Use tact with misguided manager

Dear Joan:
I work for a company that provides data processing services. My division consists of almost 300 programmers and analysts. Six months ago a new division head was named. His previous assignment was as an operational manager. He was the head of a team of six troubleshooters. You can probably already guess the difficulties that we are having.

Those of us in the middle ranks are primarily concerned with planning for the future. We want to know which projects need to be finished this year and next so that we can plan staff training and development. We need to know where the business is going so that we can be ready for the challenges. Unfortunately, the captain of the ship does not seem interested in our course. He would rather peer over the back of the ship and watch the turbulence in the water. He likes solving problems. He wants to follow up on every nightly problem. And he wants details!

Our latest challenge is our use of para-professionals. These valuable people are more skilled than secretaries. They accomplish a great deal of work at a fraction of the cost of programmers. Because our new division head did not have para-professionals before, he cannot see their value to us. He thinks they are doing work that we should be doing. He views them as an unnecessary cost; aha! A problem to be solved!

Whenever we encounter situations like these we try to coach him by explaining the situation and our views and reasons. But our variety of coaching styles have not been very successful. We have now reached the situation where his boss is telling us to lighten up.

Help! What advice can you give us so that we can successfully navigate through the icebergs and not become another Titanic? And just as importantly, what advice do you have for our new division head?

Your new boss thinks he's helping but he doesn't realize "help" is in the eye of the beholder. He's used to getting job satisfaction from solving problems; it's fast, fun and feels good when the problem has been fixed. He may not be suited to planning, politics and coaching others-which is required in his new role. Your challenge is to help him understand the difference between help and meddling.

Although his perspective as an outsider is healthy- he should be questioning the status quo- he appears to be undoing your decisions without adequate knowledge and understanding. What's worse, he doesn't seem to trust your expertise and judgment. Six months is not enough time for him to fully understand this new area.

The danger is that he has complained to his boss and you will be pressured to stop disagreeing with his decisions. Rather than being participative, your organization could slide backwards into an authoritative environment: "Don't question my decisions as boss and let me solve all the problems." Unfortunately, his boss isn't coaching him to listen to your input.

Perhaps you can appeal to his need to solve problems by giving him some. If there have been some higher level issues plaguing your area he may be able to go to work on them. He could be especially useful to your group if he could tackle some of your political battles with his peers and boss.

Unfortunately, if you hide things from him he won't trust you, so your best bet may be to explain problems along with detailed solutions outlining pros, cons, consequences and resource needs so he realizes your solutions are well thought out and make sense. If he resists your ideas, ask him if you can "test" your solution ideas before he tries his. (This will borrow some time to prove your ideas are valid.)

It is risky, but you may want to have a heart-to-heart with him about the bottom line affects his style is having on the operation. If you do this, allow him to save face by telling him you know he's trying to be helpful but point out the number of hours spent documenting the details he wants and the other negative consequences. Don't judge him-just show him the facts. Then explain what role you'd like him to play.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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