I inherited a team 9 months ago. My style is to work alongside my team (and help them set goals + priorities) versus use fear, dictate, or break their confidence.

A member of my team is a year older than me, newer to the field, but an expert on her project. I am a Director, and my manager is the VP. I've definitely noticed that she shows more effort for projects that involve her. Since the VP managed her for 3 months, before I took on the team, it took awhile for her to break the habit of going to the VP, and I had to correct that behavior.

Recently she did not turn in a strategic project proposal by my requested deadline, though it was clearly communicated, and we had a midway checkin. It felt disrespectful, and I immediately thought it was unlike her to be disorganized, and wondered if it was because, this was a project for me, and not one she brainstormed on her own.

How do I present myself as a strong leader, while not losing my approachable and friendly style? This is the only individual on the team of 7 women, that I am struggling with.


Only judging by what you wrote, the maladaptive emotion might be yours that you are interpreting or displacing on to her and labeling it disrespect. There are 100 reasons, completely benign to how she might feel about you, that could cause her to be late, many of them random and out of anyone's control. You indicating a deadline and having a mid-way conversation guarantees nothing. The fact you "immediately" thought she was disorganized and something about you are more of symptoms and signs that you likely harbor something against her than the other way around.

Intimidation? Inferiority?

Respect and trust are earned. You aren't owed it simply because you are named boss.

By the way, not only do I not care that my team may go around me and talk to my boss, I also encourage it. Open door policies build trust. I work to have a relationship with my boss so I know he will support me even if he doesn't agree with me and I work with my team so they WANT to go to me directly and not even feel the need to go to my boss. If I get split my boss, I will work with him to close that dynamic, but I would never ever ever consequence a team member for feeling the need to go around me. Else, they will feel trapped and I will pay that price down the road.


In the Navy, we were taught that authority comes from rank, from expertise and from leadership (in increasing order of importance).

  • Staff may respect you because you're a director, but I would never rely on positional authority.
  • Staff may respect you for your competence - if you have the skills and a proven record of delivery. It sounds like this won't work in the case you cite; the individual is an acknowledged SME, and I agree with you that it is unwise to challenge her on this.
  • Staff can learn to respect you for leadership. What value you provide to them. I infer from your description of your leadership style that this is your goal. You want to work alongside the team and help them to set goals.

Unfortunately, I'm going to agree with nearly everyone else that this is an opportunity for you to interview the individual in question and find out what happened, why, and how to build a better working relationship. Does she need goal setting, or does she have other needs? What does she need from a leader? What role can you play in her success? What obstacles can you remove from her path? What are her ambitions and how can you advance them?

Speaking very personally, I'm very uncomfortable with a conversation that begins "I feel disrespect when you fail to turn in a deliverable that we'd agreed on". I'm somewhat more comfortable with, "We missed this strategic deliverable; I'd like to go to management and reschedule delivery, but before I do that, I want to figure out why we missed it, and how we avoid this in the future. What do you need from me, and from the division in general to make sure that we hit the new deadline?" Followed by a whole lot of intense listening.

From your description of the leadership style you prefer, I suspect I'm merely confirming what you already know. Best of luck.


If you would like to keep the friendly leader approach, you should talk to her often, try to figure out why she doesn't respect you. Maybe if you work together, this whole thing will turn around, because she will get to know you, and you'll get to know her. You can try to give her some special privileges like being allowed to stay away from certain meetings etc. But, keep in mind that it can be dangerous because the other team members might want to have the same privileges.

On the other hand, if you spend all your time with a person that undermines your authority, you should think about replacing this person. Your responsibility is the team and the project, and not being in friends with a primadonna. You can grow another expert, who cooperates, from the rest of the team. Personally, I value teams more than a single person's expertise.


I wanted to add one comment in response to Zsolt's advice to give the employee special privileges.

While I understand that the intent of giving someone with whom you feel you do not have a great relationship is to build that relationship, ultimately this would backfire. Special privileges should instead be granted to your top performers - this will be seen as a reward for the contributions they make to the team (which it is). If special privileges are granted to someone like the employee that has been described, that person will then feel as if they are "special" and that the "rules don't apply to them". Your top performers will see that, and start to feel insecure about the efforts they contribute to the team. If this were to go on long enough, they might even start to look for other positions.

In this case, yes, respect is earned, however that does not mean that your employee should not be meeting the deadlines you have established. Be firm but gentle in your approach, find out why the deadline was missed, and reiterate your expectations when you set a deadline. I.e. "this is the deadline I set, I expect it to be met, and if you think you are unable to do so, then you have a responsibility to come to me to discuss..." This same concept should be applied with anything you ask of your employees. If you set an expectation, but don't follow through, it will undermine your authority.

Eventually, if this person cannot accept you in your position, she will leave or give you cause to offer her an opportunity to pursue employment with a different company, at which time you will be able to fill that position with someone of your choosing. (Hopefully it did not come to that, as it sounds like she had a lot of beneficial knowledge for your team!


First, the no 1 problem of all work places now a days is how to manage promotions. Many feel they never had the opportunity that they deserve.

Second, there is no problem for an employee to go see another manager higher in the hierarchy. The important thing is that the project is done on time and in the limit of the budget.

Third, the greatest quality of a manager is not to be afraid of talent and innovation. We all end up to be at the place we want, more or less.

Fourth, when a company increases its revenue and that all the expenses are covered, it is amazing how the tensions disappear.

Finally, the important thing is to communicate along the way on the problems a team encounter in the realization of a project. It is the only way to be sure to succeed. The secret is to focus on the revenues and on the profit. Managing gives you an higher salary, but you have to handle more work and more pressure. Sometime, an employee prefer not to become a manager and his or her salary increases over the year to be the same as a manager.


Labeling someone as disrecpectful, primadonna and uncoopoerative doesn't help. Find the root cause instead.

One possible explanation:

You might not be aligning her goals with yours and/or company. Ask yourself honestly if you'd like to work on project you were assigned by someone else or projects you researched yourself. Talented people wants to shine, you possibly gave her assignment that will make YOU shine, not her.

Give credit for people who do the work, you've already received your credit: Director title.

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