update: telling a difficult, pushy employee that she’s right … without undermining your own authority

Remember the letter last month about how to tell an overly pushy employee that she was right, without undermining her manager? Here’s the update.

Just a quick update. While I really appreciated your great advice, and all the suggestions in the comment section, unfortunately we didn’t get to put much of it into practice. Megan met with Sarah to deliver the message that we were going to give her plan another shot, but that Sarah needed to behave more professionally in the future, which Sarah (I’m told) took appropriately. However, Sarah evidently felt like this wasn’t enough of a win, and sent me an email laying out her case and asking for me to make some kind of statement to the whole team that Megan had made a mistake and Sarah had been right all along (it’s not clear to me if Sarah realized that I’d been in the loop already).

Sarah’s email contained a strong implication that I should fire or demote Megan, along with a bunch of pseudo-management-speak evaluating Megan’s skills (for example: “Megan evinces a clear and total inability to correctly and/or fairly evaluate the relative strength of analysts’ contributions”).

At this point, I fired her. I was sorry to lose someone with so much potential, but I wasn’t willing to have Megan’s entire team be consumed by Sarah-drama for however long it would have taken to get her straightened out.

That said, I still think the conversation on the original post helped me figure out some weaknesses with how I’d set up the division, and contained all kinds of advice that I’m finding useful as I get more comfortable with this position. Thank you again, and sorry I didn’t have a more satisfying resolution!

Me again. I … actually think that’s a pretty satisfying resolution, given how over the top Sarah was being.

{ 443 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    Oh man I was just thinking about that thread and wondering if we would get an update! You made the right call, Sarah is toxic and at this point her career she can’t seem to conduct herself professionally. Hopefully she learns from this.

    1. MuseumChick*

      One more thing OP! I agree with Alison that this is satisfying update! I love it when people think tantrums will get them what they want or they severally underestimate how much weight they have to throw around and the world goes “NOPE!”.

      1. Luna Schlosser*

        100% agree! I thought to myself, actually this is the MOST satisfying update.

      2. Marisol*

        hard bargainers, man…you gotta know how much leverage you have if you’re gonna play that game.

        1. sstabeler*

          Hard bargaining is about knowing exactly how far you can push without the other side walking away. This wasn’t hard bargaining. (one good example of hard bargaining I remember is on the show Gold Rush- one of the miners had perennial trouble due to their claim owner only offering them leases for each year. then, the claim owner needed to hire an ex-employee that was under a non-compete- the miner used the fact they had the claim owner over a barrel to get a two-year lease, not just one. (the miner’s attitude also impressed the business owner- it was “you need the non-compete waived, I need a lease on a claim- can we make a deal?” not “I’ve got you over a barrel, do what I say” which makes a considerable difference.)

      3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I was about 70/30 on it playing out exactly like this.

      4. Wendy Darling*

        Seriously! I haven’t been this satisfied since a problem employee on a team I worked with told his manager he wanted a raise or he quit and she cheerily accepted his resignation.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “Give me a raise or I quit!”

          “Oooh. promise?”

        2. MuseumChick*

          My dad had this happen to him. He was a manager and one of his reports basically came into his office and said “Give me a raise or I quit!” My dad’s response, “Ok, let’s discussion how the transition is going to work. How many of your project do you think you can wrap up? We’ll need a list of ongoing ones as well.”

          It was of the best stories he told me about how to NOT act in a workplace.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            My dad calls this the Sheriff Bart technique.

        3. Rena*

          Oh god, I did this. Thankfully, I was only 17 and my manager was used to handling teenagers. She gave me the raise, but very clearly told me that was not the way to ask for it. Never do that again!

        4. CaitlinM*

          CACKLING. This recently happened at my work: a problematic programmer said “I’m leaving unless you do x, y and z!” and management went “So sorry to see you go!”

          It was great.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      Wow, just wow. How interesting that winning wasn’t enough for Sarah. So the only thing that was going to satisfy her was her “enemy’s” total annihilation? Goodness.

      Great call, OP!

      1. Karen D*

        Right. OP absolutely handled this beautifully! She stood up for the principle “best idea should prevail” while proving she would back her management team.

        I was about to say “the only loser here is Sarah,” but that might not even be the case. I’ve heard more than one extremely bright, driven person talk about benefiting from one huge, slap-in-the-face moment when they realize that being super-smart is not the only skill that matters. If Sarah learns from this, she could actually come out of it stronger.

        1. AMG*

          This. It sucks learning the hard way but it is so very effective. I was wondering about this one too, so thanks for the update and I’m so glad for the all-around win. Kudos to you for backing your people so well!

        2. Jadelyn*

          Sadly it’s only about 50/50, in my experience, whether this proves to be a wake-up call for her, or whether she interprets it as further proof that the mundane people of the world can’t properly handle her brilliance, a la that one person who wrote in that they’d been fired for “showing initiative” after trying to go over their boss’s head.

      2. LoiraSafada*

        I’ve worked with someone like this. It’s pretty horrifying. Not surprisingly, they were also fired.

      3. Editrix*

        My boss said the other day about someone like this, “She won’t take yes for an answer.”

        1. em2mb*

          LOVE that phrasing. It describes a common phenomenon in my office: we’re generally in agreement, but there’s always that person who *really* wants the credit.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Setting that aside for the next time my grandboss is on a tear even while the rest of us are agreeing with him. Love it!

        3. Lissa*

          This reminds me of somebody I’ve described as “the only person I know who can get in an argument with you when you’ve done nothing but agree.” Unfortunately (or fortunately) in my case it’s a family member, not a coworker!

      4. Kathleen Adams*

        It’s also kind of a relief. I agreed with Alison’s answer to the original question that if Sarah’s plan was the better one, it was the one that should be presented to the client…but the thought of rewarding behavior that was so arrogant and obnoxious did stick in my craw. But hey, problem solved.

        And if Sarah is as talented as the OP says, I do hope she learns from the experience. Heck, she doesn’t even have to admit to anyone but herself that she learned from it, so long as she really does learn.

      5. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        There’s also the matter of the histrionic, managementbabble-laced scathing takedown, which made my eyes roll so hard they will serve future generations as a source of renewable energy.

        1. JanetM*

          “…which made my eyes roll so hard they will serve future generations as a source of renewable energy.”

          This is a beautifully crafted phrase. I believe I will sit here quietly and admire it for a bit.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Ooh, I’ve always been fond of describing my eyes as rolling improbable distances – like, off to the coast for a long weekend without me – but I like the renewable energy one!

      6. kewlm0m*

        Straight out of “The Godfather Part II”:
        TOM: I mean you’ve won; do you have to wipe everyone out?
        MICHAEL: I don’t feel I have to wipe everyone out, just my enemies …

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, OP—I think you did what was necessary/right, and the update is satisfying.

      It’s horrifying that Sarah had the temerity to write you such an inappropriate email and make demands that you should publicly shame or humiliate Megan by making an announcement about how Sarah was #winning (!??!?—there are not enough interrobangs to reflect the WTF-ness of this). Although my job dropped at her request for public denouncement, I’m sadly not surprised that she did this.

      It’s not ok to be a sore winner, and it’s not ok to try to backstab your coworkers. I’m sure Sarah has interpreted her firing as “I was just too talented, and they refused to let me shine and would not let me bask in my glory as the Smartest. Person. Ever.” But maybe, if she has any capacity for introspection, she’ll take this as a kick in the butt to stop behaving like a garbage person.

      1. MW*

        I wonder if the OP gave her a clear picture of why she was being fired? I’d hope so. Of course, given what we’ve heard about Sarah, it’s hard to tell if she’d hear the truth even if you said it to her in plain terms. It seems pretty clear that when Megan said “we’ll use your idea but you need to quit the insubordination” what Sarah heard was “I have been defeated by your amazing idea, my incompetency is laid bare! Strike me down now and reap the rewards”

        1. Another Sarah (but not a Sarah if you know what I mean)*

          I think if Sarah is as smart as she appears, she’ll learn from this. It might take a while for it to sink in exactly why she was fired but I have hope in 10 years time she’ll look back on this as “The Embarrassing Incident”

          1. Sans*

            Unfortunately, people can be very smart in one way, but very dumb in others. She may be exceedingly talented at her work, but not so sharp when it comes to interpersonal relations.

          2. Chalupa Batman*

            Yes, that’s my sincere hope for Sarah as well-that one day in the near future, this will be her embarrassing “how I lost a job for being an incorrigible jackass, so glad I know better now!” story.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I truly do hope she learns from the experience and realizes it wasn’t about how smart she is/was. I’ve met folks like Sarah who are able to course correct, and they often end up being fantastic people and are also more likely to be moved into leadership positions. But I’ve also met folks who think it’s about other people not realizing how they’re “clearly superior and smarter,” and they end up drifting laterally to similar positions without being able to advance (and in my experience, they often want to advance). And the latter is kind of painful/sad to see, but is also such a normal consequence/outcome of not understanding why they were let go.

    4. Artemesia*

      Kudos for doing what was needed. Imagine having to live with this nonsense indefinitely with Sarah.

  2. Bookworm*

    I feel that this post underscores a lot of what we often tell letter writers: you have to be really considerate and thoughtful with how you frame things if you decide to go over your boss’s head.

    And it’s a tool that should be used very sparingly.

  3. Murphy*

    I think you did the right thing, OP. Keeping her around wouldn’t have done anybody any favors.

  4. paul*

    hopefully this’ll be a wakeup call for her too. IIRC she was fairly new to the workplace. Sometimes a cold hard dose of reality wakes people up a bit.

    Glad the responses helped you put better practices in place too!

    1. starsaphire*

      I agree; I am hoping that Sarah really learns something from this, and takes it to heart.

      Sometimes it’s the hard lessons, like this, that have the most impact. As with the memorable story about the intern with the petition… this is just not how the workplace functions, and OP did her a big favor by teaching her this lesson swiftly, thoroughly, and early enough to hopefully make an impact.

    2. OhBehave*

      She would only have continued to undermine and create drama. Tough but good call. If Sarah had only handled it differently, with respect this may have had a different outcome.

  5. Kora*

    You totally made the right call. I’m wincing at your description of that email. Who knows, maybe Sarah will learn from this, given some time and distance. She certainly needs to.

    1. AD*

      You’re exactly right. Sarah was straight up insubordinate….maybe she’ll learn a lesson here (or maybe she won’t).

      1. A.*

        Well, even if she doesn’t learn a lesson, I imagine there are workplaces out there where a Sarah could thrive and shine. Assuming she doesn’t have to work collaboratively and play nice with others.

        Either way, sounds like OP did the right thing for everyone in this scenario.

    2. JGray*

      I agree with you about the email. The original behavior in itself was horrible but then to step over the line and actually think that you can evaluate your supervisor. I’m of the belief that supervisors can change their mind on things if it turns out that conditions change. The email was insubordination- and documentation of the insubordination- so Sarah needed to be fired.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      My mouth fell open when reading what Sarah emailed. I truly hope she takes this as a learning experience and doesn’t repeat her same mistakes.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        But if I were a bettin’ man, I’d be laying my money on the opposite: Sarah takes this as evidence that her talent was wasted on Megan and Letter Writer, is convinced that she was fired merely for advocating for her idea, and will tell Glassdoor and all her friends all about the hill she gloriously died on, a martyr for her own brilliance.

        1. designbot*

          Yep, story at the next interview will be, “I felt really boxed in there and am looking for an environment that values innovation and creative thinking.”

  6. Doug Judy*

    Just goes to show that just being good at the technical aspects of ones job isn’t the only thing that’s important. Emotional intelligence is sadly often overlooked. You made the right call OP.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreed completely. Hopefully Sarah will learn from this.

      (and I couldn’t resist replying to you :P)

  7. I finally commented on something*

    Wow. In the past, I have been a Sarah… except up to that email b.s. requesting a public flogging. That’s pointlessly cruel and warrants the firing she got.

    1. PollyQ*

      Yeah, it’s not enough for Sarah to be right, she needs everyone to know how wrong Megan was. Yikes!

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        There’s nothing worse than working with someone whose MO is to try to make themselves look good by making everyone else look bad.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I know, right?! It’s exhausting to feel that you have to spend half your energy working and the other half watching your back. And in the end, I think it has a negative impact on morale, productivity, and work quality.

  8. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Part of being a team player is knowing when to cut your losses and be gracious. Having a scorched earth philosophy with your boss does not win you anything. Firing her was the right move.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        That’s the part that’s getting me! The original description of the behavior could have been a description of someone who’s assertive and talented and just needs some training in soft skills/picking her battles. But wanting a public statement of “I was right and you were wrong” and then implying that your boss should get demoted or fired for initially making the ‘wrong’ decision? Yiiiiiiikes. That’s not someone who has a strong personality and a little difficulty letting go of an idea, that’s someone who has a serious (and seriously weird need not only to be right, but to win by ensuring that other people lose.

        If I was on this team, I’d be really happy that the company didn’t put up with her sore winner attitude, because had she been able to get away with this, I’d be really leery about collaborating with her ever, on anything.

        1. Kimberly R*

          Also, Megan wasn’t “wrong” exactly. The plan she picked was decent. It just wasn’t as creative and interesting as the plan that the OP thought was best. So no one was in the wrong here, its just that one plan was slightly better than the other. Sarah needs to take a hard look at herself and her behavior.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Very true. I think that the most stand-out thing to me is the assumption that Sarah is making that work is somehow… how to put this… necessarily adversarial? Like, you are in competition with your coworkers/manager, and there are winners and losers, and everyone should know who won and who lost, and etc. It seems like a deeply unpleasant way to approach work.

            1. Willis*

              Unpleasant and counterproductive! I want to work with people who challenge and inspire me so we can collectively be a really high-performing team. Looking to work somewhere where people fawn over you while you secretly (or not-so-secretly) think they’re losers probably means you’re working at a pretty crappy place (and not somewhere that’s going to be winning the most interesting clients or projects).

            2. Annonymouse*

              Maybe she sees it like the rankings in “Enders Game” or like a modern day version of “The Hunger Games”.

              Also Meagan wasn’t wrong in picking the plan she did – the presentation on it was more developed and thought out in terms of potential downsides and polish.

              I would love to hear what OP told Sarah in the firing conversation.

        2. Serin*

          > If I was on this team, I’d be really happy that the company didn’t put up with her sore winner attitude

          Yes, the other members of the team are the main audience for all this. I can think of former jobs where I would have been so happy if management had shown that normal rules of polite behavior applied to everyone, even the people who fancied themselves superstars.

      2. paul*

        Yep. I’m trying to tell myself maybe she’s going to learn from this but that degree of egotism is…out there.

        1. LKW*

          I’m sure there are plenty of work places in which her Death Battle approach will be encouraged and supported. It just happens that LW is sane and a good boss.

  9. Isben Takes Tea*

    That whole sentence encapsulates an attitude that proves Sarah has a “clear and total inability to correctly and/or fairly evaluate the relative strength” of her own behavior. It’s unfortunate that she’s holding herself back, but you made the right call for everyone!

  10. Havarti*

    You did the right thing, OP. Sarah chose to double down rather than back down. Hopefully she’ll actually learn something from this and go forward in life with a different attitude.

    1. Jennifer Walters*

      She fired Sarah.
      “I was sorry to lose someone with so much potential, but I wasn’t willing to have Megan’s entire team be consumed by Sarah-drama for however long it would have taken to get her straightened out.”

    2. PollyQ*

      I think the next sentence: “I was sorry to lose someone with so much potential, but I wasn’t willing to have Megan’s entire team be consumed by Sarah-drama for however long it would have taken to get her straightened out.” indicated that it was Sarah that was fired.

    3. Mephyle*

      …I wasn’t willing to have Megan’s entire team be consumed by Sarah-drama for however long it would have taken to get her straightened out.

    4. H.C.*

      I’m sure it’s fired Sarah – given that she was the problem employee in both the original letter & this followup

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, if it had meant Megan I would not have reacted as I did.

      (But it seems clear from the context that OP fired Sarah.)

  11. Allie*

    Thank you for supporting your manager. Sometimes what individuals don’t see is the amount of info a manager can be fed and that it is inevitable that a subordinate will get something right the manager gets wrong due to greater familiarity or time spent on something. I have found both as a supervisor and a supervisee that part of a job is admitting mistakes but also reasonably accepting the limitations of both yourself and others. This kind of vindictive stuff is just so disruptive.

  12. Nic*

    Just adding to the pile of folks saying you did the right thing. You needed to look out for the rest of the people there, and she was making it clear what kind of environment she was causing.

  13. Marillenbaum*

    Sounds like Sarah has taken the KFC approach to the workplace with that double-down. Firing her was definitely the right move; like you said, it’s important to focus on the team and the work, not continual Sarah-drama.

          1. Kidneys!*

            The Double Down was that insane sandwich with two pieces of fried chicken instead of bread.

          2. dappertea*

            KFC has a sandwich called “the Double Down” because it uses two fried chicken patties in place of buns. I think that’s what’s being referenced here.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          I think it’s a reference to their “double-down” sandwich, using two chicken fillets as the “bun”. They’re pretty heavy and calorie-laden (cheese, bacon, fried chicken, etc.), so I think it was a cutesy way to explain the “more is better!” heavy-handed approach of Sarah.

          1. paul*

            aren’t they only like 600 calories or something? I remember being surprised they weren’t worse. Hell on the sodium though.

  14. PB*

    Firing Sarah was the right call. I really hope this is the start of good things for you and your employees!

  15. Future Analyst*

    Wow. I’ve had my share of moments when I’ve questioned how final decisions were being made, but Sarah’s reaction was so, so inappropriate. I am sad for her that she couldn’t see that at the time, but I hope that getting fired will have her rethinking her approach… though I could also see her writing to Alison and saying “I was fired for pushing my project, even though my grandboss said I was right, and my manager was bad at managing.”

    1. RVA Cat*

      Sounds like Sarah is exactly the sort of person who goes on to start a toxic small business.

      1. fposte*

        With explanations like “I was too smart to work for other people, and I intimidated them.”

          1. Parenthetically*

            Well Chris from Parks and Rec has had a long and, since Ben came on the team, successful career as cheerleader/idea guy, so… ;)

          2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            I think about him too. I remember reading that letter thinking “He cannot be serious!” But he was.

              1. Paxton Sparrow*

                I have a 22 year old I am having difficulty placing right now due to lack of key skills (which he doesn’t seem interested in filling) who told me my problem is that I am not positioning him for ‘strategic’ projects because that is where he is highly experienced.

                It took me a second to realize he was being serious.

              2. A Cita*

                This line is pure gold:

                And while it’s entirely possible that your ideas are great, there’s also a very good chance that your ideas are kind of terrible.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Oh yes. I have an inlaw who said exactly this about first his college professors- (actually, started in high school, truth be told) before he dropped about a couple times, and now he’s starting his own business because he says the same about various former bosses.

          And all of the problems he’s had are always others fault for being intimidated by him because he’s so much smarter than they are and he has nothing to learn from any of them.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            That always reminds me of the saying, “If you meet an asshole in the morning, you’ve met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

              1. paul*

                It can be a daily struggle, I know. I wish it was something I could tattoo on myself but it’s a bit long

            1. Annonymouse*

              Can we add “unless you work in customer service” to this?

              Because it’s quite possible to have a parade of a$$holes and not be one in that environment.

              But I wholeheartedly agree!

        2. CM*

          I actually had someone say this in an interview. And he gave multiple examples of how he basically antagonized all the people he worked with, and insisted that he knew how to do EVERYBODY else’s job better than they did, from secretaries to IT people to his own bosses. And this was somebody who had been around the block a few times, not somebody new to the workforce. It was the worst interview I’ve ever seen, including the person who answered “Why do you want this job?” with “I need the money.”

          1. Letter Writer*

            Very early on in my career I was hiring a couple dozen entry level people for short-term part-time work (think door-to-door canvassing, phonebanking, etc.) and, when asked why they wanted the job, one man told me this (direct quote):

            “Well, I’m just real into cash opportunities.”

          2. Freya UK*

            My fiancé just got a new job by answering a similar question with a similar answer (the money one) – they loved his honesty xD They also already love him a month in, so that’s good too.

            Tbh that’s the true answer for most people – I don’t know why we have to pretend we’d be sat there selling our services if we didn’t actually just need to pay the bills…

            1. Jadelyn*

              Seriously – I’m fine with “because I need money to survive” as an answer. I get that they want to hear why you’re interested in that specific job, that specific company, whatever, but let’s be real here, the reason we all work is because we’ve got bills to pay if we want to live. I’d actually like the honesty and forthrightness of a candidate who answered that bluntly.

    2. AMG*

      I really hope so too. I hope Sarah has someone in her life to be clear with about what exactly happened and why. I’m sure in the aftermath there is no accountability but perhaps in time…

      1. Letter Writer*

        That definitely seems like eerily familiar behavior. Ages are way different, but otherwise…

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        She wasn’t quite a Sarah. She was still an intern and had the sense to write in to Alison. Hopefully Alison set her on a better path.

        Sarah thinks she already knows it all.

  16. Amber T*

    Whoa. She probably took the initial conversation with Megan “appropriately” because she was silently planning her downfall. Did she really expect you to fire Megan over her email? It’s one thing if an employee has actual issues with her manager and brings it to the attention of the grandboss, but not like this. 100% inappropriate.

    Crappy situation, OP, but I think it was definitely the right call. (I kind of wish I was a fly on the wall of that conversation too.)

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I imagine Sarah’s​ train of thought was that she’d get Megan getting fired and Sarah would then get hired as the manager. She was probably salivating at the prospect when she sent that email.

      1. OhNo*

        You know, that’s what came to mind for me, too. I was trying to imagine what her endgame might be for an email like that, and then I realized… she might want to be the manager, with Megan either under her or out entirely.

        I wonder if she will ever realize that you don’t get promoted just for being “right”?

        1. AD*

          I’ll also add that for the original letter, a lot of commenters were seemingly supporting Sarah’s cause because she was “right” (or because her idea was, admittedly, better). I think this shows demonstrably that soft skills, good judgement, and a host of other factors matter more for professional success than being “right”.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        I thought that too, that she was hoping to parlay this into being made the manager in Megan’s stead. (Actually, my immediate thought was ‘she thought she smelled blood in the water and assumed it was time to go in for the kill.’ Which only works if your workplace is a shark tank….)

      3. designbot*

        I used to be a little bit of a Sarah (like, 20% Sarah, 80% normal), and it’s taken me like a decade to realize that managing sort of sucks. A type A personality tends to want to reach the next rung of the latter almost reflexively, but the reality is that there is an incredible amount of comfort in having less responsibility.

        1. Sans*


          That’s my career in a nutshell. Happy to be an outstanding individual contributer. But don’t ask me to manage.

  17. Anna*

    “Not only was I right, I was super-duper right. Please tell Megan’s team that I was super-duper right and Megan wasn’t just wrong, but super-duper wrong.”

    Ugh. Sarah. You missed the mark by a mile.

    Great update, OP!

    1. Jillociraptor*

      People who are always pushing an agenda can be very difficult, but when their agenda is entirely self-aggrandizing, it’s completely intolerable. When the person is working from a position of genuinely wanting to benefit the company or the work, coaching can help them learn to be more effective; when they’re just being smug and self-promoting, there’s little hope. You made the right call, OP!

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Your first sentence is so very true…it’s just, every time they open their mouths, I want to get out the duct tape.

      2. Elfie*

        Oh gosh, I really hope I’m not one of those people. I go into every job I have with exactly the same agenda, to set up a particular function that doesn’t yet exist, and that the company doesn’t know they want or need yet (I’ve yet to be hired to set that particular function up). But the reason I want to set the function up is because I know how important it is, whilst most companies say they do, but just pay it lip service (think quality control type of thing). I hope I’m not a Sarah!!

        1. Jessica*

          You’re not a Sarah if you actually CAN improve company performance in the way you say you can, from conception to implementation. In other words, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Sarah couldn’t back it up because her idea wasn’t ready for implementation, but she was treating everyone involved as though her raw idea should be treated as more of an accomplishment, and given higher priority, than everyone else’s fully-strategized and researched plan.

        2. Lance*

          In my opinion, it’s great that you want to do something like that — greater still if you have the skills and knowledge to back it up! — but I’m not sure making it your prime directive will really benefit you, unless it falls under the scope of the jobs you’re applying for. I’d suggest more so focusing on the job responsibilities at first, excel in those, and get a better feel for the company from the inside so that you can have even more to back your plans related to things you’ve observed from there.

          As for the first sentence, though, if you’re not being aggressive, nor actively trying to sabotage people to your benefit, you should be fine!

          1. sstabeler*

            The way I read it, it IS something that SHOULD be part of the job description, but most companies don’t actually realize it’s a good idea until someone pushes quite hard for it.

            I doubt this is the function in question, but one example could easily be computerizing record keeping. It can make a LOT of things significantly easier (for instance, if both company assets and employees have their records computerized in a database designed correctly, you can ensure that as part of the process of hiring someone, the system automatically creates their account, gives them the appropriate access rights and arranges for their computer to be set up (and if necessary, purchased) all before they arrive for their first day- allowing said employee a smoother onboarding process, which has to be good for getting an employee up-and-running quicker.)

    2. Aunt Margie at Work*

      Excellent reply. Honestly, the only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner. Like, dude, do you want sky writing?

          1. PepperVL*

            Of course not! She wants everyone to be able to read it, even people with dyslexia! (Which is actually the saving grace of comic sans – it’s the best mainstream font for dyslexia.)

            1. Relly*

              I didn’t know that!

              There are actually fonts out there specifically created to be easier for dyslexics — Dyslexie is one, and Open Dyslexia another. I usually recommend the second one to people, since it’s open source and therefore free.

              Disclaimer: I don’t have dyslexia. I have no idea how effective these fonts may be.

              1. plain_jane*

                the article about Comic Sans I read pointed out that it’s helpful to have a font which is already installed – even if the others are open source, it requires an extra degree of tech savvy, and won’t be on all machines.

            2. Noobtastic*

              HA! I KNEW there was a reason I liked that font!

              Yes, I always knew I was weird, but it just felt so comfortable for me. To have it validated like that, though, is awesome! Thanks for that info!

    3. Tempest*

      Getting the best result for the client really ought to be enough to prove you were super duper right and give you job satisfaction. Not to tear a successful manager to the ground because you had one idea that was a bit more creative than hers. I can’t imagine going over a boss’ head with something like this. Talk about way outside the bounds of normal behaviour. End of the day they didn’t even really have to do anything but tell the team they’d decided to go with X idea. Sarah’s ideas belong to the company if she shares them at work. Ugh, what a misstep. Here’s hoping Sarah uses this as a wake up call, not a way to feed her ego that she was shining so bright this company couldn’t handle her brilliance.

      1. one_from_europe*

        It depends on the company culture. In my consulting team it’s frequently impossible to discuss anything with my direct boss and I have to go one step higher – normally putting my direct boss in cc. That’s a quite normal behavior in my team.

  18. Lily in NYC*

    I would love to know how Sarah reacted to the firing! She must be feeling very wronged (because people like that tend not to be very self aware).

    1. MuseumChick*

      This is a good point and leads to something else. OP, I would keep my ears open, I just foresee Sarah telling anyone who will listen and totally-and-completely-terrible Teapots Design Inc is and how they toooooaaaaaatally undervalued her and never listen to her ideas and fired her for JUST trying to push a good idea.

      I really hope she takes this as a learning opportunity but given the information we have from your two letters I fear she will go the “I was right, they were wrong, they are a terrible company” route.

      1. H.C.*

        Yes, and also – if you do continue to incorporate some of Sarah’s ideas into your final project implementation, she may use it as a “they stole my ideas then fired me” narrative.

        1. Fellow Moomin fan*

          Your work product (in this case the ideas) is owned by your employer​, though, isn’t it? Even if they fire you afterwards.

          1. H.C.*

            yes, I’m just thinking of it as a reputation-shaming perspective (say, a nasty Glassdoor review or at professional networking events) – similar to MuseumChick’s comment about Sarah potentially badmouthing the OP’s company

    2. Jaguar*

      People do change and losing a job is often a shocking and hugely negative event in people’s lives that can prompt profound changes. It’s possible you’re right, but you’re giving a person you don’t know a pathology on the basis of your own biases. You should consider only doing that when you have the evidence to support it.

      1. MuseumChick*

        And I certainly hope she does change from this (which I stated very clearly) all I can go on is the evidence from the two letters. Nor do I say she will do this, just, give the evidence, I could see her going down a continued path of “I was right and they are wrong”.

        1. Just Jess*

          *Snort* OK, that’s a funny reply even though I’m inclined to review my biases and knee-jerk reactions regularly.

          …Thinking about changing my screen name to ridiculously judicious.

        2. Jaguar*

          I’m suggesting you should consider unraveling this bias you have. I don’t think they help you. Up above, “I finally commented on something” said they were a Sarah in the past and grew past it and others have commented similarly in the past here. There’s evidence already that you’re wrong.

          I’m not suggesting you stop being wary – I would agree that there’s a likelihood of what you suggest and I’ve certainly met many people who fit your description – but the way you phrased that seemed like you feel this is the only possible outcome and it’s not. If I read it right, this bias holds you back.

      2. Torrance*

        I agree, Jaguar. It’d be nice if perhaps we extended some of the kindness that Alison asks of the commentariat for the letter writers to the people they are writing about; we are, after all, only hearing one side of the story and people typically try to present themselves in the best light (because that is, after all, human nature).

      3. LCL*

        Biases? One person’s biases are another person’s personal experience. This blog’s comment section is appropriate for speculation on what happens next, as long as we can keep it within Alison’s rules.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I don’t see a problem with Lily’s comment.

          (Although if we all had to stick to only things provable by fact, it would cut the comments down to 10% of their current level and neatly solve my problem of what to do about the overwhelming number of comments lately.)

            1. Annonymouse*

              Nope, got to rank us commenters on a stack /bell curve rating.

              But only if we list everywhere we’ve ever commented, what the mods thought of us and our likes/up votes/gold other statuses.

          1. Expat*

            I’d love a Reddit -style upvote option. By the time I read the comments, usually a hundred other people have already written what I was going to say. It would be nice to be able to agree with posting a redundant new comment… And maybe it would cut down on the dogpiling. No one needs to be told they’re wrong by 30 different people.

            1. Expat*

              “It would be nice to be able to agree with posting a redundant new comment”

              I meant without.

          2. Arduino*

            I am a long time reader (4 years) and I am not seeing a problem with the larger comments section.

            Honestly going back and reading some of the comments on your much earlier posts I found those pretty negative. There was a golden era of 3 years or so where there was a niche group of regular commenters which are now overrun by a new group … but I don’t see one as better or worse.

            Some of the old guard have really helped me. Some of the old guard were extremely insulting (I was called names and accused of condoning child molestation once because I stated I thought sports but slaps were ok!)

            Some of the new guard have been just as helpful and I personally feel that the negativity is way down in the last year.

          3. Relly*

            My current pet peeve is how halfway down any given page, someone will chime in with “I haven’t read all the comments, but did anyone else notice (Thing)?”

            Yes. Twenty people did. There are several threads about it already. Something you might have realized if you had, you know, read the comments.

            1. sam*

              back in the old television without pity days, it was a banning offense to not read the entire thread (and especially to loudly proclaim it) – I sometimes miss that.

              1. Lily in NYC*

                I loved that too! But boy oh boy, some of their moderators were petty tyrants who let their “power” go to their heads.

                1. Annonymouse*

                  Oh my gosh, yes!

                  I left a popular fanfiction site because the main moderator was very Ban Hammer happy and had a habit of jamming their authority down our throats.

                  And woe betide anyone who disagreed with them and tried to make a case for themself.

                  I’m glad that Alison is very reasonable and respectful which in turn makes us want to be.

    3. MMDD*

      That’s what I was just about to comment! Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation…

    4. Serafina*

      I’m wondering the same. LW, might we beg a little detail on how Sarah responded to the firing? Dare we hope that she expressed some remorse and/or a hint of self-awareness, or was it indignation all the way?

    5. Letter Writer*

      She was pretty stunned and wanted to debate at great length. I suspect she expected to be promoted to Megan’s job, not fired.

      That said it wasn’t a long interaction — my rule when it comes to firing people (which fortunately I don’t have to do too often) is to clearly explain why they’re being fired, cover logistical details like remaining pay, and then end the conversation. I know it sounds harsh, but my experience is that allowing things to drag out gives the false impression that the employee can argue or negotiate their way out of being fired, which is much more cruel. I know personally I’d rather get to “bad thing happened” rather than be stuck in “bad thing is happening, oh God how can I stop it” for an hour.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Totally agree.

        I’m curious — do you have a sense of how the rest of Sarah’s team took it? I’m wondering if they were shocked or not at all surprised.

        1. Letter Writer*

          This is second-hand from Megan — she told the team — but I take it that there was quite a bit of surprise. I think most people expected Sarah’s work contributions to outweigh anything else (and to be fair, they didn’t know about the e-mail she sent).

          The overall reaction definitely leaned strongly towards relief, though.

          1. MuseumChick*

            I’m sorry to keep being so noisy but, if you are willing to share, what did you tell Sarah when “clearly explaining why” she got fired? I’m just wondering what your wording was. Again, sorry for being noisy! I’m just super curious.

          2. paul*

            Somehow I’m not shocked that relief was a prevailing feeling, given what you’ve shared with us.

            I’ve worked with a handful of *real* winners over the years, but nothing like that (at least that I know of!).

            1. AD*

              Very much agreed.

              In my experience, when someone is as insubordinate as Sarah was regarding her manager, they are also like a bull in a china shop in relation to their peers/colleagues.

              1. Annonymouse*

                How did Sarah think this was going to go?

                You’ve had one good idea but haven’t put in any work to make it a plan we can implement, undermined your manager, pulled your coworkers off task into unnecessary drama and shown you would be terrible at managing people and difficult situations.

                Congratulations you have your managers job by simply asking for them to be fired! Hope none of your coworkers do the same to you since I clearly chose promotions and demotions via random emails and not the behaviour or track records of performance I can clearly see!

      2. MuseumChick*

        Thank you for indulging out curiosity. I like your approach to firing. Luckily I have never been either fired or had to fire someone. I’m going to keep this in mind if I ever have to.

        I too, am curious how the team took it.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Thank you for letting us know! And your firing method sounds like the right way to do it. I got laid off once and it took all of 30 seconds.

      4. Bonky*

        It sounds like you’re really excellent at your job. I don’t think you could have handled anything here better than you did.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I suspect she expected to be promoted to Megan’s job, not fired.

        That was absolutely the vibe I got from reading your description of her email.

      6. Jadelyn*

        Firing someone really seems like a band-aid situation – just rip the sucker off and have done with it. There was one young man my grandboss fired last year who tried to argue – ironically, one of the reasons he was being let go was because he was constantly argumentative with both coworkers and managers. I wasn’t in the room, I was in the next room, but I could hear through the door when my grandboss said “This is not up for discussion or debate. The decision is made. And for the record? This right here is a big part of why this is happening.”

    1. Carolyn*

      Admittedly, I am slap happy from getting absolutely no sleep last night … but I was laughing so hard I finally feel conscious! You made my day! :)

  19. kittymommy*

    Perfect response. This was not going to get better as evidenced by that incredibly improper email. You must certainly dodged a big bullet.

  20. louyui*

    Wow, I think you drew this line exactly right — both deciding to try coaching Sarah given the facts in the original post and to fire her given what happened after. Good luck going forward!

  21. Emi.*

    Whoa. It sounds like you did the right thing, especially in backing up Megan. Yeesh. Hopefully this is the wakeup call Sarah needs. If not … well, that’s not your problem anymore. :)

  22. MoinMoin*

    “At this point, I fired her.”
    I just let out an audible DAAAAAAMMMMNNNN at that. I think that was probably the correct decision, OP, given she was just warned about being more professional and clearly there’s still a huge disconnect.
    I actually think most people will find this a satisfying conclusion- it’s certainly resolved more than we usually see. And I think you have a really good example for whenever you have to do an interview where you need to talk about a time when blah blah blah.

    1. motherofdragons*

      I definitely muttered an “Oh, snap” at that. Was not expecting it, but it’s great!

    2. LKW*

      This was my exact reaction. Followed by a little sympathy, followed by the suspicion, based on nothing, that Sarah is the youngest who must prove her superiority over all siblings.

      LW – you just demonstrated to your manager and your entire team that respect and cohesiveness is more important than any one team member. That’s a great lesson.

    3. Intern*

      For some reason I reacted the same way I did the first time I read “Reader, I married him” in Jane Eyre- thinking yes! Finally!

        1. Noobtastic*

          Yeah, I always thought he was rather a jerk, the way he teased and tormented her.

          And Heathcliff? What’s so romantic about him?

          Really, I think the least-known Bronte sister was the most sensible one. A man doesn’t need to be dark and broody and abusive to be a hero.

    4. Electric Hedgehog*

      I want more details on how that conversation went. Was OP totally candid about how out of line Sarah was? And how did Sarah respond?

  23. LuvzALaugh*

    I have seen few new to the working world individuals who ascribe to the throw my manager under the bus and take her job as well. Unfortunately, I have also seen it work. I avoid these newly minted managers (Thankfully, not mine.) like the plague.

  24. Menacia*

    We still have a Sarah in our midst whose sense of self-importance and being right-ness is firmly ingrained but who never grew out of it (she’s close to 60). While she has no issue pointing out the mistakes of others (in an obnoxious, humorous way), she will lie when she herself makes a mistake because her entire being is wrapped up in being right. I’ve sent her issues and the reason for it (she did not do something), but then all of a sudden it’s fixed and she will insist it always worked and that I must have been performing the task wrong. The difference is that her behavior is tolerated because her manager and those on her team like her, she is smart and competent, but her personality can be so abrasive.

    1. Allie*

      I am overseeing a Sarah-lite right now but fortunately I had a chat with this employee and they backed off. I do think this employee thought they knew everything after 6 weeks but after 3 months realized they didn’t actually know everything.

      1. Alice*

        I think a lot of us can be Sarah-lite, at least internally, but wow, this is a great object lesson in why we (I) need to keep any Sarah-like tendencies in check.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But you do. It’s true that it’s a particular problem that women tend to be described that way when men displaying the same behavior wouldn’t be, but it’s a perfectly legitimate word that can be legitimately used to describe both men and women.

        1. Gadfly*

          Yes. Which, as you say, still leaves the proplem of being very disproportionately used just for one sex/race/etc grouping of people. The difference between never and once every dozen times it is used the other way may technically be there, but it sure usually doesn’t feel like there is a difference.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m probably belaboring this, but I do think there’s a difference. It’s a useful word and there are times when you do need to use it to convey a particular situation.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        The same discussion was had about men never being called difficult in the first thread, and this is just as wrong. I hear men being described as abrasive all the time. I’ve used that descriptor for a man myself this week.

  25. Damn it, Hardison!*

    Wow, that behavior is crackers. I’m sure Sarah had no idea why the OP didn’t fire/demote Megan and still can’t figure out why she (Sarah) got fired instead. Her lack of perspective and understanding about what is appropriate will hold her back professionally if she doesn’t learn from this experience. Imagine Sarah managing others—shudder!

  26. animaniactoo*

    I was sorry to lose someone with so much potential, but I wasn’t willing to have Megan’s entire team be consumed by Sarah-drama for however long it would have taken to get her straightened out.

    OP, all of this. Sometimes all the talent all the potential in the world doesn’t benefit when the needed progress will take too long. Willingness to recognize this is a definite benefit. I said something like this to someone once… “Yes, you’re improving and you’re better and I give you credit for that. On the other side of that, there isn’t enough time in the world to wait while you continue to progress at this rate.”

    I am curious about what you said to Sarah when you fired her?

  27. Katie*

    I think that’s a good resolution, honestly. Sarah may have had some good ideas, but she also seems to have an inappropriately high opinion of herself. I hope you find someone to replace her who’s just as talented with none of the personality issues.

    1. Naomi*

      Inflated ego, definitely. Just read the snippet from Sarah’s email; under all the corporate-speak it works out to “Megan is incompetent because she doesn’t see how awesome I am.” Hopefully she’ll learn to adjust her attitude at her next job.

  28. Amber Rose*

    Good for you for making the hard (but necessary) decision. People like Sarah just poison everyone’s morale. Hopefully she’ll take this as a humbling learning experience and do better in her next position. One can hope.

    While this isn’t the happiest possible ending, I’d definitely call it a satisfying one, as it has come to a clear conclusion.

  29. Karenina*

    Congratulations, OP! I say you deserve an ice cream for making a tough call and firing an employee who, due to their personal insecurities and drama, was not actually contributing to the strength of your team or your company. Someone who behaves like Sarah will, inevitably, drive away good clients and good talent. There ARE lots of creative people with great potential in the world who don’t cause this kind of drama.

  30. The Toxic Avenger*

    I gotta say…this update is awesome. We hear stuff so often about managers who can’t, or won’t, fire horrible people. I love it when managers are empowered and have the guts to tell someone to take a walk.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Indeed, I think the reason so many of us are going “LW, this is VERY satisfying” is that most of us have at least some experience working with a pushy jerk who is tolerated because they’re supposedly so brilliant, and it sucks. And while the original letter was pushy but not necessarily jerkitude, the email mentioned in this update pushes it firmly over to jerk behavior for me.

      (I admit, I’m biased because I think sometimes tolerating the ‘brilliant jerk’ goes so far that it can lead people to begin to assume that jerkishness is a sign of brilliance–like, so-and-so must be a genius because they’re so unpleasant and why else would anyone keep them around? And corollary, someone else must not be such a genius because they “have to” be pleasant to work with. So I found this very satisfying indeed.)

      1. Nolan*

        I have the same reaction every time I see an article headline saying “according to science, if you do (terrible habit/behavior) you’re probably a genius!” No, that’s not how it works. Most of the time a jerk is just a jerk. Stop giving them reasons to think it’s okay!

  31. AnonEMoose*

    I think you did the right thing, OP. Hopefully, this will be educational for Sarah, long term. I can have a bit of empathy for the “Sarahs” of the world, because I used to be someone who thought that being good at the work was way more important than soft skills. I’ve learned better, but it took a couple of harsh lessons.

    In this instance, I don’t think the relationship between Megan and Sarah would have been salvageable, and Megan’s team likely would have suffered as a result. I’m sure several of them (possibly including Megan) are breathing quiet sighs of relief at not having to deal with Sarah’s attitude any more.

    I was shaking my head as I read this. I recently had a situation in which I was right about something, and my supervisor wasn’t. I fortunately was not the one who had to deliver that news to him, although I had raised the issue when it initially came up (basically along the lines of “I don’t think we can do X” – which turned out to be correct). And you know what I said to him about it? NOTHING, except to make sure we both knew what steps to take from there. Because nothing else needed to be said.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      I totally think the OP made the right call – the follow up email was in very poor judgement and the relationship between Sarah and Megan was unsalvageable.

      However. I do have some sympathy for Sarah as well. I’m a soft spoken woman and used to have terrible interpersonal skills. There were times early in my career where I knew I was right (or that my idea was objectively better), but just couldn’t figure out how to express it properly and be heard by the men/stronger figures/buddy-buddies in the room. I can totally see my own behavior devolving into something similar to Sarah’s in certain situations. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my soft skills and in changing my industry/career path (into a field more objective overall).

      I hope both Sarah and Megan learn from this. Sarah has a LOT more to learn than Megan, but it still sounded to me like Megan could have handled the situation at least little bit better (I was of the opinion that Megan’s personal bias probably did cloud her original opinion of Sarah’s proposal and that she did seem reluctant to admit her mistake in choosing the other proposal).

    2. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, it sounds like Megan handled the situation appropriately in the end (not throwing out a good idea out of spite BUT giving Sarah a talking-to about her bad behavior/attitude), but Sarah’s reaction was so ridiculous that there I don’t see any way they could’ve worked together going forward!

      I also strongly suspect that many of Sarah’s coworkers were really annoyed by her behavior and are glad she’s gone! Here’s hoping she’ll learn from this and do better in her next workplace.

  32. Important Moi*

    This update warmed my black heart.

    The comments provided in the original question were interesting. I was so surprised at how much support Sarah got, I choose not to comment.

    1. Sal*

      That’s funny–this update also worked for me, but I was surprised at how much support not using the better (i.e. unfortunately, Sarah’s) idea got in the original thread. I thought a lot of people overinflated (or suggested overinflating) the importance of “a polished proposal” when really the issue was just that it was inadequately persuasive to Megan for whatever combo of reasons. Glad to see OP is using the better idea and snappily addressing the personnel issue!

    2. Mike C.*

      Well, the whole “personal agenda to get my coworker publicly embarrassed, demoted or fired” is new information.

      1. Sal*

        Ah, but is it better or worse (certainly less wise, I think we can agree) when the “coworker” in question is your boss?

        Damn, does Sarah really have poor judgment.

      2. AD*

        It was her manager, not her co-worker. And there was evidence of insubordination in the first letter too….

    3. Important Moi*

      I completely expected that Sarah would not let go. Sarah with all her brilliance and raw talent …yeah, I choose not to comment.

  33. The Other Dawn*

    This is a VERY satisfying update. I can’t stand to see someone act like Sarah did. It’s not enough for her to have a win, she needs to point out why she won and the other person didn’t. She wants the spotlight on her. In my experience, people like that don’t survive long because it drags everyone else down.

  34. Trout 'Waver*

    Thanks for the update!

    Going behind your manager’s back to publicly shame her for not picking your idea initially? How the heck did she think that would end well?

  35. Karanda Baywood*

    No matter how smart a Sarah is, if they’re dramatizing the entire team and making everyone uncomfortable, it’s just not worth keeping them around to sow more discontent.

    1. LCL*

      Yes. Where I work, we can’t fire the Sarahs so we have to train and coach them. Sometimes it works.
      One question I have left from the original post, which the OP didn’t mention because she probably doesn’t know, is where was Sarah’s over the top behavior learned? Being pushy and abrasive with the better idea I understand, but the calculated nature of Sarah’s request seems like learned behavior. Sarah’s kill your enemies approach wasn’t formed in a vacuum. Who is teaching the Sarahs of the world this kind of conduct?

      1. Spoonie*

        I was going to answer your question seriously, but then it was a depressing answer, so I’m just going to pretend it’s rhetorical.

        1. Rookie Biz Chick*

          Please answer! I am so interested in others’ perspectives on this.

          I’m a recovering Sarah and can recall being this way as a kid. There was plenty of emotional manipulation, conflict avoidance, and one-size-fits-all parenting in my household. I was labeled as the smart-but-rebelliously-exhausting screw-up and I wore that for years through college and into my first couple of jobs. I was self-aware and self-reflecting in some ways, but not all the ways that mattered, and eventually decided, as an adult with responsibilities, I needed to get it together. My early 30s was when I really started to work on implementing the behaviors and patience and discipline to be significantly less of a Sarah and not die on every.single.hill. I still have to work on it consciously in some situations, but typically take the tack of ‘I’ll mention it once, offer assistance if needed or wanted, and then commit to whatever task|strategy|procedure has been decided.’

          1. Noobtastic*

            Good for you! That is a hard road to take, and it’s rare that anyone actually follows it through to the end. But I can tell you, not only is it good for you, but it is also good for the rest of the world. Your co-workers appreciate it, AND you stand as an excellent example for all the other Sarahs in the world, who want to change their ways, and perhaps believe it can’t be done.

      2. Cassandra*

        I wonder if it’s allied with some of the terrible “gumption”-ish discourses we sometimes talk about here, usually with respect to getting hired.

  36. whichsister*

    After the drama of Liz and Jack yesterday, I am glad to see this and that as a group we seem to agree on the outcome! I also have witnessed talented steamrollers be protected and others fleeing the organization just to get out of the path. I have also seen incompetence protected because it was just so much easier than managing. It is nice to see what looks like a good faith attempt to address and correct the behavior and then the employee held accountable for not doing so FOR THE TEAM!

  37. Rookie Biz Chick*

    Wondering if OP fired Sarah directly or if Megan and OP fired her together? I’d like to think Megan was empowered to participate in the decision and action to some degree.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Decision, maybe, but not if OP really wasn’t going to be swayed by anything Megan said. Informed of the decision and the reason for it ahead of the firing, yes. Beyond that? Eh. Sometimes Megan isn’t going to be empowered in that situation for all sorts of reasons, and OP needs to retain the power to take the action s/he feels is appropriate without needing to discuss it further.

      Action – I think it could be way more effective if Megan was not part of the action. So that there is a chance that the message moves from “Megan has a problem with me” to “I did something I thought was right, despite the kinds of warnings I was given and because I thought my boss was the problem and this time with another person it backfired on me completely.”

      However, given OP and Megan’s discussions and Sarah’s subsequent action, I think that Megan will still come away from this feeling supported in the power that she does have.

      1. Noobtastic*

        I agree. It sends a better message to Sarah if Megan is not present for the firing, and does not visibly appear to be involved in the firing decision or process.

        However, Megan now knows that she has the support to fire, if necessary, problem employees. She may not feel up to firing such an employee, directly, but she will know that OP will have her back, should she make that decision. Eventually, she will feel strong and empowered enough to wield that authority, if her company actually does give her that authority.

        Too many managers have that authority, on paper, but their up-line never actually allow them to use it. Others do not have that authority, on paper, but their up-line support them in their decisions, so they make the decision, tell their boss, and it happens.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I would normally agree, but in this case, I strongly suspected that Sarah would simply refuse to accept Megan firing her, and I didn’t want to escalate things to the point where we were asking security to escort her out. Doing it myself wrapped up everything with a minimum of fuss.

      I can definitely see an argument for why that might not have been the best practice, though.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Wow, I am boggled by the concept that someone might respond to “You’re fired” with basically “No, I’m not.” Not doubting your take on it at all, just, wow, my eyes are bugging out of my head.

        1. Greenius*

          I would believe it. Someone who reports to me was recently let go for performance & attitude reasons, including a tendency to badmouth me to my boss & others around the office. My grandboss decided to inform her himself so that there would be less pushback – and she still asked him if she could dispute the firing.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sadly, I’ve seen someone do this before, and it was shocking to me. I think OP did the right thing, especially because it also made clear to Sarah that OP had Megan’s back and Sarah’s shady attempts were not appreciated or acceptable.

        3. JanetM*

          My university has a procedure for disputing being fired or otherwise disciplined, starting with a letter to the relevant administrators and working up to a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.

        4. Noobtastic*

          Anyone who says “You’re not the boss of me!” to their boss is going to dispute a firing performed by their boss, alone.

      2. Rookie Biz Chick*

        That makes the most sense given the degree to which Sarah definitely could have escalated the drama. As animaniactoo and others have said previously, Megan has no doubt that you have her back and that’s so meaningful.

        Thanks for the update and replies here!

  38. Rat Racer*

    “Megan evinces a clear and total inability to correctly and/or fairly evaluate the relative strength of analysts’ contributions”

    Wow – that is truly insufferable. And she split her infinitive.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, it’s just…..SO out of line. The only way that gets written is if Sarah has effectively zero comprehension of standing, professional norms, and propriety.

      1. paul*

        hell, even decency. I mean wanting someone publicly humiliated like that is….I mean it’s legitimately gross.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yeah, that’s a fair statement. That level of punitiveness is ugly.

    2. AnonMurphy*

      My thought upon first reading was ‘use of the word ‘evinces’ can lead to no good’.

      Just-out-of-school-me probably was something of a Sarah, and I did get fired from one job in a pretty similar way – not a professional one but still. It’s definitely a wake-up call.

      Also, I cringe thinking of just-out-of-school-me. I’m glad to be older-wiser-me.

  39. Jules the First*

    So turning this one around….I’m friends with a Sarah (thank goodness we don’t work together) who keeps getting fired because she insists that every job she takes is full of people who are in over their heads but refuse to listen to her guaranteed-to-work solutions. Knowing Sarah, I strongly suspect that the problem is not what she recommends (which is probably the right solution) but how she does it (aggressively, my-way-or-the-highway, half-explaining and then expecting people to trust her with the rest and do as they’re told, belittling others’ skills)….she’s not doing this deliberately, but she’s completely and utterly blind that she *is* doing it

    How do you coach that?

    1. Important Moi*

      Maybe I need coffee…. Your friend has been fired repeatedly? When your friend thinks she’s doing something that she needs help with, she’ll say something.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      I wonder if you could try some perspective taking. “Why do you think they don’t take your suggestions?” “How do you think you could deliver your suggestions so that your colleagues would be convinced? What do you think is motivating their resistance?” “What kind of skills do you think you might need to develop in order to be more successful at influencing others?”

      It might also be interesting to accept her priors with something like, “Okay, sure, let’s assume that everyone you work with is incompetent and doesn’t understand their jobs. How are you going to influence them?” And “if it’s the case that everyone is incompetent and won’t listen to you, why do you bother trying to bring up these ideas? It sounds like you’re working from the assumption that they’ll never take them, so why set yourself up for frustration?” The idea is to help her understand that she’s operating in a contradiction. Either the people she works with have real perspectives that need to be taken seriously (in which case she needs to work on her influencing skills), or they’re cartoon villains menacingly petting a fluffy white cat (in which case, there’s no point in even raising the issue).

      As a friend, though, you probably have a bit more standing to point out the common denominator…

      1. Robin Sparkles*

        I love this:
        “The idea is to help her understand that she’s operating in a contradiction. Either the people she works with have real perspectives that need to be taken seriously (in which case she needs to work on her influencing skills), or they’re cartoon villains menacingly petting a fluffy white cat (in which case, there’s no point in even raising the issue).”
        This is such great advice.

      2. Noobtastic*

        But be prepared to lose the friendship, if you do. She may flounce. If she does, she may come back, years later, and say, “Thank you for telling me the truth.” But then again, she may not.

        So, do you love your friend enough to help her, even if it risks losing her friendship? If she is the fluffy white cat, she may very well cast you as Benedict Arnold.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      I think this is a really tough one, because for coaching to work it by definition requires that the coached person to acknowledge that the coaching person has some kind of valuable information or insight, and that the coached person be willing to change their behavior based on that information or insight. I don’t think that many problems are genuinely un-coachable (although some may not be worth the effort), but I am having a hard time figuring out how on earth you could coach someone who thinks that they know more than others and that other peoples’ skills are lacking or unimportant. Even the hardline “you have to listen to what I’m telling you and adjust your behavior or you’ll get fired” tactic won’t make much of a dent on someone for whom firing is simply proof that the employer is small-minded and inferior.

      I suppose it might work if the mentor is someone who the coach-ee categorizes as also brilliant (I knew a guy sort of like this who basically only wanted to be coached by the CEO; anyone else was beneath him–and he was nearly entry level, so no, that wasn’t gonna happen).

      I’d be fascinated to know whether anyone has successfully coached someone with this mindset, though.

      1. Bonky*

        Oh good grief. Toasterdad could be my father-in-law. I make excuses not to visit him because I come away feeling exactly as CA describes. I am horrified that the world contains more than one of these people.

    4. StartupLifeLisa*

      You probably can’t, as her friend she probably sees your role as offering unconditional listening and emotional support, not coaching.

      That being said, if you really want to try to confront her about this, you will have to be very blunt and direct to shock her into hearing you, and you will have to be willing to lose the friendship over it.

      Something like, “Sarah, there’s something on my mind. Every time you get fired, I hear the same story from you about how everyone you worked with is in over their head and doesn’t appreciate your solutions to their problems. The thing is, as your friend, I’ve noticed that you’re extremely bright and probably proposing the right solution, but that you tend to belittle people and you can be so aggressive that it’s totally off-putting. To be frank, I’d fire you too if I had to listen to you put down my skills & demand your way or the highway every day.”

    5. paul*

      I’m not sure you always can.

      I’d also question the veracity of her solutions if this is happening in a variety of jobs and fields. Sometimes it takes more than a month or three to learn *why* things work the way they do.

      Don’t tear down a fence till you’ve tried to find out why it’s there.

    6. LQ*

      I think it depends. Honestly if it was a close friend I’d be brutally direct. “Listen if you can’t figure this out then you aren’t really that smart. If you are smart, you’ll stop, look at what’s happening realize the common factor is you. You are smart enough to figure this out, to realize that having the right answer isn’t all that matters and sometimes delivery is important too. You can hate me all you want, but I’m still going to be right.”

      (I say this because I’ve been this brutally honest with friends. It has occasionally worked, but never fast, usually takes months to sink in. And sometimes not talking for months.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I love framing stuff as “You’re smart enough to know X, so what’s going on that you seem to be overlooking that?”

        Then the person feels obligated to live up to “smart enough to know X.” It’s very effective.

        1. LQ*

          It’s usually the way I frame things with myself and it works for me. It means I can’t just “I’m not good at x” my way out of it. Yeah I might not be great at whatever, but I can find a way around it if I really am smart, which I like to think I am.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Uf. Personally, I hate that framing — it’s what got used on me a lot as a kid coping with undiagnosed ADHD. It puts my hackles straight up.

          1. Relly*

            When I was in a psychiatric program at the hospital, I pointed out a huge logical flaw in what a nurse had just told us. (Not to be cleverer-than-thou, but because what she said had implications she hadn’t thought about, and if that applied to X it also applied to Y, and it legit sent me down a spiral, so I wanted her to back up and patch the hole.)

            She sighed, and then announced that I was “too smart for my own good” and tried to change the subject.

            Did not instill me with confidence.

          2. A Bug!*

            Same with me. The problem was it never went further than a disappointed “You’re smart enough to know better,” with the implied “…so you must just be lazy.” If instead it had been a concerned “…so maybe there’s something else going on here,” then maybe I wouldn’t have gone undiagnosed until adulthood!

          3. Amazed*

            Ugh, I hear that. Growing up in an environment full of “You are awesome” would have been a good thing for building confidence and willingness to try new things, if “You’re too awesome to fail like this, now tell me the truth about why you failed” didn’t kneecap it.

            1. Noobtastic*

              So, “You’re smart enough to know better than that,” in and of itself is not helpful. But “You’re smart enough to know better than that, so what’s really going on here?” is helpful.

              Is that a correct interpretation?

              1. Amazed*

                Word Turner explains it better than I can, mostly.

                Plus the problem wasn’t so much that I was failing to meet expectations, as it was that when I failed them because the expectation wasn’t reasonable, they took it to mean I wasn’t being truthful with them and would press me on that.

                And thanks to that there were a lot of things I didn’t want to try, and I’m still not good with having to answer why I did something incorrectly.

          4. Word Turner*

            me too. “If you’re so smart how can you be so stupid?” everytime I didn’t know anything or did anything wrong. “If you can do x, why can’t you do this completely unrelated skill?” and the answer is “because they are unrelated skills and i’m a human who is good at some things and bad at other things. My deficits are as profound as my talents are.”

            An autistic blogger I follow said it was like if sie said to somebody “if you can tell that something is red just by looking without needing a blue thing next to it to compare, why can’t you tell that a note is C without hearing an A note to compare it with? You’re smart! You can do it! Just listen harder!”

            It’s okay to point out when I’m not noticing something obvious; I’m usually grateful for it. I do have my deficits and many of them are as profound as my talents if not more so. But reminding me that I’m supposed to be smart and that everybody else figured something out in early childhood just makes me ashamed.

            Social skills are really important though. I hope Sarah will learn some. Sarah sounds like a really insecure person who needs a lot of validation and hasn’t found a good way of getting it, but it was good that she was fired because it’s harder to learn to notice when you’re being an arse when everyone but you is bearing the consequences for it.

    7. Sylvia*

      I have low-key Sarah tendencies. Maybe something I do could help your friend? I try (sometimes fail) to keep it in check with something I actually learned in elementary school.

      THINK before you speak: Is the unsolicited advice:

      – Thoughtful
      – Helpful
      – Intelligent
      – Necessary
      – Kind

      If it’s all five, I’m good to go! If it’s less than that, I need to either pull it together or let the issue go. It makes me choose my battles and it makes my input much better than it would be otherwise.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is very cool. Reading through some of these comments, I realize that I have some Sarah-like tendencies in certain aspects of my life and I definitely want to work on reining those in.

      2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        I use this with my middle school aged kids! My daughter has actually told her friends about it and I see that, among her friend conversations, they’re thinking more about what they say before they say it. I also remind them that words are impossible to get back once they’re said so it’s important to remember to be patient and thoughtful with what we want to say. “Take the time to get the words right because you only get to say them once before they’re gone” is how we explain it.

      3. Word Turner*

        Another version I heard was

        Does this need to be said?
        Does this need to be said by me?
        Does this need to be said by me right now?

    8. Anne (with an "e")*

      Could you maybe try using Dr. Phil’s,” Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” It sounds like your friend is a perpetual out-of-work “right” person who is not necessarily “happy.” Although, maybe your friend would actually rather be right than happy if this has become a pattern.

      1. Kiwi*

        I know someone who always has to be right. He answers that with that he can’t be happy unless he’s right. :-(

        1. Lissa*

          Oh man. I have used this with moderate success on somebody, though I tried to frame it more softly, like “sometimes you have to choose if you want to be right or you want to have friends.” For some people the answer really *is* “I want to be right.” I call this being “dead right”, personally.

        2. Relly*

          I would follow this up with another Dr Phil-ism: “And how’s that working out for you?”

    9. Jules*

      I’d encourage her to read : How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I borrowed the original audio book from the library and it was really an eye opener. I think we all have a little of Sarah in all of us. But how we convey the information makes the difference between getting things done or getting it shut down. I have a very direct personality and has some abrasiveness that needs polishing in the current environment I am in. In order to influence senior management, I find Carnegie’s method very useful.

  40. Clever Name*

    Wow, just wow. You totally made the right call. I know you see Sarah as bright and talented, but in my years of working, I’ve realized that people who put this much effort into sabotaging coworkers/being right rarely are actually as bright and talented as they bill themselves to be.

  41. Torrance*

    Going back & rereading the original letter, it’s clear that this was a situation with an obvious contrast. Sarah valued being right more than being liked, while Megan seemed the complete opposite (per the original letter, she’s excellent with people and her team, apart from Sarah, appeared to be cohesive unit that backed her up & helped her tweak things as needed).

    Hindsight is 20/20 & all that but this was probably the inevitable outcome– though one might argue that they both needed to go. The last line in the original letter mentioned that the OP thought that perhaps Megan found it difficult to be objective which is not a great trait in a manager, especially in cases with the supervisee is right. With Sarah out of the picture, it’s not an immediate concern but it’s something to be mindful about in the future.

    1. Aglaia761*

      I think there is a difference between finding it difficult to be objective about everything. And difficult to be objective about a person who consistently challenges and undermines you.

      Bitch eating crackers syndrome is real and knowing when you’re at or about to get to that point with a person is important.

      1. Torrance*

        True enough. However, when a case of BEC causes you to not be able to your job properly, that’s not necessarily the other person’s fault.

        Sarah’s behaviour ultimately got her fired but it’s Megan’s behaviour (in what the OP suspected as her difficulty in being objective about evaluating both plans on their ultimate potential) that started the whole clusterfudge to begin with. Perhaps that could also ultimately be pinned on Sarah being difficult to work with but part of managing is dealing with people like that. After all, if managing were easy, any Tom, Fergus, or Wakeen could do it.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          “Bitch Eating Crackers”

          Basically, when you get to a point where you are SO annoyed with someone that you judge them for doing something innocuous like eating crackers.

          I’ll link to Urban Dictionary in my next comment.

          1. Jessica*

            This is one of my favorite acronyms. It so eloquently frames my irritation with certain individuals over things that I know are petty, but to which I can’t seem to help overreacting.

    2. Madame X*

      The difference between Sarah and Meghan is that Meghan was able to admit when she was wrong was willing to work with Sarah and implement Sarah’s plan. The only condition added, was that Sarah maintain a level of professionalism that she has previously repeatedly failed to do. And then she showed that she wasn’t even willing to do that, even after her “win”.

      1. ArtK*

        Exactly. Meghan did the right thing. She admitted to a mistake and went to work to rectify it. I would hate to see her fired over a minor lapse in judgment — especially one that she herself recognized. Sarah, on the other hand, was unprofessional from start to finish. To recap:

        1) She complained and went over her boss’ head when her proposal wasn’t accepted. Lesson from the working world: Sometimes you have to put up with decisions that you don’t agree with. Unless you think that a true disaster is going to result from it (like people losing lives), deal with it.
        2) When her boss reconsidered and agreed to work on Sarah’s proposal, Sarah went over he boss’ head again to complain about Meghan and to practically demand that Meghan be publicly burned at the stake. Lesson from the working world: A steady performer who occasionally makes a mistake is a *far* better asset than a troublemaker with potential.

        Smooth operation of a team can be more valuable in the long run than a flash of brilliance that comes with drama.

        I hope that Sarah can learn from this, but that will require far more self-reflection than she’s shown so far.

        1. Noobtastic*

          Besides the fact that Meghan rectified her mistake, her mistake was really minor. After all, she chose a plan that was not actually BAD. It was simply not as creative as Sarah’s.

          Now, had she chosen an objectively bad plan, rather than Sarah’s, simply because she could not be objective about Sarah, then maybe you might have a point, had she also clung to it, obsessively. But she did neither. I can’t see any reason to even consider firing Meghan. That seems overly harsh and punitive, just because you don’t like being put-out and having to deal with the fall-out.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      No, Sarah valued winning more than she valued, well, anything. My guess is that she does this even when she’s not right, and the original post did say that she submitted Plan A in rough shape the first time, which makes me wonder if she hasn’t been given passes her whole life for being “brilliant” at the expense of having to learn to follow through. At some point, being brilliant shouldn’t carry you any more–adults learn to put the perspiration behind their inspiration. Adults also learn to admit when they’re wrong, when they’ve handled something badly, and to win without being jerks. She shouldn’t be that invested in being right, and she definitely shouldn’t be so invested in being right that she would demand the firing of somebody who, ok, maybe has some shortcomings, or maybe has a more complicated job than Sarah does and doesn’t get to make snap decisions. It’s easy to think in black and white when the answer is always that you’re right.

    4. Tempest*

      If Megan only finds it hard to be objective about Sarah, who’s clearly after her job by any aggressive and underhanded means necessary, I wouldn’t say it’s that bad on Megan’s part. If she struggles to be objective about everything, maybe she needs some coaching. But the letter said her team is generally productive and cohesive so I wouldn’t be too quick to think Megan needs to go. Someone willing to enact mutiny on the other hand is a level of crazy no manager needs on their team.

  42. amy*

    Oh, man. You have to wonder, with things like this, whether Sarah’s just been trained in “negotiate hard for everything! LEAN IN!!1!”. With absolutley no sense of where the walls are in these things.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I think it’s definitely possible.

      I was a bit concerned about providing too much identifying info earlier, but I don’t think it’s too specific to say: part of the dynamic here is that our clients our political campaigns/advocacy groups, and before coming to our firm, Sarah had some really successful experience working directly on some very high-profile races. Coming from the campaign world myself, I can attest to the fact that behavior norms in that setting are pretty unhealthy (100+ hour weeks, intense focus on immediate results above everything else, unbelievable amounts of pressure resulting in pretty frequent emotional breakdowns, isolation that leads to most people dating/sleeping with each other, etc.).

      We try to make sure new hires understand how things are different, but I can sympathize with how it’s a tough transition to make. It’s just that there’s a point at which you need to have gotten it, or at a bare minimum shown interest in getting it.

      1. AD*

        That context is really helpful to hear…and makes me hope that Sarah eventually is “deprogrammed” from that high-pressure, incestuous, results-are-everything mentality that led to her downfall here.

  43. I used to be Murphy*

    As someone who works in an industry with incredibly bureaucratic and lengthy rules for termination (which means I’ve only ever seen it done a handful of times in my 15 years – and I’ve never fired anyone), I think this is a very, very satisfying resolution. Thank you for supporting your staff and team and recognizing that there are a lot of good workers out there, but personality problems count for a lot.

  44. Creag an Tuire*

    Let this be a lesson to Sarah: Unless you are a Klingon, publicly attacking your manager in the hopes of forcibly taking her job does not work.

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        But then shouldn’t she have tried to convince Megan to assassinate OP, so they could both move up in rank?

        Ugh. That’s the problem with today’s youth, no gumption. At this rate we’ll end up letting the Cardassians waltz in and take over. :/

        1. Important Moi*

          And then Sarah could double cross Megan. Sarah would assassinate Megan, thus completely eliminating OP and Megan.

          This would put Sarah at the top, where Sarah deserves to be! :)

          1. Lissa*

            Maybe Sarah has been reading too much Game of Thrones, because that might work there…though would also have a better than even chance of getting on the wrong side…

          2. Creag an Tuire*

            At least until a transporter accident traps Sarah in our universe, where she’s fired for insubordination, then returns home only to find that her “nice” counterpart convinced the HR Director to seize control of the company and replace the “brutal executions for failure” policy with written PIPs containing realistic benchmarks for improvement.

  45. House of Cats*

    Wow! It sounds like you made the right decision. Sarah was way out of line, and she clearly has a lot to learn. Hopefully this will be a growth experience for her. Good for you for doing what was needed and for making other changes as well!

  46. Ruffingit*

    Would love the OP to tell us how the firing went. Yes, I want the details of how Sarah felt when she got fired since she was all “fired up” to get Megan canned.

  47. Cupquake*

    I grew up going to a gifted/talented school, started my college career in an honors college that I later dropped because I didn’t see it giving me any extra advantage, just extra work, and I gotta say that this attitude is common among smart people, especially people who grew up in that kind of program. It’s not enough to be “damn I’m smart and I’m doing my own best”, it’s “I have to be THE best and do better than everyone else and win every award”, and it gets competitive. My parents never fostered that kind of attitude, but I see it in a lot of people I know, and then they get to the workforce and it bites them in the butt like this. It should be enough to know that you did well, but some people want everyone else to know.

    1. Sylvia*

      I’ve seen that with kids who grew up “gifted,” too, and I’ve also noticed a little bit of it in myself and other only children. Being a “team player” takes a little work.

      1. Jillociraptor*

        Yes, I think this is true. Particularly in cases of having to collaborate. I’m sure most folks who were very good at school have harrowing memories of “group projects” AKA “no one else has standards as high as mine*, so guess everything is falling to me.” In that context, I can see how someone could develop a chip on their shoulder like Sarah has. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally inappropriate, and part of growing up is learning how to play nicely and productively with others. I can just imagine how that narrative builds without anyone to push back on it.

        *or maybe “natural talents that align as well to the school environment as mine”

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Ooh, yes, I think school group projects really are pretty bad at teaching teamwork (which is ironic because the justification I heard all through school was that they were necessary because ‘when you grow up you’ll have to be able to work with your peers!’) Since very often the teacher would require you to work out issues amongst yourselves, if you wanted a good grade and nobody else cared (or, more cynically, did care, but knew that you cared more) you sometimes really did have to just take over the whole thing and do it yourself–otherwise it might get done slapdash at the last minute, or not at all.

          My response to that kind of thing was that it took me years to realize that most of my colleagues were not going to ditch all the work onto me, and that if they did persistently slack off I could legitimately take it to my boss without getting told “now now, children, you must learn to work out issues on your own,” so I just quietly took on more work without realizing that it wasn’t necessary to do so. But I could easily see it sliding the other way, towards a Sarah-like “everyone around me is an incompetent” attitude.

          1. Jillociraptor*

            Yes! I don’t think I learned the right lessons from the “natural consequences” of this kind of experiential learning. I benefited later on from direct coaching and learning on situational leadership, setting vision and direction, and influencing others; those lessons didn’t stem naturally from undirected project work with peers.

            Well, actually, I take that back: I feel like I learned a lot of these skills from working on extracurricular projects with peers in high school and college. When there’s a little more buy-in from the participants, you at least have some backing to trust one another and know that you’re on the same page.

          2. Amazed*

            To say nothing of when they’d assign two people’s worth of work to a three person team, then mark down the third person for not contributing enough…

    2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      To speak up for the smart kid–jerks are jerks. Sometimes there’s a common denominator like intelligence, but I know just as many smart people that wouldn’t have done this.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I grew up in G/T programs and, frankly, egotists are egotists, regardless of education or inherent intellect. The common denominator is that nobody ever had the guts to rein them in.

      1. Elfie*

        Yep, me too, but I think it’s also all too easy to label a kid as ‘The Smart One’. I know I was, growing up, and it felt like being the smartest, getting the highest marks, outdoing everyone else in my class WAS my identity. I was the benchmark against which my class would measure themselves, and I was happy to be so, because I never really knew anything else. I wasn’t good at anything else – sports, or social stuff, so I had to be smart. I also have a massive dose of Imposter Syndrome, so not only do I have to be smart, I have to be seen to be smart. It took me a long, loooooooong time to realise that self-esteem really does have to come from yourSELF. Not to excuse Sarah (she sounds like a nightmare, and OP, you definitely did the right thing), but if she’s turned being right into her identity, then it’s always going to be problematic until she separates the two.

  48. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    Thanks OP for the update. I totally agree with your stance here. Hopefully Sarah can learn from this and move forward. Someone above mentioned a shock can help–I’m hoping so for her sake.

    1. Bonky*

      I don’t think it necessarily will, sadly; I’ve known Sarahs, and the narrative after a series of sackings has been “I keep getting jobs in toxic places full of incompetents”. If you’re behaving like this in the first place, introspection is probably not one of your core competencies.

  49. GrandBargain*

    Though it may have been necessary/expedient to fire Sarah, I can’t help but feel that there’s an alternate narrative here that evinces a real failure to manage (OP and Megan) and a real injustice to Sarah.

    Sarah developed a valuable, creative idea for the company. After her team lead rejects the idea for both valid and invalid (personal) reasons, Sarah pushes back enough to have her idea reconsidered. Sure enough, OP agrees in part and has Megan tell Sarah they’re going to use her idea… but it’s not at all apparent that Megan herself has learned anything here. Unhappy that she has to continue to work with a team lead who harbors personal resentments, Sarah brings her complaints (much the way Liz did about Jack, ie, inappropriately) to OP. OP probably (guessing here) communicates that even though Sarah was right and Megan was wrong, OP supports Megan and tells Sarah she is fired. The company is now going to profit from Sarah’s idea.

    That last part really gets me. Megan’s team is going to get credit for implementing Sarah’s idea while Sarah gets fired. That is a horrible outcome and not anything to be proud of.

    1. Serafina*

      Y halo thar, Sarah!

      Seriously, did you miss the part where even though LW and Megan were both fed up with Sarah’s behavior, they chose to implement Sarah’s idea, TOLD HER she was right, just gave her some feedback on presentation and that WASN’T ENOUGH for Sarah? Did you miss the part where Sarah thought it was her place to go over Megan’s head and basically demand Megan be fired or demoted?!

      No, a “horrible outcome” would have been allowing Sarah to get away with behavior like that!

      1. GrandBargain*

        Wassup Megan! They’re both horrible outcomes… just for different reasons and from different perspectives.

        1. Mira*

          I disagree. Firing Sarah for being a toxic influence is not a “horrible outcome” in any sense of the word. Companies don’t function off one brilliant individual’s back. No, they function on the backs of numerous well-run, cohesive teams that know how to work smoothly and efficiently. Refusing to allow a disruptive jerk to upset this balance and make life hell for her teammates and supervisor on an ongoing basis every time she doesn’t get her way – and even when she DOES! – is far, very far, from a “horrible outcome.”

          What WOULD be a horrible outcome is if the LW kept Sarah on to try and coach her into behaving reasonably – and in the process ended up destroying a good team and losing good people because the brilliant jerk refuses to not be a jerk.

    2. MuseumChick*

      The OP has managed this situation very well IMO. Sarah got what she wanted but could just win graciously. Plus, the OP has made it very clear in the first letter (and comments on that letter) that Megan was fairly evaluating Sarah’s work. There was some debate of if the idea being present “unpolished” should have matter that much. But even a good idea can be lost through a bad presentation, which according to the information we have is what happened. Not that Megan was out to get Sarah (she and the OP even came up with a plan to have a mentor for Sarah to help her professional development!)

      It’s pretty well known that any work you create belongs to the company you work for. This would be no different than if Sarah left for other reason.

      1. GrandBargain*

        I agree with most of what you say. Just not the last couple sentences.

        Because, it is different. It’s different because Sarah was fired as a very nearly direct result of advocating for her entry in a competition of ideas. Her ideas turned out to be good enough to reverse Megan’s original decision and to warrant further consideration and possible implementation. The reward she would have to graciously accept is to be told that even though she was right all along she needs further professional development. And, she is supposed to accept that “reward” from the team lead who originally rejected her ideas. That doesn’t feel at all like a “win.” Feels more like a slap in the face than a reward.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I think framing decisions like which idea to pursue, who needs to work on their professionalism, etc. as ‘rewards’ is a pretty unhelpful way of looking at workplace management, though.

          1. GrandBargain*

            I really appreciate your on-going participation in the overall discussion. You’re a great letter writer! And, it’s pretty clear you made real efforts to deal with this difficult situation in the best possible way. Thanks.

        2. animaniactoo*

          Sarah was in no way shape or form fired as a direct result of advocating for her entry in a competition of ideas. Sarah was fired entirely because after months of coaching about how to be more professional and more a team player she backslid HARD in how she did that advocating. And then trying to throw her manager under the bus when her manager was clear that *even though* she had gone about it the wrong way, they DID review her plan and find enough merit in it to move forward with it.

          Actions have consequences and if that feels like a slap in the face to Sarah, that’s because Sarah is not accepting that her behavior really HAS been wrong.

        3. AD*

          Sarah was fired as a very nearly direct result of advocating for her entry in a competition of ideas.

          No she was not. She was terminated for being insubordinate, which is termination-worthy in any industry I’ve been a part of. She emailed her grandboss advocating the public shaming of her manager. Did you not see that part?

        4. Noobtastic*

          Sarah was not fired for “advocating for her entry in a competition of ideas.” She was fired for unprofessional behavior, including viciously demanding that her grand-boss demote or fire her boss, simply because her boss chose a (NOT BAD, just not as good) different idea.

          Had Megan stuck to her guns, and gone with the other idea, the company still would have a success. However, Megan went back and looked at Sarah’s idea again, and saw that it was actually better, and so she changed her mind, and accepted it, all while telling Sarah that her behavior was unacceptable, and that is NOT how she should advocate for her ideas. There are ways to professionally advocate, and this is not it.

          Even if Sarah had stopped at that point, and accepted her win, she would not have been fired. She would have been coached. Megan would have been coached. Everyone would have been coached, and the idea would go forward, and the customer would be happy, and rainbows and sunshine.

          But Sarah couldn’t accept her win. Sarah demanded that Megan be publicly pilloried and demoted, or fired. THIS is why she was fired. Not because she advocated “for her entry in a competition of ideas.” The competition of ideas is really irrelevant. She could have been making these demands because she didn’t like how Megan looked at her, or because she thought that Megan was giving better projects to other employees, and giving her the lesser projects. Or because she didn’t like the way Megan ate crackers.

          The reward for Sarah’s good idea is that they implemented Sarah’s idea. The message that she needs further professional development was separate from that reward. It was also absolutely true. An offer of coaching and professional mentoring IS a reward, even if it does hurt the inflated ego to be told it is not already perfect. Why is that coaching a reward? Because it takes time and effort and resources away from other projects, but the OP felt she was good enough, with enough potential, to make that time/effort/resources worthwhile. That is a compliment!

    3. animaniactoo*

      I’m sorry, there is no amount of management that should be necessary to tell a person who is not in their first job that they should not email their grandboss to request a public announcement that their boss was wrong. That’s not a failure to manage, that’s a beyond-reasonable-management-requirements.

      1. AD*

        Yes. I’m struggling to comprehend how someone wouldn’t understand this (or would point fingers at management).

      2. Noobtastic*

        This PLUS demanding that said manager be demoted or fired. You just don’t DO that.

    4. Ultraviolet*

      It sounds like your alternate narrative doesn’t incorporate just how incredibly disruptive Sarah was to the team. I don’t think OP did tell Sarah that “Sarah was right,” because Sarah was, on the whole, very wrong.

      The fact that the organization will profit from Sarah’s idea after firing her is just a consequence of Sarah having been part of a team. Your contributions don’t vanish after you’re gone. I can see where it feels a little weird, because the question of whether to use that idea at all was the context for much of Sarah’s drama. But neither the firing nor the continuing use of that idea is an injustice to Sarah, even if the irony stings a bit.

      1. GrandBargain*

        I like how you describe the irony… certainly better than I did. Good comment.

        1. Ultraviolet*

          Thanks! That’s nice of you to say.

          Did you happen to see the comment that OP left on the original post with time stamp March 7, 2017 at 1:41 am? It goes into more detail about what OP discussed with Megan, so you might find it interesting. I only just saw it now for the first time.

          1. GrandBargain*

            Thanks to you too. I think I did see it when I was following the original post, but it’s a great pointer back to some important information. LW says she and Megan decided that LW would not talk to Sarah because doing so would undermine Megan. In hindsight, I wonder if that was a good decision. If LW had been a part of providing that feedback, LW could have let Sarah know that LW was fully aware of what was going on (thus no need for Sarah to send an email circumventing Megan), pointed out to Sarah that both Megan and LW agreed that Megan could have handled the situation better, expressed appreciation for Sarah’s input, and made sure that none of Megan’s original frustration came through in her feedback to Sarah.

            1. Cogitator*

              GrandBargain – I agree with you. Firing Sarah was the difference between a “good” and a “great” outcome, with good being the enemy of great. LW forcing better communication between Megan and Sarah could have averted the loss of talent and could have been a learning XP for both of them: Sarah to be more respectful in how she presents her ideas and Megan in how to deal with the Sarah’s of the workplace. Calling her on the email, explaining in clear terms why it was unprofessional and sending her home for the day to give her the chance to reflect/apologize would likely have been a sufficient. Shock factor to deliver the lesson >> actual firing if she’s smart enough to learn (and she likely is based on LWs description). Instead another organization, perhaps a competitor, will be the recipient of both her talent and the effort that went into delivering the lesson. Having mishandled plenty of talent myself (I got older and learned to react less and think more), I can only say there are no experts in this space, only Sarah’s, Megan’s and LWs on the continuum of trying to become better leaders. Some may disagree, that’s cool you’re entitled to your opinion, I’m just sharing a different POV from my own XP that seems to align more with GB.

              1. Noobtastic*

                I think that “go home and think about it” might work, if Sarah had shown a previous ability to accept correction in a timely manner, and make sincere apologies. But I’m afraid she would have come back, given a forced apology, and then tried to undermine Megan at every possibility, to get revenge for the shame of being corrected.

                I could be wrong; I’m not clairvoyant. But I have seen that happen, too. I’ve seen a desire for vengeance absolutely poison a person, and by extension, the other members of the group. It becomes polarizing, as the other group members feel forced to take sides in an on-going battle.

                Did the LW’s company pay an opportunity cost, in the loss of Sarah’s future work and ideas? Yes. But the risk of losing the entire department to infighting was also there, and LW chose not to pay that price.

                Hopefully, another company WILL benefit, because Sarah will have learned her lesson. And who knows? In a few years, LW/Megan/co-workers may wind up working together with Sarah again, in some form. Life is often like that, especially in such a mobile society as we have now.

            2. Another Sarah (but not a Sarah if you know what I mean)*

              I think that was a tricky decision but ultimately the LW made the right one.
              Having LW sit in the meeting, even if Megan did all the talking, would’ve come off as “LW made Megan reverse her decision so Sarah was right and Megan was wrong nyah nyah” I don’t think it would’ve prevented Sarah from thinking that she could do an end run around Megan, on the contrary, I think it would’ve given her license to think she could circumvent her and the email would still have been sent, only the other team members would also have seen LW as reversing Megan’s decision for her and the problem might have spread.
              Having Megan own the decision and the conversation should have made Sarah pause and think about the feedback she was given – because it was bundled along with Megan admitting she made the wrong call, she should’ve appeared fairer. It should’ve negated the view that Sarah could get what she wants by appealing to a higher power every time Megan made a decision that she didn’t like – which is absolutely something that needed to be quashed.
              That things still played out the way they did points to a massive level of immaturity on Sarah’s part. It wasn’t enough to get her plan chosen, she had to be free of all criticism and above reproach. That was what ultimately got her fired – the inability to see that she was doing anything wrong – because how can you improve if you can’t even see there is a problem?
              I hope she will learn from this

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’m really perplexed at the level to which people are contorting the information we’ve been given, and are speculating outcomes that contradict OP’s explanation, in order to “blame” Megan and valorize Sarah. This has nothing to do with Sarah’s ideas or OP’s failure to manage; it has everything to do with Sarah’s complete inability to work in a team or to work for someone who she thinks is not as smart as she is.

              In light of all the context OP gave us, OP’s decision was the best and only appropriate option. It is not worth sacrificing basic decency to retain talented people if those people are obnoxious jerks who cannot get along with their peers, let alone their bosses. There are companies that retain their jerks and foster a cut-throat environment, and OP’s company is not one of those places.

              This was not Sarah’s first job. It should not require anywhere near the amount of hand-holding and coddling that folks are suggesting in order to convey to Sarah that it is not ok to trash your boss and suggest/demand that they be fired because, in your personal opinion as a direct report, that person isn’t smart enough to see how smart you are. OP has identified where they would have tweaked Megan’s management training/mentoring, but it also doesn’t sound like Megan had a chip on her shoulder while communicating with Sarah.

              Moreover, OP had worked with Megan to provide significant coaching and support to Sarah on her poor communication, and Sarah effectively dropped everything she learned as soon as she thought she was right and Megan was wrong. Even if Sarah were right (which Megan and OP ultimately agreed was the case), no one wants an employee who goes through the motions during coaching and drops everything they’ve learned whenever they think they’re right. That’s obnoxious and doesn’t show a sincere engagement with improving how you communicate, which had been a long-term issue with Sarah that culminated in this event. And given that Sarah clearly doesn’t respect Megan, it’s unsurprising that she also failed to integrate Megan’s coaching. That is a failure on Sarah’s part, not Megan’s.

    5. CM*

      So interesting that you bring up Liz and Jack, because I completely disagree with you on both of these!

      This isn’t about Sarah’s idea (which by the way, the company paid Sarah to come up with, and is completely justified in profiting from). It’s about the disruption that Sarah causes in the team and her lack of professionalism.

      (As for Liz and Jack, the letter the other day where bird-phobic Jack panicked and pushed his coworker Liz in the path of a moving car, Liz’s manager reached out and asked Liz to return to work after she quit. Liz said she refuses to work there if Jack is still there. Seems 100% reasonable to me, even if Jack’s behavior is excusable.)

      1. MuseumChick*

        CM, I really like they way you phrased this. Sarah’s idea belongs to the company, how she ends up leaving that company doesn’t change that fact.

    1. Arduino*

      As a reforming Sarah I think the most satisfying result would be for Sarah to improve her approach and grow professionally on the team vs going scorched earth and getting fired.

      1. Noobtastic*

        Had this been a first-time thing, yes, you’re probably right. I love giving second chances. However, Sarah had been receiving coaching to “improve her approach and grow professionally,” for quite some time, and she just tossed it all out the window in that email.

        At some point, you just have to say, “Enough.”

  50. Arduino*

    Alison this should go in its own section called “managing done right” or something like that.

    1 identify issue
    2 coach improvement
    3 notice a slide back to old ways
    4 reinforce need to maintain corrected actions and consequences of failing to do so.
    5 fire person after they fail again

  51. Limepink22*

    Alison, would it be possible in how the site is coded for you to flag OPs and Letter Writers wth a background color like your MOD blue? I know their probably posting from different logins, but sometimes its easy to miss OP updates in really active threads. Wouldn’t have to be -your- blue though

      1. Limepink22*

        Silly technology, getting in the way of the demands of the populace! Thank you anyway for all you do with this site. I’ve posted a few times, but I’ve been reading for about two years- i actually went back through the archives to your first post and read all the comments on everything (took over my evening book time) except the open threads. I really feel just reading the perspectives and verbiage offered by yourself and the commentariate here have helped me grow as a leader more than any other workshop or book. So thank you =)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Wow, all the comments too? That must have taken you a huge amount of time! I always wonder if anyone does that, so it’s interesting to hear.

          1. lcsa99*

            I haven’t been reading all the comments, just those on some posts, but I have been working my way through all the posts! Just read about the superhero capes. *shaking head*

    1. MW*

      I try to search (CTRL+F) for the OP’s posting name if I know it, but it’s difficult. In the first place, many OPs post under different names or variations, and you don’t know until they’ve posted what it’ll be. Second, a lot of them just post under “OP”. Not only do lots of people *say* “OP” in their messages, but Chrome, for reasons I cannot fathom, doesn’t have any option for a case sensitive find, so I hit every instance of the letters “op”!

      It’d make it easier to find people if the post names had a prefix (e.g. “Name: OP”) but I can’t really imagine that not looking bad.

      I’d assume the fundamental problem with flagging OP’s posts as you ask, is that there’s no validation. Anyone can post as “OP” or “Letter Writer”, and mechanically there’s no good way to identify which poster is the original.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. And if I gave them some kind of special key, it would have to be good only for that post, which would be logistically pretty hard.

        1. Halpful*

          Idea! Alison, could you update the post with the name the OP(s) use, so that we can search for it without having to stumble on one of their comments first? Maybe ask OPs to let you know what name they’re using?

          sure, someone could fake it if they wanted to, but I think we can ignore that like we ignore the inevitable existence of occasional fake letters.

      2. AnonMurphy*

        Wonder if there’s a way to tie it to the optional email? If you can put in (on the back end) for each post the email that the letter was submitted from, and then they enter it, maybe it could flag? IDK, I work with some pretty smart devs who might be able to figure this out :)

        It would be pretty cool.

  52. Cassie*

    Tonight’s episode of NBC’s Powerless reminded so much of this – young upshot Sr VP Emily challenges the boss Van to a game of archery because she wants to move into an unused office and he says he wants to keep it for storage. Her coworkers tell her that she has to throw the game because if Van doesn’t win, he will raise hell. She agrees to throw the game but midway through, she decides to play for real and ends up tying the score. Emily surprisingly misses the bull’s-eye on the last shot, Van makes the shot, so Van wins.

    The next day, Van is in such a good mood that he has gotten everyone new/comfy chairs, learns everyone’s names, and even agrees that Emily will get her own office. But that’s apparently not enough for Emily and she eviscerates him and tells him that everyone has been letting him win his whole life, etc. She tears him down completely and basically breaks him. Her coworker asks her why she had to do that – she did get what she wanted after all (an office). She feels bad and bolsters him back up, and everyone is happy again.

    Not so sure Sarah will learn her lesson like Emily did!

  53. GraceW*

    I’m not so sure that firing Sarah actually sends the right message to the team. Continuing to support a manager who originally selected a mediocre plan to present to a client, and firing the person who came up with a superior plan basically tells the rest of the employees to keep their heads down, their best ideas to themselves and never question the manager’s decisions. If the client is happy with the results of implementing Sarah’s ideas, that client will expect future ideas to be on that same level.

    1. Tealeaves*

      This isn’t about which plan was better. This is about insubordination and toxic drama. LW didn’t fire Sarah for trying to push her plan, she fired her for the aggressively toxic attitude. However, I can see where you’re coming from that it might be misunderstood. I think it would be in LW’s best interest to have a straightforward talk with Megan and her team to explain the reason behind the firing. So they get the message that yes, you can share your plans if they’re better and we WILL listen (which LW did), but drama beyond that is totally inappropriate.

    2. Mira*

      I believe it does. Here you have two people:
      1. A supervisor who may not be brilliant, but is competent and gracious enough to acknowledge her mistakes and work past them, even if it means she has to work with someone who actively tries to make her life difficult, every single day. Those are some admirable traits right there.
      2. An employee who doesn’t just want to win – she wants the whole world to know who lost, and how badly. That’s not professional behaviour – in fact, it’s utterly vindictive.

      If Megan’s manager hadn’t fired Sarah, as Sarah’s coworker I’d be horrified to know that someone could get away with being vindictive and disruptive on a daily basis. Moreover, I would then not want to work in any form of collaboration with Sarah, because I would be afraid that any lack of outright brilliance on my part would get me strung up and publicly shamed at her behest. Plus, I would begin to pity Megan, instead of respecting her authority. Not to mention the complete lack of faith I’d have in my grandboss, who willingly let a coworker run roughshod over our supervisor.

      It’s important to remember that Sarah didn’t get fired because she had a superior plan and Megan or Megan’s manager were afraid that it wouldn’t look good to have an employee be better than their boss at certain aspects of the job. (I say certain aspects because it’s noted in the original letter that the plan submitted by Sarah wasn’t chosen in large part because it was slapdash, unpolished, and did not showcase foresight. In the real world, just brilliance isn;t enough to get you by – you have to be able to put some actual ground-reality under it too.)

      No, Sarah got fired because she was insisting on having her supervisor publicly humiliated for the oh-so-terrible crime of…what? Being slightly less creative, despite being far more polished and practical about how to present a WORKABLE plan? In the real world, you don’t fire supervisors for being less brilliant than their employees. You do, however, fire an employee if said employee thinks that being brilliant gives them license to behave like a vindictive harpy who has the gall to treat her superior like some enemy to be annihilated. If she’s got that much brass about her own supervisor, imagine how she would end up behaving with her coworkers and juniors, who would not have the authority to get her to knock it off!

      If I were Sarah’s coworker, I’d be glad she was gone. It would mean that the rest of us have to work harder to get up plans with that level of creativity, sure, But at least we’d be able to work without having to watch our backs in case Sarah suddenly decided one of us was another threat she needed to eliminate.

    3. animaniactoo*

      It is a misframing to say that the originally selected plan was mediocre. It was not *as good*, but it was an acceptable solid plan by the LW’s original statement about it.

      If the rest of your employees cannot distinguish between being fired for having a better plan and being fired for having and acting on an entitled must win and crush your enemies and feast on their blood attitude and undermining your boss in *how* you go about having a disagreement with them, you have a bigger issue with your entire hiring process than just the one Sarah.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It seems pretty clear that this wasn’t about whose ideas were better, and it also seems clear from OP’s follow-up that the employees realize that the firing was because Sarah had a toxic attitude.

      There’s also no indication that Sarah was the only person capable of generating ideas for clients that are “on that same level.”

  54. Cogitator*

    Grace – I agree with you. I posted my reasons in my reply to Grand Bargain.
    I’m not sure why so many people are saying (hoping?) Sarah likely won’t learn her lesson. Seems a tad Schadenfreude to me.. If she’s as brilliant as LW says, I certainly hope she does learn. Otherwise it’s a sad waste of talent.

    And Mira – I get where you are coming from but you don’t fire talent for being more talented either. What should happen is that, hopefully, an effective leader will either get them coaching or will move them to a role where they can use their talent more effectively (accounting and physics depts are full of brilliant, often anti-social types). The truth is, rare talent is, well, rare. It can be worth the extra effort to try to remediate them even if others might not get the same change. That’s life. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut. But only to a point. Unrepentant prima donnas can be destructive to an organization, in which case they must go. Often they are great consultants or entrepreneurs. IMO only, of course.

    1. Mira*

      I don’t think I implied that an employee should be fired for being too talented. What I *did* imply was that being talented doesn’t excuse vindictive, unreasonable, and cruel behaviour. When talented people are allowed to get away with being a**h****s, the whole industry begins to suffer – just look at the cultures of corporates like Uber and other “brogrammer” startups that have come under heavy fire because of their propagation of this “I am talented so I get to throw anyway and everyone under the bus” way of thinking, and the utterly destructive working environments that these cultures have led to.

      At no point does the OP say that they fired Sarah for being more talented than Megan. In fact, they say that they regret losing her talent very much. They are quite explicit on the fact that they fired Sarah for – frankly – being unable to behave like decent, reasonable adult in a workplace environment. Offices are for working in – not for drama. And talent has nothing to do with it.

      1. animaniactoo*

        On the fired for being more talented piece, I believe Cogitator is reacting to this: “Moreover, I would then not want to work in any form of collaboration with Sarah, because I would be afraid that any lack of outright brilliance on my part would get me strung up and publicly shamed at her behest.” – in which case, I note that the relevant portion of your argument is the requested stringing up and public shaming that you would object to being in danger of. If I understand your position correctly, you don’t really care if Sarah is more talented or brilliant than you are, you care that she would be condescending, patronizing, and vindictive about it. Which is a perfectly reasonable position to hold imo.

    2. Another Sarah (but not a Sarah if you know what I mean)*

      Cogitator, I’d agree with you on every point but one – yes, you should give people coaching, yes you should try to retain talent and turn it around if you can, yes, you should fire only as a last resort.
      My reading of this situation was that Sarah used up all her chances and this was the end of the line.
      The original letter says Megan has been coaching Sarah on this issue for months and that the original situation was a backsliding of behaviour that has already been addressed.
      The next thing that happened was that Megan re-addressed the poor behaviour, whilst giving Sarah the credit she wanted for her brilliant idea.
      The final thing was that Sarah ignored the rebuke and sent OP an email that wasn’t just grossly unprofessional, but demonstrated that she’d learned nothing from all those months of addressing her behaviour. At that point OP had to cut her losses and move on, because even the highest performer shouldn’t get a continual pass for bad behaviour. This was not one incident, it was a final straw.

    3. MuseumChick*

      While I hope Sarah learns from this, I don’t think she will based on the Sarah’s I’ve meet in the past.

      Megan and Grandboss gave Sarah ever possible chance, she was being coached on soft skills already but backslid. So they came up with a more comprehensive coaching plan for her. Sarah was told directly what was expected of her, which from what we know she responded to well to Megan’s face…if she had just left it at that Sarah would still have a job. Instead, she escalated it attacking her boss in a rude, vindictive and unprofessional manner. She wanted to be both showered in praise “Look at how totally smart and awesome Sarah’s idea is!” and take Megan to the stocks to be publically humiliated.

      In an industry that seems to run on TEAM effort, not just one above average person, this is totally a fireable offense.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Forgot to add something about the past Sarah’s I’ve meet.

        There was a male Sarah in my grad school program. I called him 90%. He comes up with great ideas but was the biggest jerk I have ever meet. He had to be right allllll the time and have the spotlight on him. Even when his good ideas couldn’t be implemented for whatever reason he would keep pushing them. He even tried to take credit for an idea I had come up with. I called him on it and his response was (after some back and forth) “Well, we BOTH came up with it.”

        He was a bully, he would change people’s work without asking them because he was just sooooo brilliant he had a better way of doing it! (Read: Sarcasm). Even after leaving school with zero friends (something very important in our small field) and being stuck in a part-time job and unpaid internship because he’s developed such a bad reputation in the field, he remains completely unrepentant. He is brilliant and the rest of us just can’t keep up (read: sarcasm).

        He is just the type to pretend to take feedback well to your face and then try and end run around you like the Sarah here did.

        This is why, while I do hope Sarah takes this as a learning opportunity I don’t think she will. Most of the Sarah’s I have meet go through like with a “I’m so smart and great and everyone else just can’t handle it.” attitude.

    4. animaniactoo*

      The problem I have with this point of view right now is that it places all the responsibility for the work on the coach’s shoulder. It presumes that just the right technique or words or skills will work to bring the employee around. It also presumes that this can be done *without* destroying the fundamentals for the rest of the team that the employee is supposed to be a part of in a way that could take even more time to recover from than the time it took to remediate the one brilliant employee. This is not a recipe into which you can add exactly the right ingredients and get the right kind of result every time. Because you have a dynamic factor which is not in your control – it has free will and choice and all of the responsibility for that has to be left on that factor for what it does with that free will and choice, even in your attempts to make it cohesive with the whole.

      Sarah was being coached. She’d been give a whole lot of rope, and she used it to tie the most beautifully constructed noose she could and then stuck her head into it.

      At some point, it HAS to be okay to say “I have done my part. I cannot do more if they will not do theirs (in a relatively non-harmful timeframe).”

      Now I’m not saying that Sarah likely won’t learn her lesson. However I am saying that it’s quite likely that getting fired and having major consequences for her actions is probably the only thing that may get through to her that her actions are as unacceptable as she has been being told that they are for several months now. Because with that one e-mail, it became really clear that all the work that she did to improve, that she was coached to work on, was fairly surface work. None of it was internalized, it changed no thought patterns or logistical understandings, and therefore the behavior improvements could not be counted on to stabilize.

  55. Secret Sarah*

    As a Sarah, I wanted to say I feel unjustly villainised by my name being turned into an AAM by-word for a certain type of employee… but the truth is, although I am not exactly like the Sarah in this tale… I am definitely the ‘Brilliant Jerk’ type in the workplace, so I don’t really have room to talk :(

  56. sstabeler*

    yeah, Sarah went way too far. To put it bluntly, there are TWO big problems with what we know of Sarah’s email.
    1) Sarah’s actually insubordinate to OP as well as Megan, in that the excerpt we see sounds more like something you would expect on a performance evaluation than even on a complaint from a subordinate. That, and it sounds like she was more-r-less trying to dictate to OP that Megan be punished, and how, which is none of her business.
    2) Sarah was effectively demanding the issue was resolved in the most humiliating way for Megan- when Megan hadn’t even been behaving unreasonably.

    In short, Sarah deserved to be fired, because she was trying to force the company to act as if Sarah had been 100% right, and Megan unreasonable to question her, which is patently false.

  57. Quilter*

    As a person who has always been quiet, a team player, and a hard worker, I thank you OP for taking the action you did. There is nothing more demoralizing than having management cave on the demands made by an employee who feels they have the skill set that permits them to only care about and focus on their own self-interests while the employees who are “team players” get the short end of the stick. You have created an environment where respect and professionalism are valued which will get you far greater work than an employee running amok because they feel overconfident in their skills to care about the well-being of others. I wish all managers understood the hidden costs involved in that type of dynamic rather than the short-sighted “This employee has skills too valuable to lose.”

  58. one_from_europe*

    I know I’ll be in minority here but I think the situation wasn’t handled very well.

    I’m not a Sarah. I’m also much brighter than the average (yeah, I know, there’s no non-arrogant way of saying that) and I even work in the same field, so I can relate. The problems described in the first letter are so typical of gifted people and especially of gifted women. It’s also typical that their ideas are rejected without a reason, just for the sake of the manager being right and it doesn’t matter whether the manager is male or female.

    As I write, I’m not a Sarah. I’ve learnt already that the solution to this situation is for me not to take initiative and not to solve problems I’m not asked to solve. Still, I see how things could be made better all the time and I suffer a lot by restraining myself and taking a back seat. That’s the strategy that I take at my current job. The quality of our projects could be much batter with my contributions but I’ve learnt already it’s not valued, so I’m staying passive.

    I know there will be plenty of people telling me now it’s not about not being pro-active and not taking initiative, that it’s about doing so in a respectful way. However, from my experience there’s no good way a Sarah can make a proposal that implies criticism of another person’s solution without being criticized for that. And I’ve learnt that the hard way.

    The result of this situation is that I hate my job, feel I’m doing things below my intellectual level. When I was mistakingly given an assignment 2 levels above mine I got an excellent performance review for it. But this doesn’t matter – my bosses expect me to stay on my level and shut up. I hate my job so much at this point that I literally feel sick when I go there. The other consequence is I’m searching for a new job very intensively and hope to leave very soon.

    While Sarah’s email was unacceptable – no doubt about that – I can imagine how frustrated she was feeling. Mind you, you don’t know what happened between Megan and Sarah. I’ve already had bosses who made offensive remarks towards me after I had made a respectful but critical comment. Obviously they always did so in private, without witnesses. I’m not trying to argue here that this was the case in your situation. But it might be.

    And you lost a bright person because of your management style.

    I’ve had one boss so far who I could work with perfectly. He was gifted himself. He gave me challenges and new things to work on constantly. Things much more difficult than on my formal level of expertise. He was an incredibly critical guy, giving me plenty of criticism but always tangible things, never things related to “style”, “tone”, “how I say things”. Our results were fantastic. He loved my pragmatic attitude, the ability to think quickly and solve complex problems. I loved his direct way of communicating, not playing games with me and taking me seriously.

    I think you did Sarah a favor. I hope she won’t have problems finding a new job and find a boss who can use her qualities.

    1. Amazed*

      “However, from my experience there’s no good way a Sarah can make a proposal that implies criticism of another person’s solution without being criticized for that. And I’ve learnt that the hard way.”

      There are certainly going to be people who bristle and punch down at even the most diplomatically proposed alternate solutions, but:

      A) They’re the exception, not the rule, and it sounds like you may have just had a run of bad luck in finding the exception of a workplace. Alison has some other articles about getting out of toxic jobs and not letting them poison future ones. Not saying you’re in one, but please consider them.

      B) The info we have from the LW indicates the only punching down that happened here was from Megan digging in her heels in response to Sarah pushing the idea so aggressively, and later with LW’s coaching saying that the plan is actually good, but the aggression needs to be toned down. That’s a far cry from ‘offensive remarks in private without witnesses’.

      Also, “[LW] lost a bright person because of [their] management style”? How would they have salvaged things after Sarah’s e-mail? Tell her to tone down the aggression? They just tried that, and Sarah doubled down on the aggression in response.

      1. one_from_europe*

        “A) They’re the exception, not the rule, and it sounds like you may have just had a run of bad luck in finding the exception of a workplace.”

        I don’t think it is. I’ve seen that in several companies.

        In one I was asked on my first day what I would improve on one project we were discussing. The manager who asked me that said he always found it interesting to learn the views of new employees, because they could offer a “fresh” way of looking at things. After my very careful answer (“I would need more time to analyse the situation, but probably…”, “we could also…”, “it might be that…”, “I would be happy to help with that”) I was given the cold shoulder and criticized as arrogant for weeks. Till I quit.

        That’s an incredibly frequent behavior towards good people. They are threatening (“disruptive”).

        1. Not a paralegal*

          Sounds like your manager wasn’t interested in a fresh look so much as testing you. And anything more than an “I don’t know” meant you “failed” his test and therefore targeted. Unfortunately, that does happen. That was a toxic manager and you are well rid of him and a firm that lets that occur.

          But this wasn’t the case with Sara.

    2. Not a paralegal*

      “It’s also typical that their ideas are rejected without a reason, just for the sake of the manager being right and it doesn’t matter whether the manager is male or female.”
      But that’s not what happened. Sarah’s plan was rejected because it was rough and because of her abrasive personality. Sarah’s bulldozing got results: 1 she wanted and 1 she didn’t.

      “from my experience there’s no good way a Sarah can make a proposal that implies criticism of another person’s solution without being criticized for that.”
      …Maybe if Sarah stopped seeing every “no” as a criticism of her work, she’d have a better experience? If all Sarah does is criticize others, well goose, gander etc.

      “I can imagine how frustrated she was feeling. Mind you, you don’t know what happened between Megan and Sarah.”
      Given how forthright Sarah was in her email, her continued advocacy for her plan after selection was made, the coaching she received and the way she treats both her co-workers and her bosses before all this, Sarah is probably the one who’s been offensive while her bosses and co-workers put up with her. Her frustration is because no one will acknowledge how gifted she is all the time. That’s on her, not her bosses or co-workers.

      “And you lost a bright person because of your management style.”
      Er more like OP lost a toxic employee whose brilliance was eclipsed by her hubris.

      “I’ve had one boss so far who I could work with perfectly.”
      What happened to him?

      “I think you did Sarah a favor. I hope she won’t have problems finding a new job and find a boss who can use her qualities.”
      OP did Sarah, Megan, Megan’s team and the firm a favor.

    3. MuseumChick*

      Your argument might have some weight if 1) The OP hadn’t explicitly stated in the comment section of the last letter that Megan was consistently fairly evaluating Sarah’s work and given her credit for all the great ideas she brought to the team. 2) The OP and Megan hadn’t already dumped a lot of time and resources to coach Sarah on soft skills. 3) The overall tone and language of Sarah’s email which IMO reflects her overall attitude.

      Alison asks us to take letter writers at their word, and based on the OP’s description of the situation Sarah was bright but arrogant a pushy person. I worked with a male Sarah it was hell (since it seems to matter to you view of the situation the work was in grad school, the program I got into is in the top three of my line of work so the entire cohort was “brighter” than most. Yet we only had one “Sarah”).

    4. one_from_europe*

      Let me add one thing to my yesterday’s comment.

      Reading the original letter my impression was that “Sarah” was simply extremely bored and that’s why she was looking for opportunities to get engaged in something if only by criticizing when not asked to provide feedback. That’s a problem for a lot of smart people.

      When I joined my management consulting company I was always done with my tasks after an hour or two a day. I asked my bosses for more tasks plenty of times but was given nothing or something that I finished in no time. Sitting and waiting for 6-7 hours a day is a torture for me, I can’t not engage intellectually, it makes me depressive. Now I always have something personal to work on – after signalling my bosses the problem many times I feel I can legitimately devote the work time to my own projects, but at the beginnings I found this inactiveness simply unbearable.

      If you, letter writer, have the problem again, if I were you I would make sure that the “troublemaker” isn’t feeling excruciatingly underwhelmed.

      1. MuseumChick*

        There is nothing in either letter or in anything the Letter Writer has added in the comments to indicate this is the case. And even if a grown up want’s to be treated like an adult they can’t go off having tantrums just because they don’t go around causing trouble just because they feel understimulated. That’s what children do.

      2. Not a paralegal*

        This is a job, not daycare or school. They’re not there to educate or mentally stimulate Sarah. She’s there to work for them. Criticizing others out of boredom aka causing trouble is what children do. Sarah is an adult, not a child. To indulge anyone simply because s/he’s brilliant is a problem in itself, whether the person is a child or adult.

        1. one_from_europe*

          You didn’t really understand my comment, did you? Not everybody works performing simple repetitive tasks. In some professions analytical skills, intelligence and talent matter. Or should matter at least.

          1. Not a paralegal*

            Yes, I did understand your comment. Did you understand mine? Skills, intelligence and talent matter but they’re not the only things that matter. Sarah hasn’t reached that point. Yet. She just needs to work for a company who will coddle her because of her talent. Good for that firm, not so much for anyone she considers beneath her whether they’re her superiors, co-workers or subordinates. We already know how she treats them in OP’s firm.

  59. Noobtastic*

    OP, at all costs, save that email! Multiple copies, in multiple places.

    You’re going to need it when Sarah sues for wrongful termination.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wrongful termination (at least in the U.S.) requires the reason for the firing to be unlawful — i.e., discriminatory, retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, etc. It can’t just be “I think this was unfair.”

      1. Noobtastic*

        Exactly. Sarah has no case, here. But dollars to donuts, she thinks she has a case.

        If Sarah sues (and based on her aggressive “but I was right!” fighting from before, I’d put the odds above 50%), you can whip out that letter and stop the lawsuit in its tracks. But if you delete it, you’ll have to actually spend time and resources fighting it. After all, there’s nothing stopping her from CLAIMING that it was discriminatory, whether it’s true or not.

        I think. IANAL. Still, I have worked with enough lawyers, and seen enough people trying to prosecute without real cause, to know that some things, you just keep. Better safe than sorry. She’s already shown herself to be vindictive, after all.

  60. JS*

    I honestly from what I am sensing, Meghan, bless her heart, isn’t a very good manager. I’m sure she is a good person but she seems weak-willed. Sarah, who by the other letter is obviously bright, confident (to a huge fault) and toted as one of the “best” analysts senses that and instead of doing the normal/professional thing of making peace with the fact you are more competent than your boss, went overboard with her insubordination. Sarah seems like the type to take advantage of a non authoritative manager. Where are plenty places who would value personality/team player over work/results there’s a lot of big companies (#1 online retailer comes to mine) where Meghan would fit right in and excel for having the best ideas/results no matter who she stepped on. I’ve come from both sides, where no matter how bad/mediocre your boss was no one ever got fired and then in places where you had to watch your back cause coworkers would stab you in it for recognition and promotion and it was rewarded. Seems like its just the wrong job for Sarah.

    1. Noobtastic*

      I believe you’re right about some certain workplaces rewarding cutthroat behavior. My question is, do they make that clear during the interview process? Or do they just have a really high turnover, where people find out the hard way, and the backstabbers are the only ones who last? Is it fully-informed consent, or a surprise? If it’s all fully-informed consensual backstabbing, well, more power to them, I suppose.

      If they make that clear, I can just picture the interview:

      “Why did you leave your last job?”
      “I was fired for doing an end-run around my boss, and then demanding that my boss be publicly humiliated and fired, because she didn’t choose my idea in the first place.”
      “Welcome aboard! You’ll fit right in. Here’s your ceremonial dagger.”

    2. Vanilla Nice*

      I see your point, but experience is that organizations which consistently reward cutthroat behavior eventually pay the price for it. In the most spectacular cases. the dysfunction becomes public knowledge and creates a PR h (for example, Uber corporate), it more commonly, the bully claws their way into a position that he/she doesn’t have the technical skills to handle and the organization suffers as a result.

      1. Cogitator*

        I’m not sure I agree extrapolating Sarah’s behaviour as bullying. The power imbalance was clearly in Megan and LWs favour in this case. The end-run was somewhat understandable; that alone doesn’t give me pause. She knew she had a superior solution and wanted it to be given a fair consideration instead of being shelved because of its presentation format. IMO, Megan also needs some coaching about how to see ideas for the trees. It’s the aftermath of how Sarah ungraciously demanded Megan be strung up for her possibly poor judgement–we’ve all been there–that needed addressing. I strongly suspect there was a two-way power struggle going on there that LW might have investigated further. Such situations are rarely single-sided as far as responsibility goes. Again, from my own talent mishaps XP. Definitely things I could have done differently.

    3. Cogitator*

      I agree with you JS, that Megan could also use some coaching on how to deal with A-player “rising star” types, which are notoriously difficult to manage — for those who have never had this terrifying privilege one can find several good HBR articles specifically on this subject. The challenge, as another poster already wrote, is it’s hard for an “average” manager to grok these types. Most managers are good, solid people but aren’t necessarily the brightest or most innovative (a la George Carlin, the IQ stats don’t lie). So taking the easier path of firing this kind of talent vs. stepping up to the challenge is understandable if unfortunate, especially without any additional leadership or guidance available. Sarah in this story may well have been a lost cause re: coaching. Without being there in the moment to know just how hard she had to push to get her idea heard it just speculation on the emotional nuances of how both Megan and Sarah were engaging. I can guess based on my own experience but I won’t. What I will say is if this business is in an industry that wants to attract and retain top talent (lots of egos in these industries, such as management consulting) there remains an unanswered question about how managers like Megan should be trained to deal with future “Sarah’s”. Firing all of them is probably not a longterm viable solution. Regression to the mean applies when innovation is stifled in favour of process and we are only just now starting to see major organizations suffer for it.

    4. Not a paralegal*

      If Megan was such a bad manager, she never would have reconsidered her decision. Not sure why some are trying to make this her fault. Of course there’s a “power imbalance”: Sarah reports to Megan. Sarah’s brilliance hasn’t earned her equal footing with Megan and for good reason. OP already told us how Sarah treats her co-workers, just imagine what she’s like if she got what she wanted and became their boss. And yes what Sarah did was bullying. She thought she could bully upper management into pillorying or FIRING Megan. As others have said, there are plenty of companies who have no problem with this, OP’s firm isn’t one of them.

      1. Cogitator*

        Not sure why the term “fault” has arisen. As the manager, Megan definitely has responsibility for her actions contributing to this situation, as does Sarah. Any situation where a different outcome may have been possible with a different leader means there are lessons yet to be learned. Sarah was given her lesson; a good leader would also ask what lessons were learned by management. Evaluation of ideas, to handling difficult staff to hiring practices are all possible areas for improvement. Agree to disagree about the bullying.

        1. Not a paralegal*

          “Not sure why the term “fault” has arisen.”
          From comments about the managers, as if they should have done more or better to accommodate poor talented oppressed Sarah. Even now you’re wondering when OP and Megan are going to get their lesson. Answer: they already got it. They learned they’ve wasted time and effort coaching a toxic employee, they asked themselves if retaining her was worth the hassle, and the answer was no. That’s why they cut her loose. OP and Megan are good leaders.

          1. Cogitator*

            You seem terribly invested in this and I’m going to stop responding to you. Fault wasn’t mentioned nor did I call them called bad leaders. I believe that in every management experience there is something to learn for all parties. Sorry you don’t agree but then again, you don’t have to. Agree to disagree. :)

  61. Joe from Frederick*

    Definitely the right outcome, I’m glad she made it so much easier to decide!

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