Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 35;   September 1, 2010: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III

What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III

by

When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, trouble looms. What role do supervisors play?
Gen. Patton and Gen. Weyland photographed at Nancy, France

Gen. Patton and Gen. Weyland photographed at Nancy, France, where Third Army Headquarters and XIX Tactical Air Command Advance Headquarters were stationed in the same area. Gen. Weyland commanded XIX TAC beginning in January, 1944. Gen. Patton assumed command of Third Army shortly after the Normandy invasion. Working together, it is fair to say, they advanced the science of close air support. Their joint operations enabled Third Army to advance faster than contemporary doctrine held possible, because they used close air support to control and dominate Third Army's flanks. Gen. Eisenhower, adhering more closely to contemporary doctrine, favored advancing across a broad front. This led him to apply resources relatively more evenly than Gen. Patton favored, and ultimately paused Third Army's advance. Gen. Patton, who had been engaged in a long-running feud with Field Marshall Montgomery, saw this as the result of a purely political attack by the Field Marshall.

Sometimes, what appears to be the result of divide and conquer, or some other political move by one's rivals or superiors, is not that at all. People make decisions for many reasons, and sometimes those reasons include differences in perspective. Gen. Eisenhower's view of the dangers of salients was based on contemporary military doctrine. Gen. Patton and Gen. Weyland had already moved on from there, but it is probable that even they did not yet fully appreciate the degree to which they had done so. What seemed to Gen. Patton as a political decision was, at least in part, due to the difference in how he and Gen. Eisenhower viewed war.

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Recently we've examined the behavior of uncooperative non-subordinates from the perspective of the non-subordinate, exploring both internal and organizational reasons for the behavior. We now turn to motivations related to the actions of supervisors.

As before, we'll use C as the name of the person who needs cooperation to carry out his or her responsibilities, and S as the name of the person subverting C. Here are some insights related to the behavior of the supervisors of C and S.

Strong public support from C's supervisor is essential
Unless C's supervisor declares to all that C has responsibility for the task in question, the problems C is experiencing could be the result of a misunderstanding. C's supervisor might have been inadvertently ambiguous, or might have chosen ambiguous wording to avoid conflict with one of C's peers.
When accepting any assignment that could offend others, C can ask for a supervisory commitment to make an unambiguous declaration to everyone whose cooperation C requires.
C's and S's shared supervisor might be using divide-and-conquer tactics
Some supervisors believe that competition is an effective tool for managing subordinates, using a technique I call divide and conquer. If S and C share a supervisor, S might be exhibiting behavior encouraged and even sought by their supervisor.
If so, C didn't create the problem, and C probably can't solve it. If C can't persuade S that the trouble between them is externally caused, C might have to move on.
C can't control S — only S's supervisor can
C's best options are asking S respectfully for cooperation, and negotiating with S for cooperation. If they fail, commenting to S about the quality of S's cooperation is a tempting but dangerous course of action. S's resentment and anger are likely outcomes.
If S's supervisor is C's peer, or of lower rank, C's asking S's supervisor directly for help can be effective. If S's supervisor is of higher rank, C can ask C's own supervisor for help. Some are reluctant to ask for such help, for fear that they might be seen as weak. Such a response by C's supervisor to a request for help is probably out of line, because this kind of help is exactly what supervisors are best able to provide.
S's supervisor might be targeting C or C's supervisor
On occasion, Strong public support
from your supervisor
is essential
Ss act on behalf of their supervisors, who are targeting C or C's supervisor. Coping with this situation is difficult indeed, especially when S has received deniable direction.
In these cases, the problem is not between C and S. It's between S's supervisor and C or C's supervisor. C would be wise to deal with it as such.

The most effective strategy for C is asking for supervisor support proactively, before trouble develops. If the request is declined, C has the advantage of learning early that support is not available. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Clueless on the Concept  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenWjjMoZVUXCENlENKner@ChacocMCjCmszINeFBXBoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Blaming and being blamedIs It Blame or Is It Accountability?
When we seek those accountable for a particular failure, we risk blaming them instead, because many of us confuse accountability with blame. What's the difference between them? How can we keep blame at bay?
Problem solving often requires collaborationTen Tactics for Tough Times: I
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
The Lincoln Memorial at sunriseOrganizational Loss: Searching Behavior
When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
Representative Sam Graves, Republican of MissouriOn the Appearance of Impropriety
Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean, what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
Elephant Island, where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew were marooned in 1916How to Avoid Responsibility
Taking responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable are the hallmarks of either a rising star in a high-performance organization, or a naïve fool in a low-performance organization. Either way, you must know the more popular techniques for avoiding responsibility.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrennniykMhUUgBztjHFner@ChacDBryituVHkUnWwkdoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.