Q: Shortly after becoming a department head, I began hearing complaints about my executive assistant.
Q: Shortly after becoming a department head, I began hearing complaints about my executive assistant. From my perspective, “Gwen” is phenomenal. She is extremely organized, catches on quickly and is willing to tackle any task. Without her, our department would be much less effective.
Unfortunately, this is not the picture painted by the staff. Several of them have described Gwen as condescending and disrespectful. They say she criticizes their work and will sometimes just take over, even if the person doesn’t want her help.
Gwen shouldn’t be treating co-workers like underlings or incompetents. However, I’m not sure how to address the issue, because she will immediately know that someone complained. How should I bring this up?
A: Your assistant seems to be suffering from Queen Bee syndrome. This rather common disorder afflicts those who are the “right-hand person” for a higher-level manager. Typically, these are folks with high control needs who enjoy basking in the reflected power of their boss.
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Queen Bees tend to be highly competent and super-organized. But while they are great with tasks, they are much less adept with people. To resolve this problem, you must help Gwen understand that a top-notch assistant also needs to develop positive relationships. Here’s one way to begin the conversation:
“Gwen, I have an issue that we need to discuss. First, though, let me say that I am really impressed with your ability to organize everything and keep this office running smoothly. However, I have some concerns about your co-worker relationships. Before we talk about the specifics, I’d like to know if this surprises you or if you are aware of some problems.”
Finally, don’t hesitate to mention that people have complained, because Gwen needs that feedback. But avoid identifying the employees who spoke to you. Although Gwen will undoubtedly ask, she has absolutely no right to know.
Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.