Q: I was recently promoted to a new role at my firm. As a result of the promotion, I now report directly to the same supervisor as my former boss. My former boss remains senior to me but is no longer responsible for overseeing my work. Yet he keeps treating me as though our relationship has not changed. He is still sending me assignments and trying to set deadlines for my work. He butts in during meetings with clients and more senior people at the firm to speak about my work as if he is still responsible for it.
I asked our shared supervisor whether this was the intended relationship, and she said it was not. She said that we all report directly to her. She told me she would speak to him during his performance review, but his review has come and gone, and I am still getting emails from him telling me to do things on his timeline.
How do I push back and make sure he is aware that he can no longer assign me work, set deadlines or speak on my behalf?
A: What if I told you he is fully aware he is no longer authorized to do those things — but he’s trying it anyway?
Yes, transitions are difficult, and old reflexes die hard. But it sounds like enough time has passed since your promotion that his attempts to dominate your meetings or oversee your work are more than forgetful mistakes. Each act he gets away with confirms that the old reporting structure is still intact for all practical purposes. And that undermines both you and your (his) boss. The response needs to be less “push back” and more “shut it down.”
It’s possible you’re contributing to the problem by reflexively deferring to him, even unconsciously. If so, you need to retrain your brain to stop seeing him as Former Boss and start thinking of him as a peer from another department who is overstepping his boundaries. So how would you deal with that?
First, ask your actual boss to help you develop a coordinated response strategy. “I know you said you would be talking to Pushy McBritches about the new reporting structure, but he is still trying to assign me work and has been hijacking my meetings with clients and management. My plan is to tell him to direct all requests through you, but is there another approach you would prefer I take?”
She might authorize you to deal with him yourself while keeping her informed. Or, since he can’t seem to relate to you as anything but his subordinate, she might prefer to step in herself to deflect his requests and intrusions, up to and including pulling him out of your meetings.
Either way, the message remains consistent: You take your orders from her, not from him. Eventually he should take the hint. If not, the boss will just have to spell it out for him in a performance improvement plan or on a pink slip.
Of course, if the message still isn’t getting through, there may be a bigger issue at play, either with your boss struggling to assert her authority or your insubordinate peer failing to recognize it.
In that case, it’s even more important that you continue redirecting and deferring to your boss to reinforce — to Pushy, to everyone else, and most of all to her — that she’s in charge and you have her back.
And if by chance any part of you is holding you back from taking the reins of your new position, you might give that part a stern but loving talking-to as well, with a similar message: I’m in charge, and you need to have my back.