Too-friendly boss needs leadership rehab


Q: As a supervisor, I have always had a friendly, nonconfrontational leadership style. I have a dry sense of humor and enjoy joking around with my staff. Recently, one of my employees told me that she feels the others are very disrespectful towards me. I was surprised, because I never viewed their bantering as disrespect.

In the past, my manager has also suggested that employees may not respect me because I am too nice and friendly with them. I disagreed at the time, but now I think she may be right. How can I overcome my history and get more respect?

A: Before undertaking a leadership style makeover, you must correctly identify the change you need to make. The problem here is not that you are a nice, friendly, jovial person. After all, no one wants to work for a supervisor who is humorless and mean-spirited.

The more likely difficulty is that you lack "management presence" — that is, the ability to comfortably relate to people from a position of authority. Managers who feel uneasy about having power often try to minimize the distance between themselves and employees by acting like one of the gang. As a result, they seem more like a peer than a boss.

Your "nonconfrontational" approach may come across as a reluctance to deal with difficult issues, especially if you fail to address performance problems or allow yourself to be intimidated by strong-willed people. Employees will never respect you as a manager unless you act like one.

For you, therefore, the recipe for success is to increase your supervisory self-confidence while retaining the amiable, fun-loving aspects of your personality. You don't have to become aloof and boring in order to be respected.

Q: You have previously said that cubicle conversations cannot be considered private because they take place in an open area. But my situation is slightly different.

Whenever someone comes to me with a question, the woman in the next cubicle yells out the answer before I have a chance to speak. I think it is very rude of her to butt in when someone has specifically asked for my opinion. How should I handle this?

A: By trying to beat you to the answer, your know-it-all colleague is definitely overstepping her bounds. But since you're not her boss, you appear to have only two choices. The first is to politely request an end to the interruptions.

For example: "Mary, I know you're just trying to help, but it really bothers me when you yell out an answer to someone who is asking me a question. I would appreciate your giving me time to respond. If I don't have the information, I will gladly refer the person to you."

Should you prefer not to have that conversation, your second option is to simply ignore her unsolicited input and continue with your own answer.

(Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.)

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