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Volume 10, Issue 35;   September 1, 2010: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III

What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

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

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