My best friend and I have worked together at the same company for years. A few months ago we competed for a manager job in our department, and she got it; it’s her first time as a manager, and she’s turned into this horrible little micro-managing boss-from-hell. Everybody hates the new rules, morale is rock bottom, and most of the recruiters are talking about leaving as soon as they find something else. Because she’s my best friend, the team is pressuring me to talk with her about it; I think it may strain our friendship even further than it already is, and am pretty sure a talk won’t change anything (she’s very stubborn when she thinks she’s right). How would you handle this situation?
Really Stuck in the Middle
Dear Really Stuck,
It sounds like your friend is not only a first-time manager, but possibly also the parent of very young children at home. Did I guess that right? A parenting style geared toward the developmental ages of one’s children can sometimes translate into a similar management style in the office…and a “control and direct” that keeps the peace with a two or three year old can get ugly with direct reports who are used to choosing what to wear and eat by themselves.
An intervention is needed ASAP, and I agree that as her best friend you may be the right one to do it. Get her out of the office and into a neutral place where you can talk privately and without interruption, and then tell her honestly what is happening in your department. She probably senses the hostility, even if she may not yet be aware of what is causing it.
You may have heard me say this before
, but there’s a classic formula for an intervention:
This is what I see.
This is how it makes me feel.
Here’s what needs to change.
And here’s what will happen if things stay the same.
Start with a general statement that acknowledges your role as both friend and direct report.
“We’ve known each other for a long time, and as your best friend I consider myself your eyes and ears on the team. But I also love you enough to tell you when I think you’re making a mistake. Will you give me a few minutes to tell you respectfully what’s on my mind?”
Then speak the truth, and come prepared with specific examples of micromanagement. Focus on the facts, not on the emotions of the people around you, and speak to her as respectfully as you’d want her to talk to you. It’s important if you want your friendship to weather the storm.
Be specific, too, about what needs to change for the team to regain trust in her as a manager. Tell her you need her to pick the hill, or point the direction, but that you’re all quite capable of figuring out how to get there and make her look good while you do it. Acknowledge that everyone is different, and that there may be some on the team who need more direct management than others; it’s her job as the manager to figure out where people fall on the directive-autonomous spectrum, and to provide the right level of support and structure for each. That's what managers do.
The final part of the formula sounds like a threat, but it's really just a statement of cause and affect. “If you continue to manage this team as if we are children, people will leave at the first opportunity for another job. It may not happen today, or even next week, but it will happen. The turnover rate in our team is in your hands.” Simple, direct, without tears or recriminations. And then the choice really is hers.
Oh, I almost forgot the most important part of the intervention:
I want you to be an amazing success as a manager, because I’m so proud that you got this job. How can I help you do that?
Sometimes, just knowing that we are accepted in spite of our screw-ups is all that is necessary to pick things up and start fresh. Tell her that you're proud of her accomplishments, and that you really are committed to her success in this role. It will probably make all the difference in how she processes the information you've shared with her.
Bottom line is that she’s lucky to have you as a caring friend, and even luckier that you’re on her team. Difficult conversations are when we learn the most about our capacity to face our fears, and I wish you the best of luck in this one.
In my day job, I’m the Head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here
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