How to Deal With a Bossy Subordinate
A bossy subordinate isn't just a nuisance -- this person also has the potential to bring your management style and authority into question with other staffers. Ongoing bossiness can cross the line into insubordination and insolence, which can negatively impact the workplace environment and create strained working relationships. Address this concern the first time it presents itself to ensure the behavior doesn't escalate; though problematic in any setting, the damage can be greater in the more intimate setting of a small business.
Make sure your subordinates know exactly what is expected of them in their jobs. Use written job descriptions that fully define roles and responsibilities so there's no question about the chain of command, individual work responsibilities and collective efforts. Establishing these parameters gives you something to refer to if you have to talk to a subordinate about bossy behavior.
Sometimes, bossy people don't realize they're coming across in an abrasive manner, and they feel they're being helpful. Speak privately to the offending subordinate, bring her poor behavior to her attention and let her know the impact it has on other people in the office. “Susan, you might not be aware of this, but when you take over project planning in a meeting, it can make other people feel like their opinions aren’t important.”
If a subordinate’s bossy behavior is directed at you, it undermines your authority and has to be stopped. For example, if a subordinate regularly tells you what she's going to do, such as, “I’m taking a few days off next week,” rather then ask, “Is it possible for me to take a few days off next week?” take steps to change this pattern of behavior. “That's unacceptable. Here's a copy of our internal policy for requesting time off. Please follow the directives in the future if you want leave time.”
Some people have aggressive, bossy personalities, which doesn't necessarily make them bad employees or colleagues; it just means they have to be managed in a certain way. Address attitude and behavior when you conduct a bossy subordinate’s performance evaluation and bring up specific examples of ways in which behaviors rub others the wrong way. Help your staffer find ways to rein in tendencies to be authoritarian or pushy in her approach.
Bossy people who cross the line into insubordination must be handled swiftly and firmly before they affect colleagues and clients, which can be financially devastating for a small business. An employee who willfully undermines your authority should be immediately confronted and disciplined appropriately. Severe acts of insolence may be cause for termination, while an otherwise good employee having an “off” day should be issued a strong warning and be counseled on the consequences of future transgressions.