was hired to do Z. I’m well aware of where we are at with X, with Y, and with Z. When Rich gets involved and oversteps his bounds with assigning tasks, he is going to Employee 2 and giving them work to do specifically for Y. He’s never attempted to claim credit for anything that the others have ownership for. One of the reasons I think so highly of Rich is he is concerned about X, Y, and Z. He also is constantly asking me about 1, 2, and 3 that I have my other team of 3 working on. He has the big picture in the view at all time.

        If I had to theorize on why he does this, I think he’s trying to push the aggressive goals of the project to help speed up targets I’ve told him that we need to hit before we can start discussing his career path. There are obviously other issues at play here, but him stealing credit for other people’s work is not one of them.

        1. Anonymous*

          Or he’s trying to manage you. If I started constantly asking my boss about a project that was related to mine but I wasn’t working on, he wouldn’t go, hey she’s thinking about the big picture. He’d stop and say, hey she doesn’t think I can do my job and is trying to manage up. Certainly he will give me the bigger picture when I need it and when I’m trying to make sure that I understand the Big Picture he’s happy to support that. But that is not done by me constantly asking about other work.

          (In fact we have that person on our team, she’s NOT aware of the big picture because if she was she’d understand that trying to have her fingers in every pie was not appropraite and not helping the org as a whole.)

        2. A Teacher*

          But your very sentence: “One of the reasons I think so highly of Rich is he is concerned about X, Y, and Z,” basically says to me that you want to rationalize why someone you are fond of is acting this way. The context you’ve provided has just illustrated why Rich is a problem right now and nothing you’ve done so far has worked–despite what I’m thinking is an effort to make the situation bad. I would say you’re probably a nice person in that you want Rich to succeed but it seems like you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.

          1. OP*

            I’m not sure I follow your logic here. I just told you, and very clearly, that I am fond of the guy because I like the way he looks at the big picture. But now you’re trying to tell me that I like the way he thinks because I’m fond of him. This is getting a little frustrating for me because I really don’t like having words put in my mouth. If I say anything, I’m accused of rationalizing. I feel like I can’t win, so I think I’m done updating on this topic.

        3. Dani*

          Sounds like he thinks he has the job once condition A B and C are met and not that he will be considered for the job once conditions A B and C are met.

          I am also wondering if this is the reason that Employees 2 is seen as lazy. He went in thinking that he has control over project Y, but Rich is coming in and telling him how to do it and you aren’t stepping in and stopping that. So now instead of “Project Y leader” he is just another employee and his motivation might have gone down.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          You’re making excuses for him. Either his behavior is a problem, or it isn’t. This is beginning to sound like a girlfriend making excuses for a jerk boyfriend (to haul the job/dating analogy out of the trunk). Whether he’s doing it on purpose or not (and I think yes, because you told him to back off and he did not), he is undermining your authority and that is a huge problem.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            And I’m not saying you like him like a girlfriend; I’m just making a comparison. Because if the girlfriend lets the boyfriend walk all over her, she’s the one that is going to suffer, not him.

    3. Jamie*

      “He’s the MVP of the project and has exceeded my expectations. ”

      No he’s not and no, he hasn’t. And I think the fact tht you would make this statement and then go on to detail myriad problems this employee has, well, that’s a big part of the issue

      Both of those things can be true. He was hired as an individual contributor in a technical role – if he does that well he can absolutely be an MVP and exceeding expectations.

      Her problems with him are outside of the role for which he was hired. Absolutely need to be addressed, but his inability to follow chain of command doesn’t negate whatever technical skills he possesses.

      In a Venn diagram you will have highly skilled technical top performers and you will have excellent managers – a subset of those will intersect, but not all of them. Just saying he could be absolutely amazing at the role he was hired to do, and what he sucks at is the role he decided to take upon himself.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! I wanted to point this out too. It’s entirely possible that Rich is a high performer and hugely valuable, but that this one area is playing out badly. (That’s especially likely if the OP hasn’t been giving him clear, direct instructions to back off in the problem area.)

        And I’d lean toward assuming the OP has a better idea than we do about the quality of Rich’s work outside of these problems!

  16. Ruffingit*

    Just as a general thing, I think this story demonstrates the overall need for on-site management. I realize that not every office needs that, I know there are people who don’t, but I think in general it helps to have someone on-site who you can go to with management/supervisory issues. Even if that person is only on-site two days a week or something. Just musing here, but people like Rich often take over and run roughshod simply because they can. There is no on-site authority to make them stop.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Fair enough, that happens too. Also been there. Just thinking that it can be helpful to have someone on site because even psychologically it’s a much different feeling being able to go down the hall to the manager’s office as opposed to having to get them on video conference. Knowing the person is on-site and available personally gives the whole situation a very different vibe.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re right in that it’s harder to do with good onsite management, though. Most Riches are filling what they perceive as a vacuum. If the boss is in earshot, they’re not likely to claim they’re the boss or that they need to handle this HR matter. Additionally, the boss has more exposure to the other employees, so they have more opportunities to deal with her directly rather than through Rich.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Exactly. It makes a big difference when the manager can manage not only the team, but the environment. Once the video conference is turned off, the manager has no way of knowing what’s going on. On site that would not be a problem obviously.

    1. ChristineSW*

      With all due respect to the OP (I really think she’s put in a good faith effort), I agree with you and the others who responded.

  17. Brett*

    You need to consider an even more dangerous aspect of this situation for your company.

    I think Rich is in a position to make demands, and knows it. He is taking whatever power he wants because he knows that you will put up with it for the sake of the project.

    Is the project meeting deadlines? How much of the project up to now functions on knowledge only in Rich’s head? Is he documenting, commenting code, making sure his peers are tied into the development environment?

    And that is the danger. What are you going to do if the demands turn from power and title to money? What happens if you reach the 90/10 point and Rich suddenly wants a raise and a stake in the company? Can the company let him walk and what will he take with him if he walks?

  18. Jill*

    Good luck OP. I think you’ve gotten some great advice from everyone here! Please provide us with an update!

  19. Mason*

    I’m looking forward to the inevitable update.
    OP, you really need to start planning on life without this guy – Rich has made some assumptions about what his job is and have started to live them – when you do what you HAVE to do (which is to have a frank talk and tell him that his job is in jeopardy) he’s going to feel like he just got demoted (even if that’s ridiculous, feelings are irrational). He’ll start looking for a new job right away, I suspect.

  20. Ruffingit*

    In the spirit of this post, I’m going to be blunt and direct here. The fact that OP has allowed Rich to get away with this behavior and still thinks Rich would make a good manager makes me wonder about how good a manager OP is herself.

    OP has set up a situation where the project will fail if Rich is not there. WTH? That is ridiculous. Never, ever, ever should one person on your team have that kind of power. Why on earth would you have allowed such a thing to happen? It’s management 101 in my book that you have contingency plans for a team member leaving, getting ill, dying, whatever. It was just incredibly poor management to allow Rich to be the MVP in the first place without a backup plan because now Rich is in a position to make demands. And, as someone else noted above, he knows it.

    And, again being blunt, I’m mystified as to why, after all these problems, Rich is still being considered as a candidate who can be developed into a management role. I don’t think OP is seeing this situation as clearly as it needs to be seen. Rich is a problem employee, not a rock star manager in waiting.

  21. Fiona*

    I agree that Rich is not management material – not now, not in 12 months, and so far it appears OP refuses to accept that or even consider that possibility. Frankly, it sounds to me like OP is more interested in defending his/her hiring decision than doing what is best for the long-term health of the company.

    1. OP*

      No, I never said I refuse to consider or accept this as a possibility.

      I said, he should be given a chance to 1. receive the feedback; and 2. grow from that feedback. If he can’t, then I’m more than OK with not making him a manager. If he continues to cause problems in the short term, I also have no qualms about removing the situation.

      I appreciate the advice, and I think I’ve gotten some great suggestions, but I really think that people should at least consider the possibility that employees can grow from mistakes. If I wanted to swing a hammer and remove a problem, I certainly didn’t need to write in for advice. The whole point here is what options do I have to help this person grow.

      I’m sure each and every person here made mistakes in their careers. Where would you have been if you weren’t given the opportunity to evolve?

      1. Ruffingit*

        I think what a lot of us are seeing here is that Rich has already been given the opportunity to evolve. Multiple times. Someone who doesn’t listen to their manager and doesn’t take direction well even after multiple conversations about it is not a person who generally evolves. He’s not only proven that he can’t listen or take direction, but that he’s not going to evolve either and you still insist on seeing him as being able to do all those things. There’s no evidence that he can after multiple tries.

        If you want to keep trying with this guy, put him on a PIP and see what happens. I can almost guarantee he will balk against that and become even more of a problem. But, go ahead and try and report back to us. Honestly, I would love to think this will have a happy ending, I really would. I’ve just seen too many of these problems in workplaces where managers think people can be rehabilitated and they waste a lot of time and energy not to mention pissing off and losing other team members.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Ditto, here.

          I think that OP is a fine, fine person. She wants to do what is right and best for this talented individual. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is a fine, fine person. And not everyone wants to do what is right for the people they work with.

      2. Xay*

        I think the problem people are having is that by your account, you have already given him feedback and he has chosen not to listen or change his actions. You seem reluctant to enter a formal PIP to address the issues in his current role , rather you want to prepare him for a promotion. If he can’t handle the self directed and mentoring aspects of his current position, shouldn’t that be addessed before even opening the door to a promotion.

        To me, it seems that you see the potential in Rich and you don’t want to throw that away. That is understandable, but you can’t get lost in someone’s potential and ignore what they are actually doing with that potential and how those actions affect those around them. Sometimes people with fantastic potential just don’t work out.

      3. Anonymous*

        But he doesn’t need to evolve. He needs to be remediated.

        I think that is what a lot of people are reacting to. He’s not someone who has stagnated at his current position and while he does everything good or fine, he just doesn’t have the drive to move forward (it does sound from your comments like you do have one of those employees by the way, the one you call lazy).

        He’s someone who is actively, repeatedly, and after being told to stop undermining the authority of his direct supervisor, jeopardizing the project and the organization (he’s not a supervisor but could have very easily done something to cause a lawsuit because he thinks he is and has no training no it).

        He might be a great teapot maker. He might be a great manager. But he has shown zero qualities of either because he’s trying (and failing) to manage and not making the tea pots.

        I have done this. Stepped up when it wasn’t entirely appropriate for me to step up. The moment someone said something? I stepped right back down. If they said, hey you are doing a great job and I think you could be a manager keep it up. I’ve keep it up. If they said that and then said oh by the way you’re not actually a team lead I’d feel like I had whiplash. (luckily that has never happened to me! I’ve had pretty good and direct managers)

        He’s not great but he likes tuna salad on fridays. He’s full of buts way more serious than that.

  22. Joey*

    I’m thinking you haven’t been very clear. If his peers are behaving confused that’s a sign that you haven’t been proactive enough about clarifying roles.

    But what makes this harder is you are remote. It can be incredibly difficult to work in that type of team environment without someone taking the lead. Here’s why I say that: I’m guessing your team doesn’t call you for every little thing. I’m assuming you provide direction, check on things and handle the bigger issues. What happens when there’s a small disagreement or a minor Q that needs an A. Are they calling you or are they looking amongst themselves for direction? My assumption is Rich has assumed that role, his peers have accepted it, and you aren’t being “bothered” by the little stuff. So I would imagine its a combination of you being more clear about roles AND addressing the smaller, hour to hour supervisor needs of your team.

  23. Mike C.*

    This is exactly what I had in mind when discussing the issue of one peer “requesting” a regular meeting with the other yesterday.

    Anyway, I really like that you want to grow from within and so forth, but you are placing the possibility of an insubordinate employee changing over the growth and development of all the other employees who aren’t. That’s not fair, and they know it. They most likely feel like you’ve chosen a favorite and that there’s no reason to try harder or do anything differently because if you wanted something else you would have asked for it.

    If you must keep Rick on, put him on a PIP with all the specific expectations and timelines and whatnot spelled out. A private meeting will take care of this, and don’t back down from your expectations. If he balks or otherwise throws a temper tantrum, can him.

    Then you hold a team wide meaning explicitly stating that there is no manager on site, that you are the manager and explicit directions for what the team is to do in situations that were previously taken care of by “Manager” Rick. Don’t finger Rick specifically, but make it clear that you’re in charge.

    Oh, and whatever you do, make sure that Rick is documenting all of his work, and have a few other team members up to speed on what he’s working on. Call it “cross-training”, but it’s a catastrophic insurance policy for your project.

    1. OP*

      Fantastic suggestions. I appreciate the candor of the impact to other employees.

      Already have had all the documentation in play, before this even became an issue. I’m a stickler for this. It’s also how I know that Rich isn’t taking credit for what others have done, as has been implied. Very clear status reports, very clear documentation, and very clear ownership of different aspects of the project have been in play from day one. I’m well aware of what has been done, by whom, and how I can transition it to others.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Already have had all the documentation in play, before this even became an issue. I’m a stickler for this.

        Yay! That’s an excellent strategy anyway; what if someone died or moved or won the lottery?

  24. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you sound like a reasonable boss. I see that people are looking at this situation from the stand point that your instructions are not clear. That could be. But I would like to consider other angles.

    I am pretending to be Rich. You have told me to take a leadership stance. Okay, right away I am unclear here. Do I have authority to hire/fire? Can I authorize PTO? My personality is such that I would just point blank ask you. I would not go ahead and do something and wait for the fall out. I would ask before hand. Not everyone is built this way.
    NOR does everyone understand that there are lines that one does not cross.
    I have a friend that was given the authority to do X. She passed that authority on to someone else. And all heck broke loose. Why. Because she did not see the difference between having the authority to do X and having the authority to authorize someone else to do X.
    See how quickly these problems come up?

    Rich needs a written job description that shows the boundaries of his areas of decision making. Tell him that if he goes outside these lines then he will be seeing a write up.
    Because you lean on him as MVP, he is feeling that weight and acting like a boss. Please learn to lean on other people. It’s one of two things: a) he is using your dependence on him to manipulate you and fellow employees or b) he is feeling entitled to this authority because you lean on him heavily.
    Other people need to be developed and brought up to speed. You said you thought you did a good job hiring, so keep the faith. Other people should be able to step up to the plate.
    The one piece of the puzzle that is see missing is that you are sunk with OR without this guy. You are sunk either way. You are sunk when you keep him on because he is undermining the whole group and YOU. You are sunk without him because you feel the project would sink without him. I predict that if you let him go the remaining people will fill in the key parts that you thought you needed Rich to do. (Remember the covert message you have sent to the group is that they are nothing without Rich. Yes, they have figured that out.)

    Going forward: I have no idea why you would want to promote this guy, knowing what you know now. He is a micromanager who undermines his direct supervisor. And apparently, manages to exercise too much power over the group. He turns the camera off on the video conference and everything falls apart? Really? People cannot email you without CCing him? You have told him repeatedly he is not team lead and he keeps calling himself team lead? Something is very broken here. Red flags all over the place here.

    The thing that jumped out at me was your enthusiasm upon hiring Rich. Did you pump him up too much? Don’t answer here. Just think about how much you tell people when you hire them. It sounds like you could dial that back. Rich thinks this higher position is in the bag for him but he should not be thinking it is a given.
    If I worked with Rich I would be looking for a new job. The only thing that could change my mind would be to talk with you personally about the workplace.

  25. A Teacher*

    Can I just say I feel sorry for the other people on the team? How confusing and frustrating this whole dynamic must be!

    1. Elizabeth*

      I’ve been the other person on the team when someone thinks they are indispensable. It is exhausting, frustrating & demoralizing, especially if managers above the staff and key customers listen to the other person and prioritize their statements & opinions above those of everyone else.

      My employer has key-man insurance on me, because if I am unexpectedly gone for an extended period, they know they will need 4 or 5 people to take over all of the roles I fill in total or in part. I don’t want to be indispensable, though. I don’t believe in hoard skills or knowledge, and my colleagues know it. I’m currently helping one play catch-up, so that he can take over a major project for me when he doesn’t have a complete frame of reference for it.

      Rich sounds horrible to work with. I’m in double-digit in the time I’ve been with my employer, and dealing with someone like that again would probably have me looking for another job.

  26. PoohBear McGriddles*

    Rich’s story reminds me of Dwight Schrute and his Assistant (to the) Regional Manager thing.

    OP, from reading your post it sounds like you have been clear enough with Rich that he is not a Team Leader and that acting like one is not “showing initiative” – it’s insubordination. You need to go there and have a Come to Jesus meeting with Rich, putting it in writing that he is to stick with his individual contributor duties. Tell him that his future as an employee, much less his potential for promotion, depends on his willingness and ability to abide by these instructions.

    Rich may seem valuable, but he is toxic. If he is promoted, it will not get better. It will get worse. Try explaining to your director or VP why Rich is doing their job!

  27. Ask a Manager* Post author

    90 comments in 90 minutes. Is it the topic? Or is it the time slot? (I usually use this time slot for links to my columns at U.S. News or elsewhere. Now I’m wondering if that time slot should get a normal post and outside stuff should be later in the day. I might experiment.)

    1. Ruffingit*

      I think it may be the topic. So many of us relate to having a boss who has made one guy the “Rock Star Who Can’t Be Replaced (trademark), while the rest of us are left to deal with him.

      1. some1*

        Yes, and I think it’s controversial, too, because many of us read the letter and are on a completely different page than the LW.

      2. Windchime*

        +1. Been there, done that, would have bought the t-shirt but I was so demoralized and beaten down by the Assistant (to the)Regional Manager that I didn’t see the point.

    2. AMG*

      I would also consider the fact that OP is participating the conversation. It makes a more robust dialogue. I would compare it to other posts where the OP has commented a few times to see if the activity level is consistent.

      But it’s also a great topic with good feedback.

      1. OP*

        Caught me on my lunch hour. Will have to go back to the grindstone soon enough.

        It’s been interesting getting some of the insight.

      2. Anonymous*

        I agree about the OP responding, it is so much more engaging. I don’t know if you could do fancy numbers on that but I’d bet that a post with a responding OP gets much more comments.

        Also the topic, who doesn’t know a guy like this?

    3. Mike C.*

      *cough* ask your intern *cough* ;)

      My hypothesis is that so long as the post time meets some minimum amount of initial web traffic (that is, is posted during a time of reasonable web traffic) the rest is on the topic.

      I’d look for averages in weekday traffic (controlled for overall traffic over time) and see how strong the correlation between post time and comments are and look at the over all distribution. Eyeballing it would be fine for me, but if I wanted to impress I’d look up the appropriate statistical tests to confirm/deny the hypothesis.

    4. A Teacher*

      I feel like most of the responses the OP has given (from what I’ve read) come across as giving rationale for keeping an employee that hasn’t met their expectation because of what they originally saw with an interview (or a snapshot in time as teachers might call it). I teach high school but any teacher (and most managers, I’d bet) can tell you that redirecting is a daily routine. When redirecting doesn’t work you shut down the behavior with a consequence. You do not reward students/employees “with a chance to grow” when they’ve made a hot mess of a situation worse by blatant disrespect and insubordination. “Rich” reminds me of one of my juniors that I finally booted from class last week because his potential didn’t compensate for the fact that he was sucking the joy out of the room for all of his peers.

    5. Just a Reader*

      It’s the topic and the fact that the OP has engaged in the comments.

      I would love to see this more often, almost like a live chat.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        It’s good for us too =) posted past 4pm, winding down time…and very engaging topic & OP.

      2. Eva*

        I too love it when this happens! Alison, maybe it would be an idea to coordinate the posting time of a delicious post like this one with the OP in advance to make sure they’re available to participate in the comments? I don’t know if you already do that…

        1. OP*

          I did get a heads up it was going to be posted today. I just happened to load up the page on my break to see that it was just posted.

          Frankly, if it was posted 2 hours earlier or 2 hours later, I don’t think I’d have been able to participate. Timing, as always, is everything.

          1. Windchime*

            OP, also–thanks for your participation. It makes the discussion more lively and you’ve done an admirable job of responding thoughtfully and not taking offense at some of the strong opinions on your letter. I admire your ability to remain reasonable and responsive–not sure how well I would have done in similar circumstances!

        2. Elkay*

          Thank you, I’ve been wanting to suggest something like this to Alison for a while, but having had a question published I knew that the OPs would have been emailed. I couldn’t think of a way Alison could guarantee that the OP would participate but this would work really well.

          On a side note I find it really frustrating when OPs don’t contribute to the comments because it seems really dismissive of Alison’s time when she’s answered their question.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think it’s generally dismissive — it’s more that some people just aren’t comment-section people. (Most people, probably!) Think of all the sites you (probably) read and don’t engage with the comments on — a lot of people do that with this one too. Some may not even realize that there’s a thriving community of thoughtful people in the comments section, and for others, it’s simply not their thing.

    6. Anonsie*

      It’s an interesting post and the OP is participating, but I think the time slot is contributing as well.

    7. Anonymous #13*

      I have always felt that letters from managers about how to deal with employees spark more interest than letters from employees about their managers, co-workers, or work environment.

    8. Anonymous*

      Personally, I think it’s the time slot. I sometime open the US News ones to read in another tab, and then don’t get to them until way later, and therefore end up just scanning the article and not reading any of the comments (as there is usually another one by then and people have moved on!).

  28. Ash #1*

    What’s sad is when people write in and are given good advice by Alison and the commenters, and then they spend their time in the comments defending the issue that’s causing they’re problem. The OP keeps making excuses about why he can’t let Rich go and why he can’t do this or do that. Why bother writing in if you aren’t going to listen to any of the very helpful advice that you’ve been given?

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Because OP is locked into the idea that the value Rich is providing to the project is inarguably greater than the pain he’s creating. That element is a nonnegotiable for the OP.

        Never mind that every. single. commenter. can see otherwise. (In other words, Rich’s evil plan is working.)

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          (Having read more of the OP’s replies, I retract this. The OP needs to be WAY clearer with instructions to the team, and be much more direct. I am starting to see why Rich thinks he’s in charge.)

    1. fposte*

      Eh. I think that’s pretty human, though. I think it’s actually pretty unusual to pivot quickly on an issue you hadn’t even thought of as up for consideration, and as long as people don’t get crazed about their position, I don’t see them sticking to it for the day as a big problem.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I agree. It takes time to internalize an entirely new way of seeing a problem. “Wait…you mean I don’t actually have to keep employing this guy??” Seems simple, but when someone has set up a situation where they’ve taken firing him off the table as an option, putting it back on the table and examining it is not a one-day turnaround.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        When I wrote in last week, I had to consciously struggle against responding to every comment and focus on really listening to what everyone was saying. It really helped me see a trend to the comments that was useful to my problem.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Kudos to you for being willing to take in the commentary without knee-jerk responses. Seriously, that is very, very hard and I commend you for it.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Very helpful based on a very small snapshot of a problem. Some of the solutions may be helpful in real life to the OP, others not so much, even if they sound reasonable to us. The OP knows that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, and not all of the advice, while helpful in general, will actually be something he can use.

      When I had a question answered and read the comments, I was sometimes thinking, “yes, but…” because of other circumstances that I hadn’t mentioned. The advice helps. It’s not the final answer.

    3. Anonsie*

      I think makes sense to keep giving information when given advice. Because as much as the advice might be good, it also might be bad since it’s based on a low-context snapshot. If you’re going to do something based off a recommendation, especially one that doesn’t feel natural to you, you want to make sure the person recommending it really understands the situation. That’s not being obtuse, it’s making an informed decision.

      That said, I do get the impression (as I said above) from OP’s replies that they’ve already decided that the best idea is to keep Rich more chances.

    4. NK*

      Interesting – I’m not reading this as the OP being dismissive of others’ comments. I think it’s impossible to capture an entire complex interpersonal situation in a single letter, and so the OP is attempting to provide some additional context, especially in parts where people are jumping to conclusions that the OP can refute, such as Rich taking credit for others’ work. I also see here that a lot of people are infusing their viewpoints from larger, more structured organizations. While those viewpoints are still completely valid, there are a lot of things about startup environments that I think are quite different from a fortune 500 company. I’m not trying to completely defend the OP here, just trying to provide some possible explanations for how the conversation is shaping.

      1. fposte*

        Exactly. And we really do bring our own slants to it and color in around the narrative, and sometimes we’re just way off.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is true.

        And our responses sound like vicious dogs barking when what we really mean is “hey, OP, take care of you! Watch out for your back!”

        Rich did not write us. But if he did, I suspect he would get the same level of candor. He would be told what to do to fix problems at work. But we cannot help Rich. We can only help the people who ask.

        I have never seen advice in this blog that would set a person up to fail. NEVER.

  29. Allison*

    If the OP keeps Rich but doesn’t effectively address the behavior, OP is going to lose other employees – either they’ll get fed up and leave, or they’ll get so resentful their attitude (and probably their performance as well) will start to suck and you’ll need to let them go. Even if they are replaceable, your retention numbers will tank and so will your reputation as a manager. At the very least, make sure your other employees know you’re on their side, not Rich’s.

    One problem I’m seeing is that the OP has already set a precedent by allowing the behavior to continue as long as it has. If someone does something and no one says anything, they make it a habit, assuming they’re not doing anything wrong.

  30. Victoria Nonprofit*

    I think what’s confusing to a lot of the commenters here is why you’re targeting this specific person as a potential manager. There are five other people on your team who aren’t engaging in the same problematic behavior, but you say that you would rather have Rich as a manager than anyone else.

    Of course, we don’t know anything about your other employees. Being people, they surely have strengths and weaknesses and interests and foibles that would make them good or bad candidates for any given position. I’m sure they are all challenging and outstanding in various ways, and there are reasons that you’re not envisioning them as the future manager of this project.

    Rich sounds talented and hardworking. But he’s demonstrating that he has some significantly weaknesses precisely in the area of management. He might be the strongest individual contributor (even the stronger *leader* as an individual contributor), but he is giving you a lot of information that tells me that he’s not prepared to be a strong *manager*. As you know, since it sounds like you’ve managed for many years, that’s an entirely different skill set.

    I admire and agree with your commitment to developing your staff, rather than tossing them aside when they make mistakes or aren’t perfect that something they are just learning to do. But part of coaching is helping people to identify what their skills and weaknesses are and what paths those skills and weaknesses suggest. Rich’s actions would tell me that management isn’t a likely path for him; I’d be thinking about how to maximize his potential as an individual contributor (or trainer or whatever other paths your company or team has to offer).

    If you’re absolutely committed to grooming Rich for management, I would say all of this very clearly, e.g.: “Rich, you are exceptionally talented, and from the time I brought you on I’ve had my eye on you for future management positions. However, your actions regarding positioning yourself as an unofficial team lead have made me strongly reconsider whether management is the right path for you. When I look for team members to promote to management I look for XYZ. Until I see you demonstrating XYZ, I can’t consider you for that role. I want you to succeed, so I’ve put together a development plan that I think will help you out, but let me be clear: This plan is not a pathway to a promotion; it’s a set of experiences that I think will help you to become a stronger professional overall.”

    1. amaranth16*

      I love the example language at the end. Very straightforward, but not likely to be antagonistic.

  31. PEBCAK*

    I would love to have the perspective of the other team members. Obviously it’s a problem that Rich is dealing with HR stuff, but do they resent his “team lead” efforts, or is it HELPFUL for them to have some sort of on-site team coordination? I’ve worked on teams where stuff like assigning workload, communicating with other teams, etc. was delegated to the most junior person, because nobody liked doing it.

    1. some1*

      Even if they don’t resent it and are happy with Rich as de facto manager, that’s still not ok, because the LW already said he’s being left out of stuff going on there that he needs to know about.

  32. Anonymo*

    Agree with Ruffingit and others here. My favorite quote:
    “his higher ups think he’s a rock star when meanwhile he’s a menace”

    I feel like the OP has made an emotional commitment to Rich being the MVP and possible future manager and that’s why logical arguments aren’t really moving him/her. I’ve seen this, as one of the peers who was not one of the chosen favorites. Managers who have favorites like this choose to ignore poor behavior by the favorite, even if it is repeated, even if it’s toxic. It’s frustrating as a peer. The OP may have unwittingly communicated his/her lower expectations of the other remote staff to them, and they know that Rich is the favorite.

    Take away the coaching-potential-manager piece, if an employee has repeatedly broken rules, shouldn’t the question be, how many steps do I need to take before firing them?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Thanks for the quote compliment :)

      Take away the coaching-potential-manager piece, if an employee has repeatedly broken rules, shouldn’t the question be, how many steps do I need to take before firing them?

      THIS! So very much this. That was my feeling too. What I’m getting from the OP is more this: “Rich is doing all kinds of things that qualify as insubordination and will not stop after being asked repeatedly to do so. But he’s just so gosh darned awesome that I can’t let him go so how can I groom him for management?”

      My reaction was akin to this:

    2. Fee*

      “I feel like the OP has made an emotional commitment to Rich being the MVP and possible future manager…”

      Although I think you didn’t quite mean it in this way, I think this is a really interesting insight. OP discussed a management path with Rich from the outset and now there are clearly some unanticipated barriers to that. So if it doesn’t work out not only are there potential practical problems to deal with (losing the “MVP”), but she may feel like she is letting him down personally, given their previous discussions and his current expectations. But if Rich has not proved himself management material*, that’s on him, not OP.

      *And I have to echo other comments that he hasn’t. Does he think he proves that by approving PTO and checking whether someone has done X, Y or Z; but yet he doesn’t recognise/respect sensible professional boundaries or get a good read on interpersonal communication? That’s like thinking you’d be a great actor because you can memorize dialogue.

  33. Eva*

    OP, you are concerned about what losing Rich would mean for the success of the project, but have you thought about what his behavior might mean for the other employees? I would wonder if, in your eagerness not to lose Rich, you might not be risking some of the other employees jumping ship. They’re probably livid from dealing with him every day.

  34. Sara M*

    Hello, OP. I’m coming at this with plenty of knowledge of the start-up tech industry and working remotely. While it’s not my field, my husband has worked mostly for start-ups for 15+ years, sometimes remotely. I think some well-meaning posters may be coming at this without really understanding the start-up world and how it’s different from more established places.

    I think Alison is spot-on, as usual (I’m not brown-nosing–it’s eerie how often I agree with her). What I would add to that is: I agree with commenters who say basically “you have a bigger problem than you’d like to think.”

    How likely is it do you think that the person put on PIP (not Rich) will improve? It sounds to me like that person (call him Joe) is going to fail. Which gives you headcount, eventually.

    What I suggest is talk to Rich, as others have described. Be absolutely clear about what he can and can’t do, and that his promotion is on the line. But also, I would do this: Figure out at what point you can let Joe go, if he does not meet PIP, which seems likely. Meanwhile, you should be quietly interviewing people for Joe’s job, and make sure you get a great hire. Someone who really _is_ the go-getter you’re looking for. Bring them up to speed on the project.

    By this point (3-6 months? I hope you have that time…) Rich is no longer so crucial to the project, because you should have a new person who is a great hire. (as for the slightly-lazy person, you should actively step in to make sure they’re doing the work, and don’t rely on either Rich or the new hire to do it).

    This gives you more leeway to deal with Rich appropriately. Good luck!

  35. HR lady*

    I haven’t read every single comment but I do commend the OP for commenting and not being defensive (at least in what I’ve read so far).

    I wanted to add one thing to AAM’s advice: when you are being blunt & direct to Rich, be sure to let him know he has to take “Team Lead” off of his email signature right away. And then hold him to that — if you see an email from him tomorrow or next week or next month with that in the signature, call him out again.

    That is a simple matter of following instructions (“Rich, take the Team Lead off your email signature immediately”) and if he can’t/won’t do that, it’s a good catalyst for a stronger (disciplinary) conversation. It’s also a sign – if he won’t do it after you clearly tell him to, he’s definitely not respecting your authority.

    1. OP*

      Thanks, HR Lady. I’m feeling very defensive right now, so I’m glad to hear I’m not coming off that way.

      What I have done this morning is get a copy of the original offer letter from HR with his specific title. I will be presenting that to him again during our chat and reminding him that if he wishes to use an email signature, this is the only title that is acceptable.

      If it happens again after that – PIP/Dismissal.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        It’s very natural to feel defensive, but what you’re getting are several dispassionate 3rd party views of a situation you’re very invested in. Good luck!

      2. Mike C.*

        You’re doing just fine. I certainly haven’t felt the need to tell the story about the goons and the well.

  36. H. Vane*

    Any possibility of shuffling your teams? If you could bring Rich on site and transfer your best performer on the other team to take his place, you may be able to save the project, help Rich grow, and keep your remote team from going insane. It might not be practical, but you’d know that better than me.

  37. Ask a Manager* Post author

    OP, I don’t know if you’ve weighed in yet on the fundamental question I posed in the post: Have you been explicit with Rich about these problems or not?

    If you have, then this isn’t a development challenge. It’s a performance problem, and an integrity problem too. Those are serious and need to be dealt with as such.

    But if you haven’t been clear with him, then all the condemnation of Rich in the comments section here is misplaced, I think. If you, as a manager, have concerns about an employee that you haven’t shared with that employee, then you as the manager are the one at fault. And that’s the part you need to focus on correcting before you do anything else. It would be really unfair to Rich to come down hard on him if you never clearly told him not to do this stuff.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I should add — when I say you’re at fault, I don’t mean that as an attack. Managers mess this stuff up all the time, including good managers. It’s easy to think that you’ve been clearer than you really have been, and then realize later that while it seemed perfectly clear in your head, it didn’t actually come out that way.

      My point here is just to start by figuring out what your role has been. If you haven’t actually been clear, it would be be premature to go down the PIP road. You need to correct the misimpressions Rich has first, and see how it goes then.

      1. OP*

        No offense taken. I wouldn’t have written you if I didn’t think I had an opportunity to perform better as a manager. If I was on my game, this wouldn’t have happened.

        Writing you to complain about Rich and looking for a response of, “he sucks, you’re awesome” would have been pointless, even if therapeutic. :)

    2. OP*

      I’d like to think that I have been explicit (I’ve told him clearly that he’s not a team lead, that he shouldn’t be involved in certain issues, etc). That being said, I’m beginning to think I probably haven’t. I’ve been heavy on the diplomacy since I have been concerned about squashing his enthusiasm. What seems like it was explicit to me probably hasn’t come that way to him.


      I did tell him that he does not have a team lead title and he shouldn’t be interfering with managerial issues.
      I have said that I appreciate his leadership and that he should be assisting his peers (key word here is PEERS) with technical areas that he is more proficient in.

      Given that, I have been providing a mixed message. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been defending him a bit here. Rich deserves a chance to 1. be told that this is unacceptable in no uncertain terms; and 2. see if he can rebound.

      1. Just a Reader*

        I think his response will be very telling. Does he understand? Does he argue? Does he ask questions to clarify exactly what his role is?

      2. A Teacher*

        But to me, that’s like my boss saying to one of the more experienced staff members serve as a mentor–maybe that’s what you were expecting Rich to do and he’s not exactly doing that–he’s trying to lead, not mentor and there’s a difference, sometimes subtle and maybe that’s a route to take? Just my thoughts.

        1. OP*

          I think this is exactly what is happening. What I need to find out is does he know/understand what mentoring is as opposed to leading? In future conversations I have with young employees, I think I will need to utilize the word “mentor” rather than “leadership”. I use the phrases “lead without authority” and “influence, not mandate” quite a bit while developing employees. It may be causing confusion.

          1. A Teacher*

            See below but I responded to you…don’t group a generation as not knowing what mentorship is on age as in “young” because I’m probably one of those “younger” employees. Group it as unaware.

          2. fposte*

            I wouldn’t use “lead” *or* “mentor.” Those are vague positional terms of the kind that’s already caused trouble. Instead, I’d be extremely specific about what actions you expect him to take. Be a backup viewer for an employee’s first run through a process? Spend an hour demonstrating new software? Get asked a protocol question before the employee takes it to you? I dunno, depends on the office, but those kind of specifics.

            I realize that you may not have thought about it this granularly, but I think crystal clarity is going to get you a lot closer to what you want.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Totally agreed. I was about to post the same thing. Define your terms because what lead/mentor/assist/guide means to you may not have the same meaning to someone else. There are two parts here:

              1. Tell the person what you want.
              2. Give very clear and specific examples of that.

              Sometimes, for example, people will say to their spouse “I need you to be more supportive!” OK, what does that mean? To me, it might mean making dinner every night when they are coming home late from work. To them, it might mean listening to them talk about work issues, getting the kids bathed and in bed, picking up after the dog…

              Definitions of the same word vary wildly from one person to the next. Tell them you want them to mentor or whatever and then define VERY CLEARLY what you mean by that.

            2. Zelos*

              Fposte beat me to this. Yeah, precise definitions are the key. And if any of the things you want are quantifiable, OP, throw in your desired metrics too during this conversation. Lay out your expectations in as clear a manner as possible.

              Coming from the sciences where everything was defined in precise terms with quantifiable numbers, it’s bizarre to me how many people say “I want X!” but can’t tell you (or has to take a really long time to figure out) what X looks like to them.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            I think giving examples of what you would like would be helpful too. More so than word choice, really.

            Rich, when Joe and Al have problems with X or Y, I want them to ask you first. If the problem turns into something bigger I want to be notified immediately.
            However any Z type problems need to come to me directly and immediately.

            Using real life examples conveys the message the best. And then you can add “If you are in doubt about whose domain a given situation falls under, then call me and ask me if I want you to handle it or if I prefer to handle it myself.”

          4. Us, too*

            Just an observation… I’d avoid these kinds of nebulous phrases entirely. “Lead without authority” and “influence, not mandate” can be perceived as “act like someone’s boss without having the title”.

            I agree with those who advise you to be specific:
            * Train Employee B and C to use the WidgetPro v3.7
            * Answer any technical questions that Employee B and C have.
            * DO NOT answer any questions about PTO

            1. Ruffingit*

              I dislike those phrases as well. They sound like corporate speak that can so easily be misinterpreted. I had a boss once who used these types of phrases. I was very new to the working world (in my early 20s, first professional job) so I had no idea what he meant. I asked him straight out “What does that actually mean? I need to understand what you want me to do. Can you give me some concrete examples?” And he couldn’t. He sputtered a bit and did the um, ah thing and then said “You know, just influence, don’t mandate…” Uh, no. No I don’t know. I found it very telling that he couldn’t define what he wanted.

              1. Windchime*

                I still don’t know what those kinds of phrases mean, to be honest. I’d rather just have some clear guidelines.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Same here. I’m all about dropping the corporate speak and just telling me what you need from me.

  38. Becca*

    As I read through the OP and the responses, I keep thinking of Bob Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule. This is an excellent book, and digs into the costs associated with letting assholes have power and wield it within a company.

    Rich may have the right attitude for your product’s success, but his behavior shows that he does not have you, his teammates, or even the company at the heart of what he is doing. He may not be in asshole territory, but his agenda is clearly his own. While he is producing results, he’s not building the relationships nor is he gaining the respect that he will need to build upon his success.

    At this rate, you may get your product, but at what cost to your team and your company?

    Looking at this from the perspective of the team, think about the effect that team turnover will have on your product and your startup’s success. You stated you need more financial success before you can add headcount – are you in a position to backfill if people begin to leave? New hires will bring a training curve – what will that time investment do to you launch timeline? How much turnover can you comfortably absorb and yet still consider your product a viable, sustainable success?

    Also, Sutton explores the phenomenon where like equals like – if Rich has hiring authority, he will begin to hire those who reflect what he sees as successful in himself. Your problem could quickly grow from fixing Rich to fixing an entire team. Are you willing to do that? Again, how well can you absorb that kind of scenario and prevent your team from essentially hijacking your product and your company from you based on their attitudes and operating principles. And I mean this seriously – replace the lazy one and the inappropriate one with Rich clones and assess what the fallout might be for you.

    For whatever my opinion is worth (long time reader, infrequent poster) – I think you should concentrate on replacing Rich despite how difficult that may seem. Build a succession plan. Assign goals. Bring someone else in to take on the responsibilities for Y and Z and then include X into that plan.

    And give Rich the feedback – tell him about what you want in a manager, give him direct examples of how his actions ran counter to that, and give him an opportunity to correct it. Don’t dangle the promise of leadership. Instead, demonstrate the very qualities you want and tell him – explicitly – that you expect him to demonstrate these qualities in his role. His limited, well-defined role.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t consider promoting Rich to management unless he shows some tangible signs of understanding and improvement. If you promote him in 12 months, you run the risk that he will default to this behavior again, only this time he will have some approval from you, whether tacit or explicit, to act in this way. And your staff will see his behavior through the prism of your perceived blessing, since you are the one who offered and gave the promotion.

    Absolutely – follow the suggestions above for publishing an org chart, talking to staff, and reinforcing the structure as well as the expectations.

    It’s a lot to absorb. Good luck.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Rich could be a horrible coworker (I have worked with some people very like the devil-Rich). But Rich really may not be a problem — and he may not have a problem with the other employees.

      My gut says this is a HORRIBLE miscommunication. Basically, Rich was hired to be groomed to be the manager (and no one else was hired with this understanding), and he is in a remote office. I can see it being entirely natural for both him and his coworkers to view him as the team lead and to act accordingly, without anyone feeling bullied or resentful. And even the communication seems to be, if you’re already in that mindset, “you’re totally the leader of this group, but it’s not official so official stuff has to go through me.” I’m not saying that’s right or what is being said anymore — but, again, that’s the problem of the initial miscommunication. They’ve spent the last 6 months or so assuming that Rich is the team lead and is being groomed to be the manager in a year. That creates a real power structure, even if it’s not defined.

      I hate to sound defensive of Rich since he really may not deserve it, but a lot of this sounds like he has been set up to fail. Like, he was explicitly told, “you’re going to be manager in 18 months; I’m grooming you for this; be a leader in the group.” And then, suddenly, when he acts that way (or that way plus 10%), it’s a problem — because that’s really not what the OP meant. But that’s not Rich’s fault, entirely.

  39. A Teacher*

    Depending by your definition of “young” that would be my generation. Don’t group it with being young, group it with being unaware–my 60+ year old father wouldn’t know what mentoring was from a corporate standpoint either (we have discussed this). I know the difference between them and teach them to my students. Mentoring should be clearly defined as offering assistance or teaching the nuances of something that others may not know. It is not leading in that you have the authority to change the outcome of someone’s career and he needs to know he needs to cross-train, offer solutions, and show how you are the “expert” in your content area.

  40. KS*

    One thaught: have you considered that Rich may not be the person that has done the “good job”. After spending so much time micromanaging his coworkers where does he find the time to do any work?
    I can also tell you that it sounds like your employees are afraid of him. I work with a women like that. Bosses think she’s the best at her work, but yet she does nothing. The only thing she does is to spend her entire day verifying every single detail of the departments employees’ work and critisizing it. She bullies anyone who tells her to back off. After, she steals the ideas of others to make it her own. The environment is very toxic because of this one single person and there is a big turn over. If you don’t put your foot down now and follow up with the moral of your employees your project will fail because of Rich. I would suggest that you make it clear that everybody’s work goes dircectly to you without any cc and you’ll see who does what. If Rich does not oblige let him go … trust me he is not worth it. You can find a real leader someone who inspires coworkesr and then employees, not a tyrant.

  41. just laura*

    From the comments, I think the OP sounds like a really solid, thoughtful manager. Just wanted to throw that out there!

      1. Anony*

        Agreed. His responses have been much more collected and calm than mine would have been. I asked a question once and didn’t give every single (mostly unrelated) detail about the situation, and several of the comments made me pretty frustrated. “You should have done X!” when my question was about Y and someone just wanted to spout out their opinion based on an assumption, that kind of thing. That is tame compared to being called a bad manager, so kudos to OP.

  42. Anonymous*

    You really need to talk directly with the other employees at the satellite office to clarify some things.

    (1) Explain to them that Rich is not actually their boss.
    (2) Ask them to honestly tell you if you have not been sufficiently available to them for managerial needs. I think you need to face the honest possibility that Rich is fulfilling a needed role instead of assuming the satellite team does not need an on-site manager. It is possible that you are correct and an on-site manager is unnecessary, but it is also possible Rich is correct and you don’t seem to have assessed this at all. Rich doesn’t necessarily need to be the person who gets the job if said job is required.
    (3) Ask them how the current setup is going. Does having Rich be the de-facto boss work well? If it does, maybe you should go with the flow and be glad he didn’t demand a commensurate title/paycheck. If it is working poorly, maybe you don’t need Rich as much as you thought, and maybe the other team members will step up if Rich steps out.

  43. TheExchequer*

    OP, I get the sense from your letter and your replies that you are, essentially, a good person and a decent boss. You have decided, for whatever reason, that you really value Rick. Without knowing all of the particulars, it’s impossible for us strangers on the internet to know if the value you place on him is valid. Since you haven’t elaborated (probably because you can’t or it will out you), I will take you at your word that he is what you said he is.

    However, from the actions you have documented for us and your vigilant defense of him, it makes us strangers on the internet wonder if the defense of Rick is justified. We have all dealt with someone who thought they were all that and a bag o’chips – who, emphatically, were not all that and a bag o’chips. I’ll bet you have too.

    I’m wondering if, in fact, you think of Rick’s traits as close to traits of your own. Because, to me, what you’ve written so far seems to carry a lot of that. Nothing wrong with that – just that I’ve been in situations like that and, from my own personal experience, know how easy it is to be blind to someone’s faults when you strongly empathize with them.

    As you have written it here, Rick’s actions are insubordination. Nothing more, nothing less. You have told him, specifically and repeatedly, he isn’t something – team lead. He insists he is and undermines your authority by putting it on his e-mail. You have told him, specifically, not to do things (like PTO). He does them anyway. He takes (not asks for – takes) power that, even in the role above him that he is being groomed for is in appropriate.

    Insubordination is not a trait you can easily groom out of someone, if you can groom it out of someone at all. It’s not a mistake when someone does something you specifically told them not to do – it’s rebellion. And most of us have met with enough people like this to know that it’s not a behavior he should be getting a wink and a nod for. Which is why we are concerned that your replies to the subject thus far have all centered around the idea that this can be easily fixed and everything can go on as normal. Which may not be the case.

    Again, we are not in a position to know all the particulars of the situation. You are. And maybe, to you, this is just a miscommunication. Maybe you weren’t absolutely clear with Rick. (I find it difficult to comprehend how someone could misunderstand “You are not team lead” to the degree that they then go and put Team Lead as their position on their e-mail, but I digress). If that’s the case, you should put it down in writing somewhere you can access it easily. Then you can’t be accused of being unclear – you just have to reference what it is you wrote to him.

    The bottom line is that we, the anonymous internet, suspect that there is more trouble with Rick than perhaps you realize. You (and possibly Rick or Rick’s team) are in the position to know whether or not that is the case – but you should definitely find out. We hope for a happy ending for your team.

  44. Artemesia*

    I agree with those raising the question of whether initial expectations have been allowed to override current performance. The last person I hired, I hired in anticipation of my own retirement and thought she would have potential to direct one of the major programs I managed. She was a person with many talents. She also had a reputation of being somewhat abrasive — and since we were a southern company that was a potential problem.

    It was a very hard job to fill and she was by far the best candidate so we went with it. I actually sat down and discussed the norms of the organization with her explicitly. Yet within days she had managed to PO people across the organization by first getting into a conflict with payroll about some practice of theirs and with parking, about parking policies. We were getting calls of ‘who IS this person?’

    More counseling about norms. (she was actually right about the payroll practice, but it was the organization’s practice so going off on the minions implementing it was just inappropriate.) We had put her on some cross departmental committees because she brought new expertise and we thought she would be a good representative of our department which had some image issues. Next thing we know she is badmouthing us outside the department. We were pretty open to criticism within — but we really didn’t need to be kneecapped by our own new potential rockstar.

    So when the time came for me to step aside and transition someone into leadership of one of our key programs, I choose someone else. The rockstar was gobsmacked; she could not imagine why she was not chosen. I on the other hand by this point never actually considered her since she had demonstrated her utter inappropriateness for much of the role.

    I would love for her to have succeeded. She brought so much to the table. But she was a land mind waiting to go off for us within the broader organization. We were happy when she moved on.

    1. Ruffingit*

      This is a great example that having all the technical skills and expertise in the world can be overshadowed by a lack of diplomacy and ability to work within the culture of a company.

  45. Anonymous*

    Just to throw out another point of view, but have you considered that some of the issue might be that the team does in fact NEED a team lead? Perhaps he is noticing behaviours or issues that you are not, because you are not there, and has thus taken on more of a leadership role just to keep things moving. You may be video conferencing several times a day, but that doesn’t replace a ‘present’ role model and leadership figure. If I honestly thought about it, I know that it wouldn’t in my job, and I’m a pretty good self-starter.

    Also consider that this may be why the project is so successful in the first place and why you consider him ‘irreplaceable’. This is not to say he might in fact be going about things in a way that you don’t like, but that could also be because he doesn’t have much management experience (how many people were perfect managers their first time out?) and therefore could probably benefit enormously from your experience. However, because you have framed every conversation with him from a ‘you shouldn’t be doing this’ point of view, instead of a ‘do it this way’ point of view, he probably doesn’t know how to proceed. Perhaps coupled with the other suggestions that you aren’t being as explicit as you think you are, he may just be really confused as well. He sees that the team needs more management, but isn’t getting any direction from you in what it should be.

    Obviously we can’t know all the intricate details of the situation, but really sit down and consider whether a team lead may indeed be necessary for this site? Because I bet you, with more coaching he still would make great manager material. I’m not saying he still doesn’t deserve a good talking to, but it might just mean that you approach it with a little more empathy, and more as a coaching session, than as a blunt, ‘you’re going to be fired because you have too much initiative’….because I know if I had been working my butt off making a project successful in the only way I knew how, in absence of any managers, I would feel pretty put out if I was suddenly blindsided by a remote manager with a conversation like that (you can try to frame it as diplomatically as you like, but I bet you that is how it will come across to him), and I would definitely be looking at leaving.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong, because we don’t know the exact conversations you have had thus far with him, but I just thought I would point out another perspective, before you go about completely deflating someone who might actually be a very invaluable member of your team.

  46. ReeseS*

    From Rich’s perspective, he may be thinking: If I have the same salary as the under-performers, if I’m the only one toiling outside normal work hours, if I’m the only one on the team whose life and career are deeply invested in this company… getting to build my team lead experience may be the only real benefit this job has over other jobs.

    I’ve seen this from both sides. I know how scary it is to have an overzealous employee making rash decisions that should have involved management. I’ve also been de facto team lead in a technical group, when my supervisor had no technical background, someone had to organize schedules and assign tasks, and he had no interest in divvying up tasks that all sounded like Greek to him. Granted, that’s not the situation here, if OP can tell who did what by the coding style.

    Attempting to handle a disciplinary issue without kicking it up to management was a clear lapse of judgment. Still, Rich may not intend disrespect.

    If the team believes they run more smoothly with Rich as a middle layer to handle granular details, announcing “Rich is NOT a team lead” might sound bewildering and punitive, and (at worst) might make OP seem out of touch or overly hung up on titles and hierarchy.

    People with go-getter personalities feel stifled when told “stop doing X” without an accompanying “here’s what you CAN do, to prove you can shoulder more responsibility.” Maybe OP could think of a few concrete management-like responsibilities to delegate to Rich, then clarify for the team which questions fall in his domain and which questions fall in OP’s.

    1. Anonymous*

      It may have been at the end and therefore, less likely to be read, but this is some of the best advice thus far.

  47. Brooke*

    It seems that some people are blaming Rich for egregiously overstepping his bounds. I don’t disagree that he has overstepped, but I can absolutely see how it might have happened in the environment the OP describes.

    I work for a private equity owned business that is growing _very_ aggressively. It is very fast paced, iniative is highly prized, and the CEO far prefers to hire young, aggressive go-getters. Myself definitely included. There is always too much work to be done, and there’s an implicit understanding that we should just take on whatever needs to be done and take ownership of whatever needs to be owned. You put a bunch of go-getters in the same room with limited role definition and we end up stepping on each other’s toes, offending people’s sense of territory and so on. We definitely get stuff done, but it’s an environment that’s ripe for overstepping.

    For instance, I’m a manager, but I completely act like I’m a director. I think it’s justified (I report directly to the CEO, run a critical and autonomous department, am regularly included in the Board of Directors meetings, am tapped as the senior most person on site to, say, host a client VIP while the real directors are out) and that I am doing a good thing for the company by stepping up to fill a void and take on additional responsibility. I know I’m reaching and stretching, but company culture suggests that the benefits of go-getter ness far outweighs the negatives. If I was overstepping too far, I would definitely need someone to tell me explicitly and directly . Hints would never work because they would be inconsistent with the pervasively aggressive company culture.

    Not to say that Rich is doing the right thing by addressing an HR issue himself, he’s clearly not. But I could see how he might think that he’s doing a good thing by proactively taking on more responsibility than required of him in a startup environment.

    1. Brooke*

      And, might I add, OP sounds like a completely reasonable, competent and generally effective manager. Kudos to you for identifying the problem, wanting to tackle it head on, and both soliciting and being receptive to feedback in order to try to ensure you’re approaching the situation effectively. A breath of fresh air after some of the horror stories we read on AAM.

  48. Anastasia*

    It sounds to me as though you have signaled Rich out and gave him the impression that you depend on him. For example, you said that you told him to let you know if there are any personnel problems. Have you asked employees that are equal to his position the same? Also by telling him that you want him on a managerial track indicated to him that he has certain “powers” that his equal co-workers do not have. Why even mention it? I would give everyone the same opportunity to prove if they are or are not on that tract. You did not personally work with Rich before hiring him so you really did not know what qualities he possessed to put him on that track just like you did not know what may make another employee not possess those qualities. To me you are giving Rich mixed signals about his authority. You want to lean on him to keeps things running smoothly without really wanting him to have that authority. You mentioned that you have one on one conferences with him once a week. Do you do that with your other employees? If the answer is yes then you may want to get their perspective on how the “teamwork” is going and how happy or unhappy they are. Do not put all of your attention on Rich, your attention should be equally divided to all of your employees.

  49. Non-anon*

    There are several problems here on both sides of the equation:
    – OP set Rich off in the wrong direction by non initially setting expectations and boundaries around how far his “lead” responsibility should extend.
    – OP is ignoring human nature. Humans are social beings and they tend to self-assemble into hierarchical groups. If you are going to go against nature, expect a good fight. We learn this in OB classes and by simple observation. Remote teams need some kind of leadership structure on site. OP needs to let go of his insecurities and work with Rich so that he can properly fill this role.
    – Advice often given to those seeking to advance is to act the role that you aspire to. This is what Rich is doing. Yes, he needs boundaries, but they need to be clearly and explicitly set. It does not appear that this has happened yet. When any of my reports exhibit leadership behavior, I gently guide it and encourage it, all the while setting the proper expectations. This is a key part of being a manager.
    I do not mean to seem overly critical to OP, but he has a good thing going here and he hold the cards as to the success of failure of this project, not Rich. It would be a shame if OP let his fear of letting someone else lead the team to whatever extent derailed his project.

  50. Samba*

    If he’s good at managing why not let him manage? Is it about pay? or maybe it’s because you prefer the power and control and can’t give up the control when maybe you should.

    I think it’s clear that you didn’t hire the person you really wanted. It’s not Rich’s fault since you said he wanted to pursue some form of managerial career path. So he was hired and he assumed he was on that path but you clearly don’t want him to be on that path for whatever reason, despite the lack of manager on site at his location.

    I’d say you need to decide whether or not you are ready to let the employee manage as he appears to be good at it or fire him and hire an obedient mindless contributor that you can control from a distance via tele-conf and emails. It’s your choice but at the end of the day it was your choice to hire a manager instead of the obedient mindless contributor you really wanted to hire.

  51. Interesting*

    Wow, there is so much to mine here in terms of what’s going on. First of all, I agree with all the posters that site OP’s calmness, lack of personalizing/demonizing and curiosity. So all things point to an accurate characterization on OP’s part of Rich’s behavior. However, I think OP needs to step it up and face the dark side as all everything points to the fact that Rich is fragile, high maintenance and lacking in insight as well as maturity. Three year olds are very good at looking at a problem and deciding what everyone should do – what they lack is the ability to explore other minds and balance their wants and needs against those of others. People like Rich are formidable and toxic. And don’t expect his coworkers to stick their necks out to change things, I’m sure they sense that he’s communicated (and/or they have sensed) that OP has bigger things in store for King Richard.

  52. Luis*

    Hire another guy to overhead Rich. And slowly transfer the responsabilities to the new manager. Then when Rich lowers his productivity, because he has less tasks you can fire him for low responsabilities. And have your staff sogn a confidenciality agreement that if they disclose your emails they can be fired. And let your people know who is the boss.

  53. Autumn*

    I believe it just got to his head. Some mangers like to act like they’ve never been an associate to begin with, like that time in their life never happened. And honestly it’s truly pathetic, especially when one might say “well I’m the manger, we’ll I’m E3” well coagulations, what do you want a medal? Sure it’s something to be proud about but not in places like in department stores or electronic places, that’s just sad and low. Maybe if you were a doctor or lawyer, then of course, but not that that’s just pretty sad. But don’t act like you’ve never started off small. Please don’t acting like human waste. Even human waste has more value than behavior like that. But I believe it might have gotten into Richard’s head. Remember everyone is equal manger or associate.

Comments are closed.